The fight for justice is shared by women throughout the world

Travel Grants is a unique program for women’s rights activists in Ukraine. Supported by the Government of Canada, representatives of feminist organizations have a chance to attend seminars, conferences, and other important events to promote gender equality in Ukraine as well as promote the agenda of women’s/feminist movement of Ukraine in the international context.

International exchange enhances the activities aimed at protecting women against CRSV in Ukraine, – says Khrystyna Kit.

Travel Grants is a unique program for women’s rights activists in Ukraine. Supported by the Government of Canada, representatives of feminist organizations have a chance to attend seminars, conferences, and other important events to promote gender equality in Ukraine as well as promote the agenda of women’s/feminist movement of Ukraine in the international context.

Khrystyna Kit is a lawyer and the Head of the Ukrainian Women-Lawyers Association “JurFem”. Khrystyna has dedicated many years of her professional practice to fighting for justice and advocating women’s rights. She and her colleagues from “JurFem” have long been working in the field of protection of women against GBV and are well aware of the specificity of assisting the survivors, survivor-centered approaches, and special subtleties related to the investigation of the respective crimes. Unfortunately, sexual violence still exists in the modern world as weapons of war. The Russian army is still committing such crimes in Ukrainian territory, and many Ukrainians need help. Since 2022 Khrystyna has been engaged in the development of the state mechanisms for protecting women against CRSV. She is the coordinator of the expert group on conflict-related sexual violence, affiliated with the Prosecutor General’s Office, as well as co-coordinator of the subgroup “Access to Justice and Accountability” of the Interdepartmental CRSV Working Group.

The work in the direction of women’s protection against CRSV includes overcoming the consequences of the committed crimes: providing assistance to the survivors and bringing those guilty to account. Ukrainians find it useful to learn about the experience of other countries that have gone through armed conflicts, particularly their systems of reparations for victims. The work related to the protection of women against CRSV also focuses on promoting the prevention of such cases. The whole world should develop such policies together. Columbia, in particular, is now actively working on the challenges related to CRSV counteraction because of the domestic armed conflict affecting civilian women. In October 2023, the conference “Prevention of Sexual Violence as a War Crime – Guarantees of No Repeat Occurrence” took place in Bogota, the capital of Columbia. The event aimed to unite international experts to exchange the latest achievements and experience and identify the problems in the field of sexual violence prevention as well as the challenges related to the introduction of no-repeat-occurrence guarantees.

Khrystyna Kit wanted to attend that profile event and managed to do it thanks to an opportunity provided by the travel grant for activists and representatives of women’s/feminist organizations within the framework of the “Women’s Voice and Leadership – Ukraine” project. The grant competition aims to support the activists striving to participate in an international event or visit a relevant organization abroad to exchange experience and focus on Ukrainian achievements and challenges in the background of the overall feminist movement.

Khrystyna Kit attended the above conference because she wanted to study international experience and focus on the Ukrainian agenda in women’s protection against CRSV from the position of women’s human rights organizations. Ukraine was also represented at that event by the Deputy Prime Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration Olena Sotnyk and the advisor to the Government Commissioner for Gender Policy Anatoliy Dosych.

During the trip, the team acted as diplomats and established contacts with the representatives of the Columbian authorities and civil society. Its special assignment was to launch a partnership relationship in order to arrange a study tour of the Ukrainian delegation, dedicated to reparation issues. With this in view, the participants held a meeting with the Unit for comprehensive assistance and reparation to victims in Colombia as well as the judges of the Special jurisdictions for peace. The Ukrainian delegation also had meetings with the Canadian Ambassador to Columbia, with the representatives of European countries and South American countries as well as the representatives of the Unit for the Search of Persons reported as disappeared. And though the systems of justice and the context of war in our countries differ, the participants found it useful to learn about the work of their colleagues. Since we may borrow from each other the experience of assisting victims, advocating for women’s rights, analyzing successful and less successful practices. In particular, Khrystyna noted that Columbian courts have special protocols and policies for hearing cases of sexual violence.

Highly precious for Ukraine is the study of the Columbian experience in the development of the system of reparations as well as the creation and functioning of the register of victims. Here they have a powerful center for survivors, with its wide representation in the regions, – stresses the expert.

Khrystyna also had a meeting with the representatives of public organizations from Columbia, Chili, and Ecuador. Despite different challenges and poor awareness of South Americans of the war in Ukraine, this communication has built bridges of understanding. Most importantly, this meeting has shown that women on different continents have problems in common, and it is worth working together for the common goal which is justice on the side of women and prevention of future violence.

After sharing experience, we, together with Columbian womens organizations, came to realize that, in fact, despite different cultures and contexts of war, we are working on the same challenges and violations of womens rights, we have been doing almost identical work, each of us in our country, and we have a lot to learn from each other,  Khrystyna shares her conclusions.

During her visit to Columbia Khrystyna became confident of the fact that it is important to present your experience and learn how women’s organizations function abroad. Women in one country may use their voices at the level of their state to speak about the needs of women in another country. Thus, societies in different parts of the world will have more information for providing further support, in particular, to Ukrainians. Then the systemic nature of using sexual crimes as weapons against Ukrainians by Russian soldiers is becoming an issue not just for Ukraine, but an international problem – a violation of women’s rights in general. Violation of international law is something each country has to fight, therefore, we will have many allies ready to fight for justice. But if we don’t know each other, that localizes our problems. The expert is convinced that the Ukrainian women’s movement and society in general lose a lot while not speaking about itself and not learning from others: to be victorious we need international support and understanding, and they are possible only if the representatives of other countries are well-informed. Connections with the international women’s movement are highly important. The realization of the fact that throughout the world there are women colleagues who are also working for the sake of justice and protection of women gives a sense of support that helps move ahead.

When you see your colleagues ready to join their effort to promote the rights of women and girls across the world, that adds inspiration and gives you a sense that you are not alone in advocating the rights of Ukrainians violated by Russian servicemen. The human rights movement does know about it, and women’s organizations in other countries may well be our voices on those international platforms where we sometimes cannot be present, – stresses the importance of visual representation Khrystyna Kit.

Her experience as a lawyer has already been used within the discussion panel “Partnership and interaction in the implementation of the “Women, Peace, Security” agenda in Ukraine”, organized in Kyiv by the consortium of many women’s organizations, including the Ukrainian Women’s Fund and the Ukrainian Women Lawyers Association “JurFem”. More than 150 representatives of 19 regional “1325” coalitions in Ukraine were present at the event, and all of them had a chance to get acquainted with Khrystyna’s conclusions and the information about Columbian practices. Khrystyna Kit also shares the knowledge gained about the creation of the system of reparations payment and international experience of working with the CRSV topic in a series of respective training events for activists. Such activities dedicated to legal issues, advocacy, and effective interaction aimed at assisting the survivors of sexual violence are strengthening women’s movement as such and have a direct positive effect on the lives of women in Ukraine.

Recalling her trip to Columbia today, Khrystyna Kit states that this experience has broadened her thinking, and in her work, she can already treat certain tasks and challenges differently. She is convinced that to create an effective system for the protection of women against CRSV in Ukraine, we need to streamline our work in two directions: develop the respective documents and the reparations payment system as well as overcome the stereotypes in society, not have any biases toward the survivors at any stage of initiation or consideration of such cases. The influence of the international community remains an important component in reaching justice and sentencing for crimes. That is why the engagement of Ukrainians in international platforms is worth strengthening. Such interaction contributes to the practice sharing, development of experts, as well as develops an intercontinental network of active women, where every expert keeps working for the sake of women in her country, and all together they are working for the sake of having a more humane, fair, and safer world.

Such visits are required not just to tell the world more about Ukraine but to gain support and arrange cooperation with womens organizations across the world, – summarizes Khrystyna Kit.