Ukraine: Women and girls experiencing escalating levels of violence with no adequate protection as situation worsens ‘by the day’, international charity ActionAid says
- Women and girls affected by Ukraine invasion are experiencing escalating threats of sexual and gender-based violence as conflict continues.
- ActionAid says the protection of women has been ‘forgotten’ after concerns over glaring gaps in mental health support and safeguarding.
- The international human rights charity calls for the needs of women, girls, young people and marginalised communities to be prioritised and their leadership to be put at the centre of the response.
Human rights charity ActionAid says its deeply concerned that the rights of women and girls affected by the Ukraine conflict are being failed and they aren’t receiving the protection they desperately need to safeguard them physically and mentally from abuse. With increased threats of sexual and gender-based violence, ActionAid is calling for the needs of women and girls to be put first and not forgotten.
There are almost 8 million Ukrainian refugees across Europe, and another 6 million displaced inside the country. It’s estimated 90% of these are women and children.
ActionAid, working with partners in Ukraine and surrounding countries has seen worsening levels of sexual and gender-based violence on women and girls both inside and outside the country.
Large numbers of people have been displaced in Ukraine and this has added to the vulnerability of women and girls, out of those who have moved into shelters two thirds are women (65%) and a quarter (25%) are children. Always disproportionately impacted in a crisis, women and girls are being forced to carry out transactional sex in exchange for food and survival. There are reports of women and girls ‘disappearing’ and trafficking is a major risk.
Triona Pender, Senior Emergency Manager for the Ukraine response at ActionAid, said: ‘‘Women and girls are most at risk in the Ukraine conflict where gender-based violence and exploitation has soared. We’re deeply concerned about the safety of women and children living in Ukraine and those who have fled, there’s a severe lack of services in place to protect them and provide them with much needed support. An increase in violence means there’s much more demand for mental health services and at the moment this isn’t in place.
“The situation is already desperate and with no way of knowing how long this conflict will last, we need to prioritise the safeguarding of women, girls and marginalised communities urgently.”
In addition to being highly vulnerable to abuse while traveling to safety, women and girls aren’t receiving the necessary protection after they reach other destinations in Europe. Existing barriers in neighbouring countries are preventing access to sexual and reproductive healthcare which makes the problem worse. For instance, Poland has some of the strictest abortion laws in Europe. Humanitarian organisations that are present in countries that are taking in Ukrainian refugees must prioritise serving the needs of women and girls and be well-equipped to do so.
One of ActionAid’s partner organisations, Girls, provides a safe space for survivors of gender-based violence offering psychosocial support for girls and women affected by the conflict in Ukraine.
Yuliya Sporysh, founder of NGO Girls says ‘‘Having experienced the horrors of war, women and girls deserve care and protection. Women and their kids can heal and regain their independence in a secure environment like ours. While many of Ukraine’s war-affected women have survived acts of violence caused by the war, many of the women we work with have managed to escape domestic abuse. In this regard, it´s quite worrying the increasing on the number of consultants that we have received related to gender based violence and sexual violence in the last months”.
ActionAid is calling for the response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine to prioritise women, girls and marginalised communities. This means making sure that all decision-making processes include women and girls, young people, and marginalised groups like the LGBTQIA+ community to guarantee that their leadership, rights and needs are at the centre of the humanitarian response and its aftermath.
In this regard, the report “Standing up for our rights: feminist insights from the Ukraine response” issued by ActionAid, and developed with 25 partners, reveals how the international system fails to acknowledge and promote the work that these organizations are doing.
About ActionAid’s response
ActionAid is working with 28 partners in Ukraine, Poland, Moldova and Romania.
Action Aid partners, Sphere, Insight, and Legalife, are working to support the most marginalised persons affected by the conflict. Since the escalation of the conflict in Ukraine, Sphere has provided urgent humanitarian support to 300 women and members of the LGBTQIA+ community Insight has supported over 14,000 households with essential humanitarian relief packages while Legalife is addressing the needs of more than 100 sex workers, a highly marginalised group. The three partners provide psychological and legal support, medicines, food, relocation, and safe houses for permanent stay to those most in need.
Another partner, Polish Humanitarian Action, has distributed multi-purpose cash for women to support their family’s needs. Across the response more than 1 million people have been reached with support in refugee reception centres, 70,000 people have been reached with essential relief supplies, and 4,800 with multi-purpose cash.
Since the beginning of the crisis, ActionAid’s and its partner organisations have supported almost 1.5 million people, including 1,275,00 women and 35 women’s and young people’s organisations.