Narrating the past to vision the future: constructing civil society with women in Ukraine

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Flaherty, Maureen P.
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Peace processes require an opening to self and others — a willingness to confront what is and to vision beyond present challenges to a brighter future. This type of engagement is crucial for the peaceful development of healthy, functioning societies — societies such as Ukraine, a country thrust without preparation from regional Soviet status to independent country searching for democracy. Eighteen years post-Independence the Ukrainian parliament continues to flounder unsupported by citizens. Active participation in civic affairs required for democracy is unfamiliar for most Ukrainian citizens, having internalized centuries of divisive oppression under a series of authoritarian regimes. Democracy-building and peace-building require participant agency and voice; rising out of oppression, people often need support to speak about and transform their lived experiences. This study, cognizant of the centrality of gender analysis in any context, explored the roles women’s shared narrative, dialogue, and group-visioning play in the support of personal empowerment and bridge building between diverse communities. The study invited women from the European Union-focused Western region of Lviv, Ukraine and the more Soviet/Russian-identified Eastern region of Crimea, first to share their personal stories with the researcher and second, to meet in their regional groups to vision for themselves, their families, and Ukraine. The third phase of this study invited these diverse regional groups to meet in a neutral space, reflexively exploring their parallel processes, while in phase four participants reviewed their experiences of the study. Despite initial beliefs that they have little in common, women in both regions said study participation changed them. They found telling their stories “from beginning to end” allowed them to reflect upon their own values and strengths, and having connected with themselves and their roots, they were then able to reach out to others. Rather than looking for differences, participants sought ways to express a shared vision for an inclusive, functional, peace-building future for themselves, their families, and Ukraine as a whole.
peace building, gender, Ukraine, narrative, participatory action