New East women

In the year of #MeToo, attention has focused like never before on harassment and discrimination against women. In Eastern Europe women are still fighting for basic rights and such a public reckoning is still far away. Yet women are standing up. To mark a pivotal year, here are 9 stories of female inspiration and empowerment.

What does being a woman mean today? It is a question which women ask themselves frequently as a call for action and in search for a guidance for future generations. It is a question which has become increasingly urgent in the wake of #MeToo movement and which remains pressing a year on from the movement’s inception.

Originally a slogan coined by the activist Tarana Burke, #MeToo has become a viral shorthand for calling out gender-based violence and abuse. #MeToo has motivated women all over the world to speak out about sexism and injustice and challenge patriarchal structures.

Being a woman today means feeling a part of this great shift towards equality — but the change is not going to come easily. With a rise in nationalist and far right rhetoric internationally, a woman’s work towards equality is very far from being done.

Being a woman today means learning from each other — not only as individuals but across cultures and geographies. Voices of women from the New East — Russia, Eastern Europe, Central Asia, the Caucasus and the Balkans — often remain unheard in the global context, although their stories are endlessly inspiring.

Women from these countries of former communist influence often have to deal with a complex past: the heritage of traditional patriarchal cultures, authoritarian regimes which controlled female bodies and the economic hardship of the post-Soviet ‘90s. They often have to deal with a complex present too: from conservative male-dominated political systems to persistent sexist stereotypes and restrictive beauty standards.

Being a woman today means learning about sisterhood, self-care and love. It also means unlearning a lot of things, like always being quiet, pleasant and agreeable.

It means kicking against stereotypes and stigmas. It means fighting for the right to have a choice.

It means empowering your community and trying to represent those who would otherwise remain invisible.

This project is a collection of stories about New East women told through their own voices. Among these women are fearless activists who are fighting for abortion rights in Poland, raising the profile of feminism in Central Asia, and promoting body positivity in Russia. There are stories which celebrate female labour in numerous kitchens and factories, and even in the mountains of Nagorno-Karabakh amidst the lethal debris of a former war.

This is an ode to female creativity and collaboration, a marking of women’s words, women’s work and women’s bodies, and a reflection on ordinary lives that might resonate with the lived experiences of women across the world.