Ukrainian army faces backlash for making women march in heels

Military changes position on footwear after criticism from opposition politicians

The official pictures aimed to display the next generation of the Ukrainian army: dozens of female cadets marching in their fatigues and high heels, before a parade next month honouring the country’s 30th anniversary of independence. But after a flurry of angry responses from politicians, a demonstration in front of the ministry of defence and sceptical feedback from the cadets this past week, the Ukrainian military changed its position on the footwear, acknowledging the challenges of marching in heels.

"Walking in the heat on our roads, the military risks injury, damage to shins, ligaments and even rubbing their feet," Inna Sovsun, an opposition politician, wrote on Facebook. "Why? To bring to life someone's stereotypes about the only role of a woman as a beautiful doll?"

The photographs have prompted a widespread debate in Ukraine over the adequacy of the equipment for women in the army, and the broader failure of the military to better integrate women in the armed forces, despite welcomed changes in recent years.

The heels are part of the female cadets' dress uniform worn for formal occasions, but such shoes are not worn with field uniforms. Maria Berlinska, an activist campaigning for more gender equality within the army's ranks, said the goal of the parade should be to demonstrate the service's strengths, but that a soldier wearing heels would display incapability. "Women, like men, fight in combat boots," Ms Berlinska wrote on Facebook. "During the war, many of our girls died on the battlefield in military uniform."


Women have been allowed to serve in the Ukrainian armed forces since 1993, and, in 2018, the military opened up many combat jobs to them. Roughly 31,000 women serve in the military, more than 15 per cent of the Ukrainian armed forces, a figure that has more than doubled since 2014. Yet women have faced sexual assault and harassment, and researchers have shown women face gender discrimination and remain assigned to poorly paid and low-ranking positions.

The Ukrainian ministry of defence wrote on Facebook on Friday that other countries require servicewomen to wear heels and that the dress code came from a 2017 decree. But Saturday, Andriy Taran, the defence minister, told cadets that “improved” and “ergonomic” shoes would be made available “in the shortest possible time”. – New York Times