With one strong woman, tens of women become stronger.

Travel grants are a unique program for women’s movement activists in Ukraine. Supported by the Government of Canada, the representatives of feminist public organizations may attend seminars, conferences, and other important events aimed at the promotion of gender equality in Ukraine as well as the promotion of the agenda of women’s/feminist movement of Ukraine in the international context.

This story tells us how one Ukrainian woman gained new knowledge thanks to the travel grant from the project “Women’s Voice and Leadership – Ukraine” and keeps reinforcing hundreds of women in Ukraine.

Before she became a feminist movement activist, Olha Kukula studied at the Medical University of Ivano-Frankivsk to become a doctor. That was not her dream job, and Olha found some space for fulfilling her capacity and using the opportunity to help people in women’s movement. In her personal life, Olha felt uncomfortable due to gender stereotypes in the family and society. She felt resistant to the expectation that a woman is supposed to serve as a home and family manager after work. She wrote verses and attended poetry events, but Olha’s desire to be active beyond her family and work was not well-perceived by everyone. However, at that time feminism was not fully understandable to the today’s activist and seemed to be too radical.

I have joined women’s movement via maternity”, – Olha recalls the origin of her activity. –
I have two daughters. I want the world to be safer and to contain more opportunities for them

It all changed with the event where in the forum theatre format they were talking about a parent- and child-friendly city, while the young mother Olha (her younger daughter was 8 months old) was concerned about the topic of barrier-free city space. At that event, she came to understand how much the topic of protection of the rights of women and girls reverberates with her. Olha started reading about feminism, women’s movement in Ukraine. She also got into the project of documentary theatre from NGO “D.О.М.48.24.”, the topic of which was counteracting gender-based violence. There Olha came to understand that via public activity she can be influencing the stereotypes and help women. In 2019 Olha joined the DOM team first as a communication officer and then she started working as a project manager. Since then, Olha has been regularly participating in the work of different NGOs promoting gender equality in Ukraine, working in the projects related to the topic of women’s health, sexual education, and empowerment of women.

An important event in Olha’s life was familiarization with the Wen Do methodology. That is a comprehensive approach adding self-confidence to women and girls and teaching them to resist and curb hidden and direct forms of gender violence in different contexts and situations. The activist got most interested in the fact that this methodology is based on assertiveness, self-protection, and socializing of women as well as is suitable for different women, including those with disability. Due to her own health condition, Olha understood how important the methodology of women’s protection is, based on the physical possibilities of the body. The activist studied at the Wen Do Academy organized by the “Autonomy” foundation in Krakow in the summer of 2022 and later, on completing the educational course, she received a diploma of the trainer in counteracting violence and discrimination against women and girls under the WenDo methodology based on the empowerment model.

I am just a fan of Wen Do since my first training in which I participated. This academy made myself stronger and changed me, and that is why I am willing to develop this in our society, – when Olha speaks about the Wen Do methodology, she seems to be full of enthusiasm. – For me, that is the most comprehensive approach for making women more brave.

On coming to feel how much she personally gained from Wen Do, Olha wanted to make others discover this method and started her training activity. Helping other women to find their bravery and strength, Olha understood that it’s important for her as a trainer to keep developing her knowledge and skills. One of such opportunities was provided for her at the conference dedicated to Wen Do, held in Poland. Such events are a good opportunity to show oneself as a participant of the trainer community as well as to gain new knowledge and raise qualifications as a trainer.

So, Olha was happy to use the opportunity provided by the competition of travel grants for activists and representatives of women’s/feminist organizations within the “Women’s Voice and Leadership – Ukraine” Project. The competition winners had a chance to attend events and visit organizations abroad for sharing experience, presenting Ukrainian women’s movement, and foregrounding Ukraine in the international feminist movement. Thus, Olha went to Poland to the integration seminar of feminist self-protection trainers based on the WenDo method where she presented herself as a trainer and activist as well as presented the women’s organization of Ivano-Frankivsk “D.О.М.48.24”. She also had a chance to integrate the context, the practices and the challenges faced by Ukrainian trainers with the issues of the international WenDo movement. Speaking about the Ukrainian context and telling what women are facing in Ukraine today, Olha and other Ukrainian trainers influence the development of the topics for future community events as well as strengthen contact with Polish colleagues, and quite often make agreements on future cooperation.

At the seminar, Olha participated in the working group where the participants were sharing their experiences and jointly developing the practices for working with different groups of women. A part of the event was dedicated to working with women with disability, teenage girls, and transgender women. This experience came to be very useful for Olha since now she can work as a trainer with groups that are vulnerable under several factors.

The activist immediately started using the skills gained – she conducted intensive training on self-protection matters based on the WenDo method in the Club of Ukrainians affiliated with the Ukrainian House in Poland. At that event, Olha acted as a co-trainer and taught women and girls to be assertive and to apply feminist self-defense. Such knowledge and skills are highly important for women of different ages, staying abroad as refugees, since in the conditions of forced movement women and girls are running a high risk of getting into a position of vulnerability. Therefore, it is highly important to make women stronger through knowledge and techniques, to explain how they can respond to and prevent violence against themselves and others, and how they can recognize violence and cope with the situation. Even when women are not facing danger and violence, being ready for such situations gives one power and faith in oneself anyway. That has been pointed out by many participants who have shared the respective conclusions in their feedback:

This training is a contribution to my development, I have become more independent, stronger, and more confident.
The training has exceeded my expectations. I have felt some inner strength in me and have gone beyond some boundaries. Thank you for the games, elements of psychodrama, saturation.

Other participants also noted that the training helped them reject some gender stereotypes. Olha Kukula herself, while holding a training for others, gained something important for herself, viz. the experience of interacting with Polish colleagues and discussing prospective future cooperation.

A special point in Olha’s trip was a poetry event. Besides being an activist, Olha keeps writing poetry, and she used this occasion of staying in Poland to share her pieces dedicated to feminist and war topics with Ukrainians in Warsaw. That event became a moment for uniting women, discussing common and divergent experiences, and emotions, as well as a moment of beginning of possible cooperation since one of the event participants suggested that she would help Olha promote her creativity in Poland.

On getting back home, Olha had numerous Wen Do trainings for different age groups of women in Ukraine, upon the invitation of friendly public organizations. In general, the WenDo seminar gets a lot of positive feedback from Ukrainian women. The participants of Olha’s training indicated that their skills of effective communication and assertiveness improved, participation in the training influenced their skills of recognition of and responding to violence, and they would recommend other women to participate in the seminar. In general, some pools of trainers have been developed in Ukraine, and Wen Do trainings make women throughout the country more brave, as Olha says.

Today Olha keeps dealing with the advocacy of women’s rights and their economic empowerment together with her colleagues from NGO “Д.О.М.48.24”, at the same time dealing with sexual enlightenment and reinforcement of women’s voices in poetry with like-minded people from other women’s organizations. Thanks to her participation in the seminar in Poland, Olha developed herself as a trainer and then opened up the methods of feminist self-defense for others. On investing in her knowledge thanks to her trip, she strengthens other women and girls with it, and this circle is constantly evolving.