Ukraine: Women and girls experiencing escalating levels of violence with no adequate protection as situation worsens ‘by the day’

  • Date: 24/02/2023
  • Author: Jo-Ann Ward
  • 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.

ActionAid is deeply concerned that the rights of women and girls affected by the Ukraine conflict are being failed. They aren’t receiving the protection they desperately need to safeguard them physically and mentally from abuse. Threats of sexual and gender-based violence are increasing. And so, ActionAid is calling for the needs of women and girls to be put first and not forgotten.

Women and children displaced from conflict in Ukraine

There are almost 8 million Ukrainian refugees across Europe, and another 6 million displaced inside the country. It’s estimated 90% 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 are displaced in Ukraine. 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. Women and girls are always disproportionately impacted in a crisis. Women and girls are reporting being forced to carry out transactional sex in exchange for food and survival. In addition, there are reports of women and girls ‘disappearing’ and trafficking is a major risk.

Concerned about the safety of women and girls

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.”

Vulnerable while travelling to safety

Women and girls are highly vulnerable to abuse while traveling to safety. In addition, they aren’t receiving the necessary protection after they reach other destinations in Europe. And 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.

ActionAid’s response in Ukraine

ActionAid have 40 partnerships across 4 countries (Poland, Romania, Moldova, and Ukraine) supporting more than one million people (1,063,189). Our response inside Ukraine started on 1st August. We are working with a range of grassroots-based feminist and young-people-led organisations, umbrella organisations and networks. We are supporting immediate humanitarian needs such as GBV prevention and support, psychological and legal support, and the provision of shelter, food, and medicines. Additionally, we are supporting people to access their rights throughout this crisis.

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. Many of Ukraine’s war-affected women have survived acts of violence caused by the war. And many of the women we work with have managed to escape domestic abuse. It is 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”.

If you would like to know more about how we responded to the Ukraine war – ActionAid, with 28 of our partners working on this response today released a report about the incredible work of women’s rights organisations, women-led organisations and young people’s groups in supporting refugees and people displaced within Ukraine.

Prioritising marginalised communities

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.

Irish Emergency Alliance

ActionAid Ireland raised funds for its Ukraine emergency response as part of the Irish Emergency Alliance.

Image caption: Oksana (not her real name) was supported by Girls (Divchata) NGO an ActionAid partner

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