She's got it 18:12 23 Apr 2024

Women's Safety School helps women defend themselves from violence

Ukrainian women suffer from gender-based violence, forced displacement, and related socio-economic consequences, as well as increased childcare responsibilities and lack of support. Rubryka tells how the Ukrainian initiative teaches women the basics of self-defense, financial literacy and resistance to various types of violence — the skills that have become increasingly necessary during the war.

What is the problem?

In 2023, the BBC Media Action team conducted a large-scale study that included interviews with more than 1,700 women and 500 men and provided a comprehensive understanding of how war affects women.

Women and girls are often victims of aggression and deception during war. The survey showed that safety and security have become the main daily concerns for 62% of the survey participants.

What is the solution?

From the end of 2023, training will be held at the "Safety School for Women and Girls" in Uzhhorod, in Ukraine's western Zakarpattia region. The non-governmental organization Mehasocium started this initiative, which involves a series of activities for women and girls on security issues—personal, physical, civil, economic, informational, and cyber security. The project's main goal is to train women and girls in basic self-defense skills.

All activities are implemented thanks to the support of the Government of the Kingdom of the Netherlands within the framework of the project "Women, peace, security: local needs — local solutions," implemented by the Ukrainian Women's Fund.

How does it work?

"We pay attention to all topics that concern women"

In 2000, the UN Security Council adopted resolution 1325, Women, Peace, Security, which concerns the involvement of women in peacemaking processes, protection of victims, conflict prevention, and post-war reconstruction. In Ukraine, the first National Action Plan to implement the resolution was adopted in 2016.

Школа безпеки для жінок

Classes at the Safety School for Women and Girls. Photo from the archive of the organization

Mehasocium is a member of Coalition 1325 in the Zakarpattia region. As the director of the NGO Hanna Meleganych said, within the framework of the regional plan for implementing resolution 1325, a system of responding to security challenges for various groups of women and girls was developed. One component of this system was the creation of the Safety School.

"We analyzed requests from different groups of women and girls and realized that in the current conditions, it would be good for them to have more knowledge about personal safety, identification of security challenges, and the ability to protect themselves. Now, during the war, in conditions of extreme threat, it is imperative to take into account the needs of women and girls in conflict situations," says Meleganych.

Школа безпеки для жінок

Hanna Meleganych with an introductory speech at the Safety School. Photo from the archive of the organization

According to the director of the NGO, most women say that they had an experience in their life when they felt in danger, both physically and psychologically, as well as financially. Some of them have faced online violence and fraudulent activities on the Internet.

"This is precisely why the school was created. It covers a comprehensive concept of security for women: physical, psychological, personal, economic, cyber security, etc. Regardless of age, the Safety School participants receive new valuable knowledge and skills to prepare for various life situations," says Meleganych.

Start a new life

Classes at the school, which are aimed at girls and women from the age of 14, are held offline. These are thematic meetings that last up to two hours. The first lesson is general about the school and security challenges for women, followed by information security, legal, psychological, first aid, and self-defense lessons conducted by professional trainers. The peculiarity of the school is that the participants decide which classes they would like to attend based on which aspects of safety are currently important and relevant to them. Each group has five classes, but these classes may differ between groups.

Школа безпеки для жінок

Marianna Kolodii is the coordinator of Coalition 1325 – Transcarpathia. Photo from the archive of the organization

In the first class, Marianna Kolodii, gender expert and senior lecturer of the Department of Political Science and Public Administration of the Uzhgorod National University, talks about what security is and its types and introduces the students to various studies on this topic.

Another lecturer is Tetiana Shcherba, a police captain and a representative of the Department of the Main Inspection and Human Rights Compliance of the National Police of Ukraine, who explains to women how to identify a threat and avoid danger or prevent it through cooperation with authorities and the police. An important part of the lesson is a story about security projects implemented by the National Police.

Школа безпеки для жінок

Tetiana Shcherba is the police captain and representative of the Department of the Main Inspection and Human Rights Compliance of the National Police of Ukraine. Photo from the archive of the organization

Shcherba always tells school participants about her own experience, as she once suffered from domestic violence.

Twelve years ago, when she was experiencing a similar situation, there was no such legislation or opportunities. She had no support from relatives or parents. Shcherba lived in a rural area where tolerating violence was a common thing. "One day came when I woke up and realized: I don't want my daughter to grow up in such conditions and then carry all this on herself," says Shcherba.

The police officer says that every time she tries to convey to the girls she meets, they have the power to change their lives and attitudes towards themselves.

"Someone might be a person who is resistant to everything, but we don't know what made her so resistant. That's why I conduct all classes in harmony. I'm a policewoman who is not ashamed to say that she, too, experienced domestic violence and that this circle can be broken. Anyone can live a different life," says Shcherba.

Школа безпеки для жінок

Iryna Godynets conducts self-defense classes for school students. Photo from the archive of the organization

The school also provides a short course on psychological support and first aid. During cyber security classes, students learn not to fall prey to fraudsters. The most popular class is physical self-defense—training held under the leadership of the athlete Iryna Godynets, trainer of the Transcarpathian Shidokan Karate Federation. The participants admit that the war makes such skills a necessity.

In addition, students share their life stories. Meleganych believes this is very useful because hearing about such experiences prepares other participants for similar situations.

Does it really work?

Школа безпеки для жінок

Self-defense classes are the most popular in the Safety School. Photo from the archive of the organization

The school has been operating since December 2023 and has already graduated about 80 female participants. Notably, 80% of the women enrolled in the first two groups of the Safety School are displaced people. Some of them had experience of life in the occupation, and others had to flee from shelling. The average age of the participants is 30 to 40 years, but the classes were attended by women and girls of other age groups and even women with young daughters.

Iryna Pasevych is a student at Uzhgorod National University. She shares that the course at the School was beneficial for her, as it is related to social work, a specialty in which she studies and volunteers.

Школа безпеки для жінок

Iryna Pasevych at a first aid class. Photo from the heroine's personal archive

"We were inspired by strong women who have gone through a difficult life path and are happy to help others. The basics of self-defense are the best because we learned how to be ready for certain attacks and received physical and psychological relief by releasing all the negativity," Pasevych shares her impressions.

Kateryna Kish, adviser to the head of the Uzhgorod Youth Council and an activist in combating domestic violence, also became one of the Safety School for Women and Girls graduates. Although practically most of the information was already familiar to her, except self-defense skills, she decided to take the course to consolidate and replenish her knowledge and skills.

"I consider the school a very cool and useful initiative because every woman should not only know her rights but also be able to protect herself both in the information environment and real life," says Kish.

Школа безпеки для жінок

Kateryna Kish (in the foreground) at a lecture at the Safety School for Women and Girls. Photo from the heroine's archive

The activist believes that taking care of one's own safety should be a trend, and for this, it is necessary that this information be broadcast through advertising on television, relevant programs, and influential bloggers.

"We have excellent feedback from women after the courses. They feel more protected in certain situations. These courses are primarily about the value of female sisterhood and the desire and opportunity to support each other. I really like how the group members' relationships are developing," says the head of the NGO.

Even more useful solutions!

Школа безпеки для жінок

Graduates of the Safety School for Women and Girls in Uzhhorod. Photo from the archive of the organization

Upon completion of the course, all Safety School for Women and Girls graduates are awarded certificates and gifts. Among them is the Safe Action Card — a plastic card the size of a bank card that contains all the hotline numbers where you can call for help.

Shcherba also made a universal list of five basic safety tips:

  1. Call the police if you are in danger.
  2. Do not hesitate to ask for help from people around you.
  3. If you are uncomfortable, it is important to say so, such as when personal space is violated.
  4. If there is no support in the family, this does not mean that no one can listen and help. Many government bodies, NGOs, and Coalitions 1325 in the regions work to help women feel safe.
  5. Informed means protected. You should be interested in the legislation.

There is nothing impossible in opposing violence.


If you have found a spelling error, please, notify us by selecting that text and pressing Ctrl+Enter.

Spelling error report

The following text will be sent to our editors: