A Femen advertisement reminds that EURO 2012 should be free of forced prostitution and human trafficking. Image: Femen

Okategoriserade Football against Sex Tourism and Prostitution?

EURO 2012 makes prostitution not just a Ukrainian problem, but an European issue.

Published on balticworlds.com on June 5, 2012

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In 1999 in Vienna, European football organizations developed a common strategy and policy against racism and xenophobia, and gave birth to Football against Racism in Europe (FARE), a network dedicated to opposing racism and xenophobia throughout Europe. A look at the discussions surrounding the EURO 2012 tournament in Ukraine would suggest that it’s high time now to launch a similar initiative to fight for women’s rights through football.

During presentations of the UEFA European Football Cup to promote the upcoming football championship in the Ukrainian cities that, alongside Polish cities, are hosting EURO 2012, activists of the Ukrainian feminist organization FEMEN, who are famous for their topless protests, attacked the Cup with abusive inscriptions on their bodies. Arrests did not discourage the Ukrainian “neo-feminists”, as the women call themselves. Even the bitter cold could not stop the activists from playing football, in their usual topless “uniforms”, with prostitutes on Mykhailivs’ka Ploshcha in Kyiv, when the EURO 2012 logo was presented. In this way the FEMEN women demonstrate opposition to sex tourism and try to deconstruct the image of Ukraine as a country of easy women. EURO 2012 seems to be a good occasion for accelerating FEMEN’s protests, which started in 2008 with the slogan, “Ukraine is not a brothel.” Accordingly, the women have organized and launched a special campaign against EURO 2012, which runs parallel to the country’s preparations for the championship tournament.

The problem of prostitution and sex tourism in connection with EURO 2012 has been raised not only by women activists from FEMEN and other feminist organizations, but is also being discussed in the Ukrainian mass media. The sex industry is expected to boom during June and July. As the journalists of Expert magazine comment, there are about 20 brothels just in the vicinity of Kyiv’s Olimpiys’kiy stadium, the national Olympic sports complex, which seats about 70 thousand. Although prostitution is illegal in the country, information on sex services is surprisingly easy to get: brochures advertising sex services are distributed to all men passing by the main sport arena in Kyiv.[1] Such bold advertising of illegal sex services may seem controversial, but the high level of corruption can easily explain the situation.

EURO 2012 makes prostitution not just a Ukrainian problem, but a European issue. Advertising copy mentioning “beautiful Ukrainian women” is used not only to sell trips to Ukraine, but also as a strategy to warn people against travelling to Ukraine. For example, a Dutch television commercial saying “Keep him at home”, shown on the first and second national channels, urges women to persuade their husbands not to go to Ukraine because it is a country full of beautiful women. Instead, the commercial by an electric power supplier offers a home beer tap as a promotional gift to new customers. The commercial could have been seen as a joke if it weren’t for the representation of Ukraine by images of half-naked female bodies.[2]

Of course, this is not the first time that Ukraine has been represented as a country full of beautiful women, or that the Ukrainian woman has been presented as a model body ready to be served to an eager male consumer willing to pay money. The Dutch commercial has been widely discussed in the Ukrainian media in connection with another scandal in early 2011, which sparked discussion not only in Ukraine, but also overseas. This was the “Win a Wife” contest announced by the New Zealand radio station The Rock. “Win a Trip to Beautiful Ukraine,” the radio station announced, “and Meet Eastern European Hot Lady Who Maybe One Day You Marry.” The poster presents a blond woman with a red ribbon around her head, suggesting a Christmas gift ready to be presented to a “winner”, at least “for 12 nights”. The offer raises inconvenient questions: “Who is presenting this gift? Is it OK to receive a human being as a gift?” But the contest was not meant to address such questions. The radio contest and the arrival of its winner in the city of Donets’k in Eastern Ukraine triggered protests by FEMEN activists in the airport. The activists used this occasion as an opportunity to demonstrate for their cause and remind everyone once again, “Ukraine is not a brothel.”

But it is not only foreign mass media who are fuelling the image of Ukraine as a pool of beautiful and available girls: some Ukrainian politicians of the highest rank also contribute to this image on the international level. At the economic forum in Davos in January 2012, Victor Yanukovych invited the guests to visit EURO 2012 in Ukraine by saying enthusiastically, “When it gets warm in the cities of Ukraine and the women get undressed, it will be wonderful!”[3] Thus not only EURO 2012 is being promoted through references to women’s bodies, but Ukraine itself is being branded with an image already well established in society, both nationally and internationally.

Prostitution and sex tourism are only the tip of the iceberg, though. Beneath the surface there are other problems. Nadia Parfan, a member of the initiative group Feminist Offensive (Feministychna Ofenzyva)[4], comments on the marches organized by the group on International Women’s Day, March 8, 2012: “This year we chose the theme ‘It is time for the church and the state to live apart’. We were demonstrating against the involvement of the church in politics. We were protesting against a range of recent legislative initiatives, like the introduction of special taxes for those who have no children, and ban on artificial fertilization for unmarried women and for women over 49 years old. We did not expect the march to be so topical. As if listening to our demands, the heads of the Catholic churches addressed a proposal to ban abortion to the Ukrainian Parliament. On May 12th, Andriy Shkil, a deputy of the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, introduced the bill to ban abortion. I see these steps as a base political speculation and dirty effort to win voters before the upcoming elections, but also it showed how topical feminism is for Ukraine now.”[5]

The protests launched by the women activists from FEMEN and from Feminist Offensive seize the opportunity to draw international attention to the topical problems that perpetuate the degradation of human rights in Ukraine. Interestingly, the FEMEN activists are not protesting against the imprisonment of Yulia Tymoshenko, which is mainly discussed on the international level.[6] As the FEMEN activist Oleksandra Shevchenko comments, the organization sees Tymoshenko as a representative of the oligarch class. FEMEN’s objective is to draw attention to the problems which are not at all heard outside Ukraine, and have little resonance even in Ukraine itself.

Indeed, the women’s protests against the EURO 2012 are not only part of the struggle against prostitution. They are an effort to fight against violations of women’s rights and for an alternative image of Ukraine. Through football, the demonstrators hope to reach the broader community and raise support not only for women’s rights, but for human rights in the broader sense. The FEMEN activists are ready to fight. The women announced that they are preparing themselves for the campaign by working out in gyms in order to be in good shape to contend with men during the tournament. We’ll be witnessing the contest soon: the matches start in a week. But the question remains: maybe we do need a Football for Women’s Rights network?


  1. http://ukr.lb.ua/news/2012/05/10/150305_stali_izvestni_rastsenki_prostitutok.html.
  2. The video can be seen on Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=za_fwis1hH0.
  3. http://www.unian.ua/news/418652-yanukovich-u-davosi-zaprosiv-investoriv-v-ukrajinu-koli-rozdyagnutsya-jinki.html.
  4. The website of Feminist Offensive is at http://ofenzyva.wordpress.com/.
  5. http://top10.ua/art/2012/03/21/nadezhda-parfan.
  6. The European Parliament adopted the Resolution on Ukraine of 22 May 2012, which stated that “whereas Ukraine will host the 2012 European Football Championship together with Poland in June; whereas so far high-ranking European politicians have indicated that they will not attend matches taking place in Ukraine, but have not called for a boycott of the European Football Championship matches”, the EU “deplores the sentencing of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko … [and] calls on the Ukrainian authorities to clarify the situation of prisoners sentenced on politically motivated grounds before the start of the election campaign”.
  • http://www.addvalue.com.au/ caseymadison

    Men are blind in Russia and Ukraine. They don;t care about their women and the women are most beautiful in the world. Talk about injustice. Poor women are exploited. Vodka is the root cause of all evils there.