Welcome to Part 1 of our December 2023 Inspirational Interview with Khrystyna Kit, founder and chairwoman of the Ukrainian Women Lawyers Association (JurFem).
Khrystyna is a lawyer, human rights defender working with cases of gender-based violence–in particular sexual violence–expert group coordinator on conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV) at the Prosecutor General’s Office, and co-author of educational and training programs for legal communities on the topic of sexual violence, including CRSV.
Part 2 of Khrystyna’s interview will be published 4 December, 2023.
All photos are courtesy of JurFem.
1. How and why did you join the movement to end violence against women (VAW)?
I have been working in the field of women’s rights since 2007. While still a student, I started working in a non-governmental organisation and provided legal assistance to victims of domestic violence. At that time, my fellow lawyers did not want to work with such cases; most of them did not know the specifics of working with victims.
More often than not, I felt like an odd fish among my fellow lawyers, because I worked in a field that was incomprehensible to them. However, for me, working in the field of protecting women’s rights was extremely important, both from a personal and professional point of view. I want every girl and woman to feel safe and be sure that they will receive quality gender-sensitive legal assistance.
2. Ukrainian Women Lawyers Association (JurFem) was established in 2017 as “one of the first Ukrainian associations of women lawyers” with the aim of becoming “a platform for the exchange of experience, development and support of women in the legal profession” How did JurFem come to be founded?
The idea for JurFem arose in November 2016 when I made plans for 2017 including “to create a Women Lawyers Association”. In 2017, my colleague Halyna Fedkovych and I started working on this idea, studying similar organisations in other countries and inviting other colleagues to be co-founders.
Our goals were to strengthen the voices of women in the legal profession, make female experts more visible, create a supportive environment, and be a platform where women and men can gain new knowledge and expertise in the field of gender equality and protecting women from violence. We also dreamed that the voices of female lawyers would be taken into account in the adoption of legislation on gender equality and the protection of victims of gender-based violence. Six years later, JurFem has become a professional organisation whose opinion is taken into account when adopting legislation or developing educational materials for the legal community related to combating gender-based violence.
3. Could you give us an overview of the legal services, initiatives, and programmes that JurFem have provided for the victims and survivors of VAW in Ukraine since 2017?
JurFem has two annual initiatives. The first is the JurFem Forum of Women Lawyers, a platform which unites more than 200 female lawyers and government representatives every year to tackle the topic of combating gender-based violence and discrimination. For example, this year we worked on the formation of a legal road map for combating sexual violence.
The second is our Summer School for female law students where we help young people from law schools develop their soft skills for working with women and children who have suffered from gender-based violence and discrimination that students do not get in their educational institutions. After the completion of each school, we involve female graduates in our analytical activities and offer internships to female students with our female members who are judges, lawyers or representatives of law enforcement agencies.
4. “With the start of full-scale war, JurFem became a place of support for survivors of sexual violence and all kinds of gender discrimination.” What would your advice be to lawyers in other parts of the world who wish to use their legal expertise to assist survivors of VAW, especially those who are in countries that are facing the issue of wartime rape and sex trafficking such as what Ukraine is facing in the ongoing war with Russia?
In April 2022 we launched the JurFem:Support initiative through which our lawyers provide legal assistance and support to victims of sexual violence, including conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV). We work to give victims access to legal aid and to attract as many lawyers as possible to this work and strengthen their competencies in such cases. Through this work we can see gaps in our legislation and approaches to victims. Having identified relevant gaps, our Analytical Center JurFem works out and advocates for appropriate changes to legislation, and our Center:“JurFem Education” prepares educational programmes for judges and law enforcement agencies and lawyers.
My colleagues are sometimes afraid, unwilling, or doubtful of their knowledge or skills when it comes to working with victims of sexual violence. However, victims need our support, understanding and protection and we can learn gender-sensitive communication skills and the implementation of victim-oriented work principles to do this. Do not doubt your efforts when helping victims of violence, because often it is not only about helping one person, but about changing the culture, system and approaches to the investigation of such cases.
5. Since 2017, what sort of impact has JurFem had on Ukraine’s approach and attitudes towards VAW in general?
Our Analytical Center JurFem works on gender-legal examination of legislation, preparation of analytics, drafting of laws and their advocacy. We took an active part in advocating for the ratification of the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (ratified by Ukraine in June 2022).
Our Center “JurFem:Education” constantly works on the preparation of training programs for lawyers, judges, prosecutors and the police. In my opinion, we have improved communication and changed approaches to working with victims of gender-related violence, in particular, sexual violence.
Since the beginning of Russia’s full-scale war against Ukraine, we have focused on the development of CRSV legislation and investigation standards, coordinated the expert group at the Prosecutor General’s Office and, together with our colleagues, have been developing new investigative approaches that are now being successfully applied.
And for the last year and a half, we have been communicating with society through social media reels and videos, leaflets and explanations. It is important for us that Ukrainian men and women know what we do and how we can help them.