Crisis, War and Austerity: Devaluation of Female Labor and Retreating of the State

 Starting in 2014, with the background of the Crimea annexation and military conflict in the east of the country, Ukraine faced a sharp and long economic decline. The gross domestic product (GDP) per capita fell by more than 25% in 2014 and by almost 30% in 2015, starting to recover only in 2016 by 3.3% (Minfin 2017). Inflation reached almost 25% in 2014 and 43% in 2015, decreasing to 12% in 2016 (Minfin 2018). The governmental response to the crises was a predictable one, while it was following its own neoliberal creeds, reinforced by oligarchic interest and pressure from international institutions. With increasing government debt due to currency devaluation and general crises, depending on further credits from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the government cancelled fuel subsidies, cut social expenditures, and increased the retirement age, all at the IMF’s behest.

Post-2014 austerity was not the first manifestation of neoliberal policy in Ukraine. Starting from the transition to the market economy in the 90s, all the governments have been pushing Ukrainian society towards a neoliberal path. This turn, however, was far from the shock policies implemented in some other countries. The oligarchs were ready to introduce market reforms only so far as to have an opportunity to create their own capital and to stay in power during a relatively turbulent political period. But the crisis of 2014 let the government come closer to “shock therapy” than ever before. And that is why the reforms after 2014 need the most attention.

The existing mainstream discourse on gender inequality, to a great extent, fails to address the existing structural problems. Basically, there were almost no attempts to make a systematic evaluation of the socioeconomic influences of post-2014 “anti-crisis” policies on women. Lack of this systematic evaluation shifts the mainstream feminist struggle to political and symbolic representation and to a struggle against gender violence - which is, no doubt, valuable in and of itself, especially in light of the government’s failure to ratify the Istanbul Convention. But a lack of a critical perspective on governmental austerity policies and their long-term and structural impact on gender structures leave these structures intact.

In the first chapter of this paper we address the discrepancy between façade equality and the real situation of women in the country before and during the crises. In Section 1.1 we briefly review existing legislation on gender inequality, the failure of the government to implement it and the lack of attempts to address structural socioeconomic inequality. In Section 1.2 we outline this structural socioeconomic inequality, its deeply-rooted causes and its development during the crises of 2014. In Section 1.3 this development is evaluated further - focusing on its influence on women’s wellbeing after 2014. In the second chapter anti-crises neoliberal austerity and its influence on gender inequality are described. In Section 2.1 we examine how the reproductive labor of women has been devaluated by austerity. In Section 2.2 we examine how governmental austerity measures influence female opportunities for “productive” labor and, at the same time, deteriorate infrastructure which supports women in reproductive labor. In Section 2.3 we briefly examine ongoing and forthcoming structural reform (in labor legislation, the pension system, healthcare) and their impact on Ukrainian women. Through Chapters 1 and 2 we also separate the most vulnerable female categories whose situation has been disproportionally negatively influenced by neoliberal policies to address the crises: rural women, older women, women with children - especially single mothers -, and women who have to provide care for other family members. Chapter 3 deals with war and its effect on gender inequality. There we address the problems with and austerity’s impact on additional vulnerable categories created by the military conflict: internally displaced women and women in or close to the conflict zone. The last chapter reviews the situation in Ukrainian feminism, both mainstream and leftist. In Section 4.1 we analyze why the problems, discussed in this paper, have not been sufficiently addressed by Ukrainian feminists. We also outline the context and escalation of threats from the radical rightwing. And finally, in Section 4.2, we provide recommendations for leftists on the possible direction leftist feminism could go and alliance building in the current state of affairs.

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Contents
Introduction 

1. Façade “equality” and the structural problems of gender inequality in Ukraine 

1.1 Façade of “equality” on paper

1.2 Structural socioeconomic in equality in reality

1.3 Wellbeing of women 

2. “Anti-crises” austerity measures after 2014 and their possible impact on inequality 

2.1 Devaluation of reproductive labor

2.2 Structural changes in opportunities for female “productive” labor and infrastructural changes

2.3 Forthcoming “reforms” 

3. War and displacement

4. Feminism and the Ukrainian crisis 

4.1 (Un)responsive feminism

4.2 Recommendations for leftists 
References 
Biography 

 

«Crisis, War and Austerity: Devaluation of Female Labor and Retreating of the State.» Interview with Oksana Dutchak, Author of the Ukraine Study. She is the Deputy Director of the Center for Social and Labor Research (Kiev), and a researcher in the fields of labour issues and gender inequality.

 

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