Op-ed: What does the military offensive in Ukraine mean for women and girls?
Originally published on UN Women's Regional website for Europe and Central Asia
By Alia El-Yassir, UN Women Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia
The military attack in Ukraine is undermining access to rights for all, and UN Women is deeply concerned about the rapidly mounting humanitarian crisis inside Ukraine and in the neighboring countries. We know that women and girls will be impacted differently and disproportionally, and we will seek to ensure that their specific needs are adequately met.
UN Women will use its expertise in Ukraine and neighboring countries to identify and respond to women and girls’ specific needs as they evolve. We will redirect our programming on the ground and share our gender expertise with the UN System and our humanitarian partners to help make humanitarian response plans and their implementation more gender responsive.
UN Women has been present in Ukraine since 2015, including with offices in the east. Even before the recent escalation, conflict raged in eastern Ukraine and women and girls were severely impacted. More than 1.5 million people – two-thirds women and children – were internally displaced and suffered from impeded access to healthcare, housing, and employment.
UN Women has been supporting social mobilization amongst women in the conflict-affected areas of eastern Ukraine, advancing their resilience, livelihoods and boosting their capacities and confidence, including by helping them to form self-help groups. We’ve also been working closely with civil society partners and women peacemakers, supporting them with their advocacy needs to ensure their voices are heard in decision-making on humanitarian aid provision, recovery, reconstruction and conflict resolution.
Since starting our work in Ukraine, the resilience of women and girls, as well as of other groups often left behind such as young people and members of the LGBTIQ community, have greatly impressed us and guided our efforts. We aim to continue to support the efforts of our partners, calling for their rights to be protected, including to benefit equally from aid and the allocation of resources, and to participate in decision making.
As the number of Ukrainians fleeing to neighboring countries rises, we will also engage in the refugee response there. With our field presence in Moldova, UN Women plans to conduct a rapid gender assessment. A similar needs assessment of Syrian women refugees in transit in the Western Balkans in 2015 laid bare the specific challenges facing women including, family separation, psychosocial stress and trauma, physical harm and injury, lack of access to sexual and reproductive health, exploitation and gender-based violence. Our work with Syrian refugees since 2015 and the internally displaced women of Ukraine has taught us good practices to help women and girls while they are in transit and as their displacement becomes more permanent.
I join our Executive Director in her call to the international community “to keep women and girls at the centre and to ensure that the humanitarian assistance planned and provided is gender-responsive.” I also echo statements by the UN SG and the High Commissioner for Human Rights who have called for an end to the military action which undermines human rights and humanitarian law. But no matter how the war evolves, we will continue to identify and respond to the needs of women and girls, ensuring their voices are heard, and work closely with our UN System and humanitarian partners, as well as women’s civil society organizations on the ground to help meet these needs.