Russian-Ukrainian crisis: women bear the brunt of war

In times of war, the resulting humanitarian crisis often worsens and creates new inequalities within the dominant patriarchal structures. As a result, women bear the disproportionate burden of conflict with various forms of brutal dehumanization, including rape, violence, torture, exploitation, commonly used against them. With the intensification of the Russian offensive, what is happening in Ukraine is no different, where the ongoing war has taken a devastating toll on women.

Although excluded from the Minsk processes, Ukrainian women have been engaged since the Maidan revolution in 2013 in all areas of civil society and the armed forces, making modest gains in various sectors. But those gains have been under constant threat due to deep-rooted gender inequalities, eight years of conflict in eastern Ukraine and the socio-economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. Russia’s recent large-scale invasion of Ukraine will only add to this complex situation and put further pressure on the gains that Ukrainian women have made in the past.

Ukrainian women, who feel increasingly in danger in public and at home, are therefore waging a war on several fronts. For starters, in March 2021, the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) and the Ukrainian Ministry of Social Policy confirmed that there were almost 1.5 million internally displaced people. Ukraine, of which 58.56% were female and 41.44% male. However, it is not a hidden fact that military invasions – such as the recent Russian aggression – can provoke and amplify the migration crisis, with women and children among the first to be displaced, posing a risk of double or triple displacement of those who have been displaced. already moved.

Analytical estimates have predicted that the fallout from Russia’s large-scale incursion into Ukraine could drive nearly five million people from their homes, most of whom will be women. Reports from the ground suggest that in the five days following the Russian invasion, at least 660,000 people, the majority of whom are women, have already fled Ukraine. Things have been made even more difficult for these women due to the order of the Ukrainian government which banned men between the ages of 18 and 60 from leaving the country, forcing them to stay back and fight the Russian offensive. Displaced Ukrainian women are therefore left on their own to seek safety for themselves and their children.

Additionally, gender-based violence (GBV) affects at least one-fifth of women in Ukraine, with almost 22% of Ukrainian women aged 15-49 having experienced at least one form of physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. life. This situation was aggravated by the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, during which calls to domestic violence helplines increased by 50% in the conflict-affected Donetsk and Luhansk regions. and 35% in other parts of Ukraine. But despite this increase, Amnesty International revealed in 2020 that there remained multiple loopholes in the system aimed at protecting victims, especially women, of domestic or sexual violence.

However, the devastating social and economic crisis, access to arms and trauma as a result of the current conflict will have a direct impact on violence against women, where an increasing number of Ukrainian women will have to endure sexual violence used as a “weapon of war” in the hands of the state and opposing forces. They could face additional hardship in the event of relentless escalation because the social infrastructure, such as services for victims of domestic violence, is not yet strong enough to adapt to the changes. Therefore, Ukrainian women and girls, especially those traveling alone, are at high risk of rape, sexual slavery, forced prostitution, forced pregnancy, forced sterilization and other forms of sexual violence.

But despite these deadly hardships and war-induced challenges, Ukrainian women are far from the only victims. Since the start of the Russian intrusion into eastern Ukraine in 2014, women have been at the forefront and have assumed every possible role in the army and volunteer battalions, often serving as paramedics, machine gunners , grenadiers, snipers, etc. Data indicates that as of March 2020, 29,760 women served in the Armed Forces of Ukraine with 902 senior officers.

As of March 2021, women made up 11% of all members of the Ukrainian Armed Forces and constituted 10% of those involved in military operations in the Donbass region. But with the recent full military mobilization, the presence of women in the Ukrainian military has further increased, including in combat roles. Currently, 36,000 women are diligently performing their duties and fighting shoulder to shoulder with their male counterparts in the Ukraine-Russia war.

Perhaps women in Ukraine are not only fighting on the personal front, dealing with the socio-economic consequences of the conflict, but also on the front line to defend the pride of their nation. Yet they are the ones who pay the high price of war. The international community as a whole must therefore not neglect the plight of these women and must continue to work closely with civil society organizations on the ground to mitigate the immediate gendered effects of the ongoing conflict. They must listen to women activists, displaced people, doctors, nurses and those fighting on the front lines.

(Akanksha Khullar is National Coordinator, Indian Women’s Regional Network)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are those of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH.

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