What is the value of the voice? Particularly of a young woman born in mid-1990s in Ukraine after the dissolution of the USSR – a country in desperate search of itself and its place in the world?
Imagine a small town in the middle of nowhere. An ordinary school, where skipping classes was considered a virtue and being interested in studies was a cause not for praise, but for bullying. Where up to two thirds of the local girls gave birth and married right after graduating – only to get divorced within a year or so. Mix it with the parochial worldview, all-pervading patriarchy and widespread alcohol abuse. What you get is some pernicious cocktail; for the chosen ones only.
It is not hard to deduce that in the eyes of the local society the voice of the female was sometimes worth half a male one at best. For long – maybe too long – I took it for granted. It would have probably taken me even longer to realize what was happening if I hadn’t had a chance to be present at some honest, thoughtful and respectful discussions about the gender issues – something unthinkable for me at the time. Even now, I brace myself every time I speak about it myself.
What eventually proved to be a life-changing experience was my participation in the Red Cross volunteer activities. The Red Cross introduced me to the boundless possibilities of the informal education. I basked in them, both as a learner, and, soon after, as a trainer and a facilitator in my own right. Gradually, something began to change. I met a lot of new people from across the country, sometimes even beyond. The hated town bounds didn’t look as impermeable as before, the received wisdom as undisputable.
It came in 2014, in the fire and glory of Euromaidan, in the tears and sufferings of the armed conflict to follow. The war is the apotheosis of violence, the final answer to an unknown question. My questions, by contrast, were rather simple, if hardly more answerable: Why does it happen? What for?
It was this search for answers that finally led me to embrace Red Cross and become a full-time youth coordinator – this time in Kiev – the capital of Ukraine.
What I found out appalled me, but also, in a strange way, felt invigorating. The people are not always what they look like. There are no two identical stories. The roots of violence run deep – both in the history of humankind and in the life of any individual person. And the key to changing the former lies in transforming the latter. Hence the value of humanitarian education. And somehow, it all converged into “who will deal with it, if not myself?”. I should become a role model – to walk the talk and live the changes I am trying to induce in others. Strangely, this was where my womanhood clicked in, finally fitting the puzzle. To be female is to change the others by changing oneself – for one’s own sake, not for theirs. At the time, it felt like the most logical conclusion ever.
– Maryna Kozhedub, Ukraine
”I hope to see more equality in the world”
I found fellows who shared my thoughts and feelings which gave me a powerful boost to work further at the national and international stage to promote my newly found and hardly won truths across the globe. In 2018, I successfully ran for membership in the European Youth Coordination Committee (EYCC), comprising the youth movements of all the European Red Cross and Red Crescent national societies. As a EYCC member, I always emphasize the importance of promoting humanitarian values through education. No wonder I decided to choose humanitarian education as my priority and primary area of interest. Even though it’s a narrow way, it’s also the right one. There is very little to be compared to your feelings when you look at the young people rethinking their attitudes and changing their ways towards the culture of non-violence and peace after receiving a good YABC session.
Sometimes I still hear those eternal annoying slants like “Don’t you have anything else to do?”, “So when are you going to marry then?”, “You’re a woman, you have to be a faithful companion for a man”. But now that I’ve shredded my blinds, I feel that I can effectively influence the prejudices and stereotypes underlying such verbal attacks – by influencing the influencers. I’m only turning 24 this year. Life still lies ahead of me – a life, where I hope to see more equality. Where it doesn’t matter what your gender identity is - your voice is valuable because you are a human with dignity!
Globally, women hold just 24% of senior leadership positions. The U.S. lags behind the global average at 21%, compared to China where women hold 51% of senior leadership slots.