Meet the Ukrainian model who is creating a platform for single mums
Veronika Didusenko is known around the world as a high-profile model and a bold advocate for women’s rights. However, Veronika’s impact on the world is not limited to these roles. She is also the 24-year old mother of a five-year old son, who is the real reason behind all her hard work.
Veronika’s mantra is bold but simple: “Having children is not a verdict.”
Veronika discovered she was pregnant when she was an eighteen year old university student.
In an interview with ‘Voices for the Voiceless’, she recalls: “I was already in my second year at the university studying mathematics.”
What’s more, Veronika was on the verge of kickstaring a life-changing international modelling career in Paris. Despite the obstacles ahead of her, she was determined to raising her baby boy: “More than anything, I wanted to have my baby.” But she was also determined to completing her education and fulfilling her professional goals.
“Shortly after Alex was born, I flew to Paris [for work]. I am a multitasker and thrive on challenges. I had agreed with my university that I would do all my homework online. This was key to being able to travel abroad for work. My mother helped me to take care of the baby while I worked during the day…we would schedule his feeding in between the shoots, and mom looked after him while I was busy. In the evenings and often during the night, I did my homework.”
With unwavering determination, hard work, discipline, and the help of her family and her university, Veronika was able to do both.
“Today, having met women from different walks of life, I realise that being able to combine maternity, work and university, all at once, is a luxury,” she shared, “And I am immensely grateful to all the people who have made this possible for me,” she told Voices for the Voiceless. Her story is a powerful witness to the incredible power of community.
Miss Ukraine 2018: Winning and Losing Her Title
In 2018, Veronika won the Miss Ukraine beauty pageant, a franchise of the Miss World organisation. Today, these prestigious pageants have grown to become much more than just physical beauty competitions – they are now widely regarded as an important platform for humanitarian causes and an enormous opportunity for women to make an impact on fashion, media, and entertainment industries. Although these high-profile competitions still carry a sense of stigma from the general public for being overly concerned with physical appearances, it is evident they have generally become more inclusive in recent years and have made cultural progress with regard to female empowerment and the expansion of standards of beauty.
For Veronika, receiving this title was not only a big honour, but was an important step in furthering her career: “[F]or many women, a beauty pageant is an opportunity to access better career opportunities. In my case, I was coming from the fashion industry, and becoming the winner meant significantly enhancing my profile as a fashion model… If you think about it, winning Miss World for someone like me is similar to winning an Oscar for an actress, or an Olympic medal for an athlete.”
But much to her shock, Veronika’s title of Miss Ukraine was stripped from her when the organisation found out she had a four-year-old son. Miss Ukraine, like its sister pageants, has a strict rule that women who have been married or have children are not allowed to compete. The organisation states that the rule exists to protect children from forced separation from their mother while she is performing her role as a global ambassador.
But despite the appearance of benevolence, this rule actually serves to revoke a woman’s ability to decide what she can and cannot handle, and sends out a loud message that motherhood is a limitation and a burden for young women, showing them they won’t be able to accomplish a goal before they can even start trying.
“According to this logic and the rules which are based on it, Serena Williams would have been banned from tennis competitions after having a daughter,” Veronika explained, “Or Sheryl Sandberg would have had to leave her career after having her first child.”
While Veronika said she was aware of this rule when she applied, she strongly believed that being a mother should not disqualify her from achieving her dreams and furthering her professional career:
“Having children should not have an impact on a woman’s ability to be a professional in the industry of her choice.” As a young mum, Veronika is a beacon to other young women, often torn between having a baby and having a career; she knows that she is more than capable of being successful in her modelling career and raising her son at the same time, and she refuses to let anyone tell her otherwise. She is dedicated to creating a more progressive and inclusive society for young mothers like her, and raising her son in a world where motherhood and professional ambition are not perceived as being mutually exclusive.
After Veronika’s crown was revoked, she decided to do something about it, launching her #RightToBeAMother campaign to fight for the acceptance and respect for both motherhood and marital status in the beauty pageant world. Just as pageant regulations have evolved over time in an effort to be more inclusive to all types of women, Veronika believes that now is the time for that evolution to include mothers and wives. In an instagram post launching her campaign, Veronika writes, “I don’t want my crown back. I want to get the rules changed for our wider society. These rules are a systemic, widespread and international policy that results in discrimination on large scale across many countries.”
In 2013, Miss Great Britain removed the restriction against mothers from their eligibility requirements, stating that they “strongly believe that a woman who is or has been married or has children can be a strong positive role model for others.” It is clear that although it has only just begun, change is coming.
Not every young mother will have to face discrimination on such a high-profile and prolific scale, each will have their own mountains to climb. When asked for the most important piece of advice she could give to encourage ambitious mothers, Veronika’s response was: “Ask for support and don’t be shy to take it.” While Veronika worked extremely hard on her own, taking care of her son in between photo shoots and doing homework at night, she acknowledges that she would not have the opportunities she’s had without the strong support of family and friends who always wanted to help her achieve her dreams. Success, she says, is “a mix of luck, a support network, and one’s own hard work. It’s not just one thing.”
Now is the time to create a world where every mother is empowered to embrace both her child and her future. In a world where abortion is increasingly promoted as an option and a positive thing for women, we need to come together to radically change the narrative. Ending life is not empowerment; real empowerment comes from embracing life!
With strong support systems and the fierce advocacy of those like Veronika, our culture can see that a child is not an end to a future but rather a beautiful part of it. As Veronika says, “Having children is not a verdict.”