FANS attending Euro 2012 in Ukraine may be confronted by Europe’s briefest miniskirts and lowest-cut tops, but they will barely glimpse the day-to-day difficulties faced by women in the former Soviet republic, rights activists say.
"Fans are going to see lots of attractive women and for many that’s going to reinforce the negative image about our women abroad," Anna Gutsol, founder of the Femen action group, said.
"Most foreigners aren’t even going to begin to think how hard life for female Ukrainians is. They’ll just look at us like some kind of pretty piece of candy," Gutsol said.
Femen is notorious for sending attractive young women to a public location to strip topless and shout about their causes.
The Euro 2012 championships, touted by the Ukrainian government as a major milestone in the country’s efforts to integrate with the European Union, will do little for average Ukrainians and could make things for women worse, Gutsol said.
"Euro 2012 will promote sex tourism in Ukraine and demean women even more. In Europe, Ukrainian women have the unfortunate reputation of being beautiful, cheap sex dolls, and that image will only be reinforced," she said.
The anti-human-trafficking nongovernmental organisation La Strada considers Ukraine a prime source of European prostitutes, citing a weak economy and poor work opportunities for women as the main reasons.
"Women in Ukraine do not have a very high status. There is huge gender-related discrimination and society places big pressure on a woman to be a housewife and a mother ," said La Strada’s Mariana Yevtsukova.
As many as 90% of Ukrainian prostitutes have children and 80% of them have been victims of domestic violence. More than 40% of them live with a man unable to support the household, according to La Strada.
Singer-songwriter Alena Vinnitskaya, a member of Nu Virgos, the most popular girl band in the former Soviet Union and one of Ukraine’s best-known pop performers, said football fans might be shocked by the amount of skin left exposed by Ukrainian women during the country’s sometimes steaming hot summer.
"There is absolutely a tradition celebrating female beauty in our country. It is part of our history and it’s not something we can forsake because in Europe or somewhere else women look differently. Perhaps sometimes the way we dress seems provocative to foreign visitors, but that is by their standards, not ours," Vinnitskaya said.
"I think Euro 2012 is a good thing for our country. It will allow outsiders to see the bad with the good ," she said.