Culture In Depth, 08/10/2018

Centre of Gender Culture: From Collection in Suitcase to Interactive Museum

Before the grand opening of Gender Museum in the new premises on October 9, Kharkiv Observer correspondent met Gender Museum’s director Tetiana Isaieva who came up with the idea of creating such a museum in Kharkiv 10 years ago.

Question: When and why did you make a decision to establish Gender Museum in Kharkiv?

Tetiana Isaieva: In 2006, the Ukrainian Cabinet of Ministers adopted a state program on gender equality. In practice many people, especially women, face gender inequalities in employment, wage and family discrimination. Gender problems were discussed but people did not quite understand what “gender” means. The idea to create a gender museum emerged in 2006 when I started my internship in Sweden. That’s when I brought the first exhibits to Ukraine demonstrating Swedish attitude towards gender equality.

Q: Was there any need for this type of museum 10 years ago?

TI: At first, people were not able to understand what it’s all about as they could not even give a proper definition of the term “gender.” According to a survey, every second Ukrainian responded that “gender is person’s sex.” That’s why there was not much need for this topical museum and sometimes I just wanted to quit.

Q: Who supported your project at an early stage?

 TI: In March 2009, the first exhibition was opened at Karazin Kharkiv National University with assistance from the Ukrainian Women’s Fund. We presented books, souvenirs and photos during the day. Also, Global Women’s Fund helped to organize various exhibitions. By then, the museum had worked for five years with support from Kharkiv Regional State Administration in Derzhprom premises and was called Gender Resource Centre. Unfortunately, in 2013 our center was downsized.

Q: How could the visitors see the exhibits?

TI: Until 2013, the museum was mobile: I moved from one place to another, traveling with a large suitcase with the exhibits inside. During that time, we organized various events: tours, presentations and exhibitions.

Q: When and where did the museum find the permanent premises?

TI: We moved to a two-bedroom shared apartment located in the downtown at 57 Myronositska Street in 2013. The first exhibition in the new premises was dedicated to Kharkiv Liberation from Nazi occupation.

Q: Who funded the project at different stages?

TI: Thanks to Women Support Women action of the Ukrainian Women’s Fund, money was allocated for the premises renovation. Until 2015, the museum was financed by our team of enthusiasts and it was on the verge of closing.

Q: Who managed to allocate funds to shore up the museum?

TI: Once a Spanish feminist and artist Maria Sanchez visited the museum. After she found out about the possibility of the museum being permanently closed, she initiated #SaveGenderMuseum support campaign. For three years, the museum has continued to operate thanks to this campaign, which was joined by the Swedish Women’s Folk School, Spanish feminists, and Chinese volunteers.

Also, Peter Cribley, the founder of an English Language Communications Consultancy firm Lucky Pupil joined the fundraising company for the museum about three weeks ago. Peter has already collected about £500 and he expects to raise more money participating in the Kharkiv Airport Run on October 20.

Q: Does the museum depend only on voluntary donations? 

TI: Not solely, they help a lot but it would not be enough to run the project. In 2016, the museum becomes a part of the Center of Gender Culture, which was created with support from the European Fund for Democracy.

Q: Do only adults visit your museum?

TI: Of course, not. In February-March 2016, thanks to a partnership with the Krona Gender and Analytical Center, Museum on Wheels innovative pilot project was implemented. It aimed to present the part of the Gender Museum collection to schoolchildren and teachers of eight schools in Kharkiv and its region and to increase their level of gender sensitivity and gender culture. In total, during the project implementation, about 100 tours for various age groups from 9 to 18, teachers and parents were conducted for 1,905 people. They were carried out in non-stop mode and built on the principle of dialogue conversation by involving children and adults in finding answers to various questions about gender issues.

Q: How has the collection been renewed? How many exhibits does it comprise of?

TI: My friends as well as the museum’s visitors regularly expand our collection with new exhibits.

We even have a special “exhibit” from the office of Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor. We asked to send something from her personal belongings and received a rejection letter which became an exhibit. A “female euro” from Finland demonstrates the inequality of labor payment: women’s salary is 75 percent of the men’s salary in the majority of countries worldwide. Also, seemingly usual UAH 100 bill was one of the first exhibits presented in 2008 by Olena Suslova, a Ukrainian gender issues expert. Overall, the museum comprises over 3,000 exhibits.

Q: How many expositions are presented?

TI: Two large expositions are presented at the museum, including “The Women’s Face of the War” dedicated to the women who suffered from the Nazi occupation in Kharkiv (1941–1943) and “Women’s Room.” Women with kids comprised four-fifths of the city’s population during the occupation. Trying to survive, women exchanged their clothes, household items, valuable goods and jewelry for food. They carried water in buckets from the other side of the city and picked up everything that could be set on fire to cook food such as books, furniture parts, musical instruments, and tree roots.

“A Women’s Room” exposition is represented with various objects telling about women’s history, including books and women’s magazines from different eras, pre-revolutionary and pre-war household items, and clothes. The symbol of the room is the clock that has stopped meaning that “the time stood still” and broken wings implying that a woman couldn’t go sky-high since she made a choice in favor of family, husband, and kids.

There are many issuances, particularly for children.  For example, these Swedish and Ukrainian books demonstrate how the concept of men’s and women’s gender roles in society is formed in different countries.

Q: How will the museum’s new format look like?

TI: Since December 2017, Kharkiv Regional Gender Resource Centre has started to implement “The Centre of Gender Culture as a Platform for Expanding the Rights and Opportunities of Women and Youth” project with the support of the European Union. Transformation of Gender Museum into a creative space for a dialogue is one of its elements.
The museum is moving to new spacious premises now. There, we will have an exhibition hall, a place for expositions, “women’s room” with hi-tech effects, a conference hall for training sessions and discussions, and a kids’ room to give the opportunity for women with children to take part in discussions.

Kharkiv Observer is grateful to Tetiana for informative talks and wishes her success in the further promotion of the ideas of gender equality and gender culture.

Text: Natalia Ivanova

Photo: Gender Museum, Ihor Rusin