Larysa Denysenko

Just Like You is a joint project of Real Stories Production and the United Nations Development Programme in Ukraine financially supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark

Larysa Denysenkohuman rights activist, lawyer, television presenter, writer

The need for freedom is at the very heart of an individual. It is an inner feeling, inalienable from self-awareness. But for some reason, the concepts of rights and freedoms often do not correlate with everyday life. It is as if these concepts are in a special closet, and people only take them out when necessary. And people prefer not to look there, because the concepts are difficult to understand, and there is a widespread perception that they are something that specialists – for example lawyers – should deal with. But these are basic things! What I am doing now is making the concepts of rights and freedoms familiar to people from childhood. I believe that a child as young as four years old can understand what taxes are and why there is corruption if it is properly explained. These topics are a part of an outlook on the world.

In my work, I primarily protect women and girls. Not because I am against the protection of men and boys, but because historically women have been granted rights later than men, and in many situations they face less favourable attitudes. It is mostly women who face stereotypes. If you take into account the misogynic attitudes in our society, it becomes crystal clear how much strength and courage it takes for women to accept themselves.

I don’t understand how anyone can condemn anyone else for their length of their hair or skirt or their relationship. I feel strongly that one person cannot dictate such things to another. This is about personal boundaries as well as rights and freedoms. I am happy that we are gradually moving towards understanding this. I often travel to other countries, and I have never heard comments like: “Why is your baby underdressed?” or: “Why did you divorce?” Not to mention the right of a woman to look the way she wants and to build relationships with the people she wants, irrespective of the expectations of her parents, the government, or the church. I’m a feminist. Feminism is about a woman’s right to be the kind of person she feels. And comments from others are simply irrelevant: we have ethical standards, our rights and freedoms, and a law that outlines the framework for our behaviour. Well, the law is not always fair, but you still have to build on your rights and develop mutual respect.

Sometimes, it’s not your boss, colleague, friend or the government that does you down. You do yourself down. This is because of disparagement. When people does not allow themselves to study, grow as people or dream. Or do not want to assert their gender, ethnic or linguistic identities because of fear of condemnation.

But there is also a reverse process in which people act internally as human rights activists for themselves. When they overcomes their fears and learn to defend themselves, even in the home. The best tool for doing this is to know your rights and freedoms. This is something I’m currently focussing on. I think the world would be a much better place if people perceived their rights and freedoms as something natural and inalienable, and treated others the same way, remembering their rights and freedoms in turn.

What I currently do can be divided into three categories: a person, a word and a right. A word and a right can both strengthen and weaken a person. Both a word and a right make the say stronger. For me, these are also tools that I teach others, so that they do not fear but display widespread respect for the other – in all meanings of “the other”. But it is impossible to use the same words to convey this to everyone. Therefore, to reach children I write fairy tales, for teenagers I provide training, and with adults we have discussions through the media.

I use different words and different forms to promote the same message: “Freedom is inside you, your rights are inviolable.”