“Feminist workshop” has supported elderly women for over a year. In this text, we tell what we accomplished so far, what are the sources of motivation for volunteers, and what are trends activists observe.
Statistics indicate that Ukrainian elderly women receive a pension that is a third less compared with their male peers. It is a result of disproportionate conditions considering paternal leave, unpaid domestic labor, wage gap, unreported employment, etc. Elderly women are more likely to wind up living on their own and have less savings. The full-scale invasion deepened the vulnerability of this group. Elderly women with reduced mobility couldn’t get to the supermarket across the city to buy the essentials, and the nearest shops quickly ran out of supplies. It got even worse during blackouts caused by Russian shellings and planned power outages. We launched a volunteer program in order to support elderly women in Lviv, help them to overcome anxiety, and buy what was needed. Volunteers bought the essentials or arranged support from the partner organizations, prepared packages, and visited the elderly women. They chatted with grannies and offered help with household chores. March 2023 marked the first anniversary of the program.
Activists of the “Feminist workshop” Anastasia-Lyubov and Ivanka are permanent volunteers of the grannies’ support program. “Elderly women or other people that know about their needs may reach out to us at (093 645 46 11). Before launching the program we contacted heads of associations of apartment house owners, asking them for contacts of elderly women in need of help. We also asked our friends”, – Lyubov recalls.
What has been accomplished over this time?
We worked with 58 elderly women in total, and we are currently helping 29 of them. We’ve been staying in touch with 15 of them from the very beginning of the project, for more than a year. Activists of “Feminist workshop” frequently help them and only stop providing help if elderly women no longer require it.
Ivanka works in the program since the beginning. She tells that after all this time she now has her favorite grannies: “There is an elderly woman who collects magnets, a fan of Oleg Vynnyk, an amateur genealogist. Some grannies have pets I know. I visit them once a month, and that brings them lots of joy. I come by bike, tell them what’s new, ask about their health, look at their pets and garden beds, and notice where seeds had sprouted and how they are doing.” Lyubov also points out that elderly women enjoy growing plants. “When you help someone else, it makes your own life more pleasant, as you feel more capable. I believe that it is crucial for elderly women to be able to bring something into this world. They even gave something in return to the volunteers, be it a flower or an apple, so they reciprocate the care,” – the activist shares.
There were also other volunteers joining the program, but the majority of them couldn’t work regularly due to burnout. Sich activity is emotionally demanding, Ivanka says. When working with elderly women you constantly face a lack of tact and have to give up your personal borders. “That’s why I keep asking myself: in what environment these people were raised, in which system of values they were brought up, and what is with their cognitive skills now – that helps me to apply the tolerance lens. That is the kind of audience we can support as a vulnerable group without asking them to change. Information- and values-wise, these people belong to another generation,” – the volunteer explains. To keep the project going and avoid volunteering turnover, activists organized a courier delivery of food packages to the participants of the program. That’s paid work with regular monthly visits to a fixed number of elderly women. At the same time, volunteers can visit several women per month, and help with their resources or donations. Each visit lasts for 15-20 minutes. Even though it’s small talk, to a certain extent it helps cover the need for care.
Activists of Feminist Workshop say that financial support could prevent burnout. “Ukrainians are eager to donate to military causes, and that is great. Still, projects helping vulnerable groups still don’t receive enough material support, it is complicated to engage in volunteering”, – Lyubov says.
What made elderly women a vulnerable group
Activists name reproductive pressure among the reasons that put elderly women in a vulnerable position. “Today we have more opportunities to counter reproductive pressure, both on individual and system levels. The older generation got considerably fewer such opportunities, – Lyubov shares. – Being pressured to get married and have kids, financial insecurity, absence of personal living space, lack of awareness about communication in the family, high rates of family violence perpetrated by husband, lack of institutional support – all these factors led to splits in the family, to increased hostility, to children distancing away from the parents. Sure, exceptions exist, and some children act responsibly and support elderly relatives, but that’s not a particularly common scenario”.
“We would love it if elderly women were to socialize more, say, visit each other. Unfortunately, such a scenario is not that promising, – Ivanka shares. – They are women with reduced mobility, it is complicated for them to leave home, and grocery shopping may take their whole day. The peak of their cultural life is liturgy in the church. Besides, the more time you spend isolated, the more accustomed you grow to it”.
Elderly women are a vulnerable group that requires attention and at the same time remains invisible. They can’t cope one their own. Still, they don’t reach out for help. Activists of “Feminist Workshop” believe that there are no unimportant people. They work to raise awareness of the problems elderly women face in Ukraine.
Text: Iryna Sokolovska Translate (Ukrainian-English): Kira Leonova