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A letter from Angela Merkel, a “female euro” from Finland, “glass ceiling”, and heels for men — all those are the exhibits of the Gendermuseum, the first Eastern European interactive gender museum located in Kharkiv.
There are over 60 museums of this kind all over the world. They are aimed at attracting the community’s attention to the gender-related problems.
The museum’s collection — unique for Ukraine — comprises over 3,000 exhibits, and it is expanded regularly. Its expositions enable every man and woman to experience the occurrence of the gender development process in the society; they demonstrate numerous manipulations and myths concerning male and female roles and show how gender stereotypes are reproduced or how they can be destroyed.
Gendermuseum is an interactive museum. Therefore, boys and men can wear heels during the excursion to understand what girls and women feel.
The visitors can also check their level of gender sensibility, which is the ability to identify cases of gender discrimination and injustice. For instance, they can hold the tools of women’s “light” labour in their hands and even take a photo with them.
From a Suitcase to the Museum or How It All Started
The idea to create a gender museum emerged in 2006 when Tetiana Isaieva, the manager of the museum, started her internship in Sweden. It was then when she brought the first exhibits to Ukraine demonstrating the way of the Swedish society towards gender equality.
A photo of the poster from Sweden, 1970s. At that time, the idea that fathers should take maternity leave was actively promoted in the country (the photo provided by Gendermuseum)
After that, Tetiana Isaieva continued to collect exhibits. The first exhibition and presentation of the Museum of Women’s History and the History of Women’s and Gender Movement was held subsequently with the support of the Ukrainian Women’s Fund. Then in 2009, the Global Fund for Women started supporting its activity and the creation of its first expositions.
Until 2013, the museum had been mobile moving from place to place and organising various events, e.g. excursions, presentations, and exhibitions.
“I remember her (Tetiana Isaieva — author’s note) travelling with a large suitcase with the exhibits inside. There was, for example, a coal iron women used many years ago. Tetiana asked people whether they considered women the weaker sex and gave them a hard coal iron to hold in their hands. All that started with that suitcase,” recollects Tetiana Chernetska, the manager of “The Centre of Gender Culture as a Platform for Women and Youth Enhancement” project.
In 2013, the museum received a permanent address and relocated to a two-room shared apartment in the centre of the city. The renovation was carried out with the help of the “Women Support Women” campaign implemented by the Ukrainian Women’s Fund.
Tetiana Isaieva and the visitors of the gender museum in Kharkiv (the photo provided by the Gendermuseum)
Until 2015, the museum had been maintained by the team responsible for its creation. Then, the question of its subsequent existence arose.
“At that time, Maria Sanchez, a Spanish feminist and artist, visited the museum. When she found out that the museum could be closed, she initiated the #SaveGenderMuseum support campaign. The campaign enabled the museum to function for 3 years. The Women’s Folk School, Spanish male and female feminists, and Chinese male and female volunteers joined the campaign,” tells Tetiana Isaieva, the museum manager.
In 2016, the museum became a part of the Centre of Gender Culture founded with the support of the European Endowment for Democracy.
A Letter from Angela Merkel and a “Female” Euro
The museum’s collections are regularly expanded with new exhibits that Tetiana Isaieva’s friends and museum visitors give her as presents.
The Gender Museum Exhibits (photos by Ihor Rusin)
There is even a special “exhibit” from the office of Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor.
“Once we wrote a letter to Angela Merkel and asked her to provide an exhibit for the only Ukrainian museum of the history of women and gender. We received a rejection letter. Therefore, the letter from Angela Merkel’s office is presented as an exhibit,” tells Tetiana Chernetska.
In general, the museum comprises over 3,000 exhibits.
Among those, there is a seemingly usual UAH 100 bill. However, it was one of the first exhibits presented in 2008 by Olena Suslova, a Ukrainian gender issues expert.
A “female euro” from Finland represents another museum exhibit. The coin demonstrates the inequality of labour payment: women’s salary is 75% of the men’s salary in all countries of the world.
Exactly that “female euro” from Finland and exactly that UAH 100 bill — the first exhibits
The Museum’s Expositions
There are two large expositions presented at the museum, including “The Women’s Face of the War” dedicated to the women who suffered from the Fascist occupation in Kharkiv (1941 – 1943) and “A Women’s Room”.
The Museum’s Expositions (photo by Ihor Rusin)
Women with children made up four-fifths of the city population during the occupation. The women did everything to survive, e.g. they exchanged their clothes, household items, valuable goods, and jewellery for food products; they carried water in buckets from the other side of the town and picked up everything that could be set on fire in order to cook food (books, furniture parts, musical instruments, tree roots, etc.).
The Museum Exhibits (photo by Ihor Rusin)
“A Women’s Room” is a place the society assigns to women even today. The exposition is represented with various objects telling about women’s history, including books and women’s magazines from different times, pre-revolutionary and pre-war household items, and clothes.
The symbol of the room is the clock that stopped meaning that “the time stood still” … and broken wings implying that a woman couldn’t go sky-high since she made a decision in favour of the family, husband, and kids.
The Museum Exhibits (photo by Ihor Rusin)
There exists a commonly accepted belief that it is the men who create history, e.g. make decisions, build cities, earn money, and defend their homeland. However, in the Ukrainian history women have never hid behind men. They were near them and created history together with them. In order to understand this, one needs to open the closed window and discover that women should take their due place in history along with men.
The Museum Exhibits (photo by Ihor Rusin)
“Glass ceiling” does not exist in the real world. It exists only in the public conscience and hinders women from moving up the corporate ladder, from having access to the resources, and the decision-making level. Exactly this “glass ceiling” can be seen in the museum.
There are many publications, particularly for children.
For example, these Swedish and Ukrainian books demonstrate how the concept of men’s and women’s gender roles in the society is formed
Visit the museum’s site gendermuseum.com to see the interactive expositions and find out more information about the museum.
Gendermuseum in New Format
Since December 2017, Kharkiv Regional Gender Resource Centre has started to implement “The Centre of Gender Culture as a Platform for Expanding the Rights and Opportunities of Women and Youth” project with the support of the European Union.
Transformation of Gendermuseum into a creative space for a dialogue represents one of its components.
“When the European Union started the call for proposals, Tetiana Isaieva and I were in Mexico at the meeting of male and female representatives of women’s museums. It was in Mexico where we discussed the future of the museum. We wanted to change its format and make it a museum for a dialogue. In Mexico, for instance, a women’s museum is a two-storey building where they organise exhibitions, have special halls, and where people can look at, listen, and discuss something. It was our dream. So we considered the call for proposals as a sign and decided to take part in the contest,” recollects Tetiana Chernetska.
“The Centre of Gender Culture as a Platform for Expanding the Rights and Opportunities of Women and Youth” project will help the gender museum to show its new improved format.
“Owing to the European Union, we are now working on moving the museum to new spacious premises. There, we will have an exhibition hall, a place for expositions, a “women’s room” with hi-tech effects, a conference hall for training sessions and discussions, and a kids’ room to enable women with children to be involved in discussions,” tells the project manager.
Furthermore, the museum will be open to foreign male and female researchers. It will also facilitate the cross-cultural communication, change the thinking of young Ukrainian men and women, and challenge the patriarchal stereotypes.
A large-scale project called “The Centre of Gender Culture as a Platform for Expanding the Rights and Opportunities of Women and Youth” aims at promoting the ideas of gender equality and gender culture.
A new team of male and female trainers and advisers on gender issues is being prepared as part of the project. Besides, it is planned to found the Centre of Women’s Entrepreneurship and implement gender-sensitive initiatives in the East of Ukraine as part of the mini-grants programme.
The project is implemented in cooperation with Kharkiv Regional Gender Resource Centre, the Prospect Agency of Changes NGO, and the Modern Woman NGO.
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