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Ahead of presidential elections, “gender ideology” comes to Ukraine

A recent high-profile forum in Kyiv highlights a coming ultra-conservative swing in Ukrainian politics.

Thomas Rowley
21 March 2019
From left: Ganna Turchynova, Oleksandr Turchynov, Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, Metropolitan Epihany, Valeriy Antonyuk.
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National Family Forum

On 1 March, Kyiv hosted a “National Forum of the Family” in Ukrainian House, a conference centre located in the heart of Ukraine’s capital.

The forum was attended by a number of high-profile guests, including President Petro Poroshenko, presidential candidate and former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko and Metropolitan Epihanius, head of the newly created Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Leaders of civic organisations, MPs, businesspeople, church organisations and government ministers gathered to discuss a “National Family Strategy”. Brian Brown, from the World Congress of Families, was also in attendance.

According to the forum’s website, the event’s main aims included developing a “strategy to resist urgent threats to the Ukrainian family”, such as attempts by the Ukrainian parliament to ratify the Istanbul Convention, “gay parades” and other “anti-family legislation”.

The day was opened with speeches by representatives of Ukraine’s political elite, but the afternoon agenda focused on education and outreach workshops. The forum’s final resolution included a number of points, among them a call on the government to revoke the position of Parliamentary Ombudsperson on gender policy, minimise the number of abortions carried out and “actively propagandise the insitute of the family and family values”.

This year, the forum was initiated by the All-Ukrainian Assembly, an evangelical civic organisation registered in January 2019. According to one of its initiators, Valeriy Antonyuk, head of the All-Ukrainian Union of Associations of Evangelical Christian Baptists, this organisation is designed to “unite our efforts around the Christian idea of Ukraine’s development and resist the total attack of amorality” – and draws on the support of a number of prominent evangelical organisations in the country.

Speaking to Marker.ua, commentator Oleh Saakyan called the Assembly “a personal political platform” for Oleksandr Turchynov, the organisation’s coordinator, and Secretary of the National Security and Defence Council, a powerful presidential body which advises on Ukraine’s defence policy.

The forum, in turn, was organised with the support of the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organisations and interparty parliamentary group “For Spirituality, Morality and Health”. The latter organises annual prayer breakfasts in Ukraine, and has increasingly attracted representatives from the country’s political elite.

For example, in May 2018, alongside Patriarch Filaret (head of Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Kyiv Patriarchate), Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman and Yulia Tymoshenko, President Petro Poroshenko opened the National Prayer Breakfast in Kyiv. “With every prayer breakfast, Ukraine grows closer to God,” the president commented at the time.

Turchynov pointed to “gender ideology” as a root cause of the “total amorality attacking Ukraine"

At the National Forum of the Family, the president limited himself to general comments on the value of the family. But other participants had more radical speeches prepared.

For example, Oleksandr Turchynov described Ukraine as a country ruined by war, migration, demographic decline and alcoholism. He then pointed to “gender ideology” – an ambiguous term that incorporates the ideas of both gender equality and recognition of non-binary identities – as a root cause of the “total amorality attacking Ukraine". “Gender ideology”, according to Gillian Kane from international women’s rights organisation Ipas, is a “theory drummed up by hard-right religious activists, who present it as a gay- and feminist-led movement out to upend the traditional family and the natural order of society”.

At the forum, Turchynov called for the word “gender” to be removed from all Ukrainian legislation, echoing a recent call for similar action by over 60 local administrations in the country.

“Under the guise of defence of human rights, this anti-Christian term is being forced on our society [...] We need to remove the ideological terms from our laws аnd reinstate the word ‘sex’ instead of the artificial term ‘gender’ that has been forced on us.”

Later in the day, the organisers showed a film (“Let’s defend Ukraine!”), which highlighted migration, demographic decline and “gender ideology” as threats to the Ukrainian family in a similar key.

On 14 March, MP Pavlo Unguryan announced that the Ukrainian government had approved plans to allocate monthly payments to families with multiple children up to the age of six. He called it the "first response" to the National Forum of the Family.

In the video below, Ukrainian journalist Oleksiy Matsuka reports from the National Family Forum for Donbas News. Please turn on subtitles in order to watch in English.

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