As part of the implementation of the gender equality initiative support, the U-LEAD with Europe Programme disseminates the stories of women who support decentralisation reform in Ukraine
During April-June 2019 Italian journalist Monica Ellena, engaged by the Programme, visited 6 different hromadas of the Volyn, Chernihiv, Kharkiv, Poltava and Odesa Oblasts headed by women who have reached success in local self-government. As a result of these visits, six articles were created with their personal and professional stories, backed up by quotes and photographs.
There is a particular elegance in the numbers that mark two key dates in Violeta Borovska’s career. 62 years old, she was first elected as head of the Natalyne village council on 4th April 2004 – or 04/04/04. Thirteen years later, the village council decided to amalgamate with two other councils on 8th August 2017 – or 08/08/17. As a former mathematics teacher, Mrs Borovska appreciates what she calls “magical numbers.”
For the superstitious, this may be a good sign. At any rate, the decision to amalgamate has brought plenty of benefits, she says.
“Before decentralisation, we knew what the needs were in the community, but we didn’t have the money to tackle them,” she explains while sitting at her desk, overflowing with papers and sports trophies won by local teams – a reminder of what can be achieved when people work together.
Now, Natalynska amalgamated hromada is a flurry of activity, with 22 construction projects underway – one involves replacing the roof and installing new heating for the kindergarten. In the meantime, all the primary schools received single desks and spaces for seclusion and rest, in line with the New Ukrainian School concept.
Elsewhere, the hromada is adding four new classrooms, a new gymnasium and a conference hall to another school. During the day, the school will be better equipped with facilities to educate its pupils. In the evening, the gym and conference hall will host a range of different activities for the community. By combining this in one building, rather than building separate facilities, the hromada will benefit from greatly reduced construction, heating and maintenance costs.
Ultimately, Mrs Borovska’s goal is that the village residents should enjoy the same standards of living as city dwellers. There have been lots of challenges along the way, she says. The first was their desire to form a larger hromada of seven villages and 12,000 people. The village councils made lots of efforts to convince people of the benefits of amalgamation, holding meetings and public hearings. But wary of change, three of those villages refused. She no longer has the time to persuade them, but hopes that the progress made in the hromada will convince them to amalgamate in the future.
One case in point is Popivka village. As she walks into the school yard to attend the graduation ceremony on a warm summer day Violeta Borovska describes how the amalgamation brought this village of 1,600 back to life. The injection of cash allowed the school, a beautiful red-brick building from the late 1800s, to be refurbished and roads to be repaved.
A second source of difficulty lies in managing the hromada’s rapid growth. Most obviously, the budget grew tenfold in the space of one year to reach UAH 100 million. The hromada sits in a gas-rich area. Extracting companies contribute substantially to the community’s coffers.
“It is not easy to spend that amount of money wisely and efficiently,” Mrs Borovska explains, adding that key services like healthcare, education and roads are priorities for all the villages. Her head for figures helps her keep track of expenditures. But even so, the amount of work involved is considerable, such as arranging tenders, preparing and developing projects, and transferring different types of properties onto the relevant balance sheets.
Human resources, indeed, highlights another tricky area. Alongside the growth of budget came an explosion in staff. The hromada now employs 35 people. Before amalgamation, the village council only had seven staff. The hromada is organised into multiple departments, including social protection, culture, legal affairs etc. Some tasks, such as drawing up legal tenders, require specific skills. Yet finding appropriately qualified staff in a village is difficult. “Over time,” she says, “the situation should improve, as people see how the hromada is developing and come to live there.”
Support for establishing the necessary skillsets and managing new administrative processes comes from Kharkiv Local Government Development Centre of U-LEAD with Europe, which organises numerous trainings and offers consultations for all amalgamated hromadas on issues like education and local economic development. For Natalynska hromada, seminars of specific importance covered project cycle management and infrastructure development, including preparing projects with infrastructure subventions and searches for reserves.
Violeta Borovska certainly has the managerial experience to meet these challenges. She began organising things when in the young pioneers, before rising through the ranks of the komsomol. Fresh from university, she began teaching maths before becoming director of a secondary school at the age of 30. After 13 years in that role, she became head of the village council, before assuming control of the hromada in 2017.
Decentralisation has already delivered a lot, but it could do more with greater numbers of women in leadership positions.
Despite the opportunities she received, she is the only female head of a hromada in Kharkiv Oblast. All of the 18 other hromada heads are male. Part of the problem, she thinks, lies in the domestic division of labour, given the feeling that women should do more work at home than men.
“Given the choice young women select family over public life,” she notes.
“On top of that, public servants do not receive large salaries, which means they can’t afford to hire help at home if they work.”
“Women are very responsible, they take everything they do seriously,” Mrs Borovska says, citing two other female heads of hromadas from Poltava Oblast who impressed her at a recent conference. “Men are like commanders. They give commands, but if it’s not done, it doesn’t matter. But we throw ourselves into it until the job is done.”
Громади:Наталинська сільська об’єднана територіальна громада
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