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Interview With Rugile Butkeviciute - Women’s issues information centre (WIIC). Lithuania

Updated: Jul 4, 2023

About Ms. Rugile Butkeviciute:

Ms. Rugile Butkeviciute is a lawyer. She got her Master of Business Law in Mykolas Romeris University in Lithuania. For more than 6 years, Rugile served as an expert with European Women’s Lobby Observatory Against Violence Against Women. She is now working for the Women’s Issues Information Centre (Lithuania). Ms. Butkeviciute is working to strengthen sustainable professional networks with international colleagues and institutions in the U.S. She is also working to create services for victims of sexual violence (methodologies, referral systems, promotion of services), a training program on early prevention of intimate partner violence (IPV) and promotion of healthy relationships. On a daily basis, Rugile consults survivors of domestic violence in a specialized support center in Lithuania. She also provides training on various issues in connection with gender equality and human trafficking.

Gender Statistics:

Gender Development Index: 1.030

Gender Inequality Index: 0.105

Classification: The 2021 female HDI value for Lithuania is 0.888 in contrast with 0.862 for males, resulting in a GDI value of 1.030, placing it into Group 2.


Complete Interview With Ms. Rugile Butkeviciute

Rachel Patton

What are the most common female stereotypes in Lithuania?

Rugile Butkeviciute

The most common stereotypes in Lithuania are similar to those in the rest of the EU or the world. I work with very different people, young kids, police officers, judges, etc., and we always have one assignment that I recommend you all to do when you have some time. We divide basically a piece of paper into two columns. We write on one column “man”, and on the other column “women”, so “she,” “her,” “him,” “his,” and “they,” and we also write all the stereotypes that you heard when you were a child and even now. Among the most common, for example, if a woman expresses her opinion clearly, she is seen as bossy. As for responsibilities, women are responsible above all for holding the family together, maintaining a good atmosphere among the family members. In Lithuania, one of the most common stereotypes is that women need to be very careful with their look. Women are expected to look beautiful. Women are expected to be slim fit, preferably with long hair. Women need to have a nice manicure, having a sense of style, look polished, as pretty as possible. So, we definitely have this body cult. I have some colleagues or friends living somewhere abroad, they gained a little bit of weight, and there where they live they feel that they could, you know, be more free in this sense. Women are expected to take care of children, or other people who need care in your family. One of the stereotypes that actually is very much connected with gender-based violence is that women are still the weaker gender. One of the things that people are still saying to boys is you should not hit girls, and when they ask why, the answer is because they are weaker. So, the stereotype of a female being weaker, not as able, of someone that needs to be taken care of is still very prevalent.

Caroline Crosley

Could you give an example of a way in which your efforts in the Children First project have combated stereotypes?

Rugile Butkeviciute

I did this project with Diversity Development Group, which is an NGO specialized in diversity issues. And we actually managed to do questionnaires to find out the stereotypes that prevailed in the school system. Based on the results I was able to train a lot of teachers in Lithuania, showing them how gender stereotypes still exist in the education system. We still definitely use implicit bias in the way we teach, and I believe it was very important for us to give evidence of that to the teachers we were working with. None of them were willing to discriminate. None of them were saying, Well, I’m actually doing this on purpose to hurt people, on the contrary, they were just unaware of gender stereotypes in the education system. Actually, this project was about the gender-based violence and gender stereotypes. We started from gender stereotypes because it’s the main factor determining gender inequality and hence gender-based violence. To finish this question, I would like to say this project was super important for me because I started to develop this training material on gender-based violence in schools and relationships—interpersonal relationships—among teenagers. And then I saw that there was really a lack of this kind of information in Lithuania, and I created this first portal including this kind of information. We called it Ninth Lesson. I don’t know how many lessons [classes] you [US schools] guys have every day. Here in Lithuania, schools definitely have up to seven lessons—one lesson is up to 45 minutes. Eight lessons are very rare, and we never have nine lessons. So, I imagined that this ninth lesson should be about gender equality, gender stereotypes, and safety and relationships. I called this platform Ninth Lesson and put all the information about this subject in one place. This was the first in Lithuania, and I was very happy starting with this project and digging deeper.

Olivia Banks

In your opinion, how has the emergence of social media influenced gender biases in Lithuania?

Rugile Butkeviciute

The emergence of social media has had not only negative effects, but positive effects too. One of those positive consequences is for example its contribution to campaigns such as #MeToo. It also has helped us to know about critical situations far from our countries. For example, women in Poland are leading massive protests for their reproductive rights, and there were thousands and hundreds of thousands of women just fleeing the streets. This information about these protests, their efforts, were shared globally, and people from different countries could support this fight. Another example is the situation in Iran, where women are fighting to obtain more rights. Iran is very, very far away from Las Vegas, for example, but now with social media, many people living in that American city are aware of the situation in the Middle East, and they can in a way join their protest.

As for the negative effects, I would say bullying and gender-based violence just crossed borders and became international. In Lithuania we have a European Institute of Gender Equality. They work to collect data on gender inequality from across different EU countries. They recently published this very interesting study about cyber violence. They considered that social media has become a factor in this cyber violence. In fact, it has become a cross-cultural global phenomenon, right? So, hate speech, sexism are crossing borders. It seems that the more social media platforms expands, the more hate speech does it too.

Rachel Patton

Are women involved in politics in Lithuania?

Rugile Butkeviciute

Yes, women in Lithuania are involved in politics. They have been involved for a long time. In fact, a day like today (11/2/1918), women in Lithuania gained the right to vote. So, we have had this long history of women being involved in politics. But unfortunately, I also have to say that we still lack political representation. Until 2020 we had zero women in the cabinet. So, you can imagine how disappointed we were. It was then, with the new government formed in 2020 that we have a woman as Prime Minister (the second in our history): Ingrida Simonyte, as well as the most gender-balanced Minister Cabinet ever: seven women and eight men. This is above the average in Europe. In the Lithuanian Parliament the situation is worse. Out of the 141 members, only 38 are women. At the local level, the country is divided in (60) municipalities, each with its own major. So, out of sixty municipalities we only have five women mayors. And we all know how important the decisions made at this level are: starting from kindergarten, roads, etc, all the planning, all the budget assessment, all the public services, etc. So, we are involved in politics, and we are active, but still lacking representation. It will be very interesting to see if this changes after the next election in 2024.

Dr. Juan Carlos Sola-Corbacho

Do you believe in quotas?

Rugile Butkeviciute

Yeah, I do believe in quotas. This is a very controversial subject in Lithuania. Probably, I would say that half the people in my country would say Well, no way. Why? But look, we have zero women ministers out of fourteen cabinet members. And curiously, in Lithuania, women are better educated than men.

We only have one party, the Social Democrat Party that decided to implement a quota system, and it is helping women to achieve high positions in the administration of that party. And that, obviously, will help them to become relevant candidates supported by their party, the only way in Lithuania to be elected. A system of quotas would help to solve this problem. I believe the system should not be implemented forever. On the contrary, it would be more useful for a limited period, as a way to promote female candidates, and eventually, when it becomes natural, the political system would not need quotas anymore.

Natalia Von Gierke

Do you think gender inequality has become more or less profound in Lithuania over the last few years?

Rugile Butkeviciute

I remember what one of the board members in our organization claimed about this. She’s been working to achieve this goal for more than forty years. Very likely she is one of the first active feminist in this country. She told us: if there is a group in our country trying to achieve gender equality, there is another trying to preserve patriarchy. I agree with her. It seems that in Lithuania we are moving forward. We have a lot of progress dealing with, for example, domestic violence, creating an appropriate legal framework in this sense. But at the same time, we can perceive a pushback from sexists believing in patriarchy. This a struggle and there are two groups very well defined trying to achieve their goals.

If we take a look at the data, the gender equality index in Lithuania has evolved in a positive way, and now we are in the 20th position in the EU on gender equality (out of 27 members). So, if we look at that, the situation is not marvelous. It’s not as good as in Sweden, Netherlands, or Denmark but it’s not as bad as in Hungary, Romania, and Greece, which are the three last countries in the index.

I believe that not only in Lithuania, but in EU in general, COVID19 has had very important consequences. Before the pandemic we could see some significant progress on gender equality, but it was so fragile… That’s why I have never been like overly enthusiastic and happy about those results. That frustrating situation can be seen within the family and in the job market. During the pandemic, more females than males spent time with children, did housework, etc., and before the pandemic we had been doing quite a progress in this sense. More than fifty-seven percent of women in Lithuania say that they are taking care of kids or other people in the family that are in need of assistance, mainly on their own, in comparison with only thirteen percent of men who declare that. More numbers: more than seventy percent of women and only eight percent of men, declare that they are taking care of household alone, or almost alone. So, again the pandemic has been unfortunately a turning point. So, the progress is still there, if you compare this situation with the situation fifteen or twenty-five years ago, but progress is not as fast as we would like to see.

Avery Jett

Did you notice any large differences in gender issues and gender-based violence between the USA and Lithuania?

Rugile Butkeviciute

I was actually doing my fellowship in George Mason University, and really had a lot of opportunities to talk to students. What I saw there is that, as I mentioned at the beginning of our conversation, gender stereotypes are quite similar in both countries. I was analyzing gender-based violence, and in this case the situation was very similar. Numbers are very similar.

One of the most important differences was the relevance of ethnic and cultural diversity in the United States. Obviously, Lithuania was not very diverse from an ethnic and cultural standpoint, at least then, now it is changing with immigrants coming from Belarus and Ukraine. It was analyzing the case of the United States that I began to think about intersecting inequalities. This is very important right now. That is the case for example of those immigrants fleeing from Afghanistan, women experiencing gender-based violence, intimate partner violence, and they also are victims of violence, victims of ethnic and cultural discrimination.

Rachel Patton

Is gender gender-based violence an issue in Lithuania?

Rugile Butkeviciute

Yes, no doubt. There is a five-year EU gender equality strategy that will be culminated in 2025. As part of this program the European Union is challenging gender stereotypes and trying to end gender-based violence. This strategy/program is very important in Lithuania.

In Lithuania there has been progress in dealing with gender-based violence. Until 2011, domestic violence basically was considered a private issue. It is true that the victim could call the police expecting some protection, but in general there was not a specific way to deal with the problem.

New legislation was passed after 2011. Specially the law against violence and private area. According to this law, domestic violence is not a private issue anymore. With this legislation, victims are protected. The police can take the perpetrator away and hold him or her up to forty-eight hours. During this time the victim is assisted in specialized assistant centers. There are fifteen centers all run by NGOs. They provide specialized legal support, specialized psychological support and specialized emotional support. So, the system is working pretty good in Lithuania, I would say.

We also have a women's support line (and a men’s support line as well) that offer emotional support 24/7. So, if the victim does not want to go to the police, although the situation is extremely dangerous, if the victim feels really bad for example during Christmas time, when nothing is working as usual, and there's nothing merry in her/his spirit, and she/he just really want to talk to somebody, she/he can pick up the phone and call women's support line (or men’s support line). The victim can talk for an hour or two hours, three hours even, as long as she/he needs it.

Lithuania legislators began focusing on physical violence, and now they are working on how to stop psychological violence, and more recently on sexual violence. Lithuania still has a long, long way to go. For example, it is necessary to create a helpline only for victims of sexual violence or sexual harassment.

And the most important issue is that many women do not denounce the situation: more than sixty percent of victims of domestic violence do not go anywhere, neither to police nor friends.

Lydia Carrasco-Bueno:

What is your opinion on how intergenerational trauma plays a role for gender in Lithuania?

Rugile Butkeviciute

When I was in the U.S. I could discuss gender-based violence, and the victim’s center trauma-based approach, providing services, providing support, etcetera. So, I brought this approach to Lithuania when I finished in the United States. So, we started to develop these trauma victims center services. Since then, I have seen trauma every day.

Just recently I met a victim. She told me she wanted to file for divorce. I asked her, why now? You've been suffering this situation for almost fifteen years. And she answered, well, you know, I live very close to my mom, in the same apartment building, and every day we meet, we drink coffee, we drink tea. So, she knows what is happening in my family since the very beginning, but she has always told me that I am the glue that sticks the family together. And she continued, remember that your father did similar things, but I never left him because I wanted you to grow up, you know, with the mom and dad by your side. So, you need to fight for that as well. So, this is what we call intergenerational trauma. It's really a big thing, because it really passes those stereotypes, those traumatic experiences from generation to generation. And that is not the correct way to deal with these issues if we want to put an end to situations similar to that I have just described.

Tim Martin

In your opinion, what is the biggest driver of the cycle of gender-based violence in Lithuania specifically?

Rugile Butkeviciute

Well, I believe it's gender stereotypes. And again, I’m not saying that only women are victims of gender-based violence and that only men are perpetrators. It could happen either way. Almost one third of Lithuanian women suffer domestic violence. In the case of men, that percentage is around twenty percent. Women experience more violence from their intimate partners than men in Lithuania. Men experience violence from other men in their close surroundings.

There is a very interesting research project published in Canada about gender-based violence. I sometimes use it in training. They went to a men's prison, and there, they interviewed a number of perpetrators of domestic violence, asking deep questions. What researchers observed was that they all had quite different backgrounds and education. But one thing that was common to all of them was negative attitudes towards women. Again, these gender stereotypes are probably the main reason for gender-based violence. It is not female stereotypes, it is also male stereotypes: men must be strong, powerful, men must control the situation, men must make money... These stereotypes are harmful, not only for women, but for men as well.

Alcohol is another factor provoking gender-based violence, at least in theory. I have found many cases without this factor (alcohol). In my opinion, alcohol is not always the reason behind violence. Alcohol may be the reason for harsher violence. It's the combination of the personality of the individual and gender stereotypes.

Autumn Rae Henry

If you were only able to provide one resource to a woman fleeing domestic violence, what resource would that be?

Rugile Butkeviciute

That would be opening several specialized assistance centers. There, the victims should find completely anonymous legal and psychological support. In these centers specialists would help getting information about the situation to help the victim. Without specialized support, it's really difficult to end this wheel of abuse in relationships.

Dr. Juan Carlos Sola-Corbacho

Imagine, if one day you become the prime minister of Lithuania. What is the very first thing that you would do with that power?

Rugile Butkeviciute

I would introduce reforms in the education system. That would be my priority. I would include sexual/gender education. I believe it’s very important to work with the young people. I've been doing this since 2013, and I know how it can change our society and improve the situation of women. So, I really believe that if we educate about gender equality and healthy relationships from a very early age, we wouldn't need to go back to this discussion when we're adults.

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