Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Violence, care and a lack of help make women and minorities “disproportionately” affected by war

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According to a UN report, women and minorities in Ukraine face increasing violence and challenges in all areas of their lives

According to a report, women and minorities in Ukraine have been disproportionately affected by the war due to allegations of sexual and domestic violence, human trafficking, growing care burdens and shortages of food and essential medicines.

Women face increasing risks to their safety, in addition to supporting children and other loved ones, as military-age men are drafted into combat, the agency said Rapid gender analysis of Ukraine Report by UN Women and Care International.

It found that women faced difficulties in accessing gender-based health care, including sexual and reproductive services, and that victims of gender-based violence were particularly vulnerable.

In areas like Bucha, allegations of rape and sexual violence by Russian troops are mounting. The UN report says there is a lack of access to victim reporting mechanisms in occupied territories, with some services only available by phone or online.

It also highlighted increasing reports of domestic violence, with fewer police and victim protection services “due to changing priorities during the war”.

It added: “Due to military activity in the areas, survivors of domestic violence are likely to be at increased risk as they are forced to share the same room with perpetrators for long periods of time in highly stressful situations. In many parts of Ukraine, the police no longer record domestic violence cases and sometimes do not answer calls.”

Women and girls also expressed concern about the large number of men with guns in the streets and the lack of streetlights, which prevented them from venturing out into public places alone, especially in the evenings.

Veronika Bilkova, head of the Center for International Law at the Institute of International Relations, said: “We need to recognize the scale of the problems women face. It’s not just about rape in the midst of armed conflict, there are many related issues.

“It’s not just a raped woman, it’s a woman who is beaten at home, it’s the woman who is forced into prostitution abroad, a woman who suddenly has to take care of the family in a foreign country, there are so many different individual stories we need to try to help them all.”

The report also highlighted limited access to safe, separate housing and toilets, “creating conditions that may increase the risk of sexual harassment and other forms of sexual violence against women and girls in public spaces.”

Difficulty accessing shelter increases the risk of sexual exploitation and human trafficking, as many displaced people are forced to find shelter through informal arrangements, the report said.

Pregnant women and young mothers face problems in accessing maternal and newborn care. Rising infections, poor diet and stress increase the risk of preterm birth, with doctors at maternity hospitals in Kharkiv and Lviv reporting a doubling or tripling of preterm births, she added.

The report also uncovered instances where women under-eat to ensure their children had enough. Food aid distribution also did not adequately meet specific nutritional needs, including pregnant and breastfeeding women and those with chronic illnesses or disabilities.

Access to medicines has also been a challenge for people with disabilities and chronic illnesses, including those living with HIV, while transgender people have been affected by a lack of hormone therapy.

Minority groups, including Roma, also faced discrimination when seeking food, shelter, health care, education and childcare.

“Feelings of discrimination are so widespread among Roma that some Roma interviewees said they no longer try to ask for help because they expect it will be rejected,” says the report. “One respondent who managed to get a distribution package was surprised it was even possible.”

There is a risk that the crisis will exacerbate existing inequalities and that issues affecting women and minorities will be sidelined by the wider conflict.

“Women’s voices are not meaningfully included in planning and decision-making related to humanitarian response or broader peace processes,” the report says. “Decisions are often made quickly and do not adequately reflect the needs and priorities of different groups of women and men, including the most vulnerable and marginalized.”

Sima Bahous, Executive Director of UN Women, said: “It is crucial that humanitarian response in Ukraine considers and addresses the diverse needs of women and girls, men and boys, including those left furthest behind.

“Women play an important role in the humanitarian response of their communities. They also need to be meaningfully involved in the planning and decision-making processes to ensure their specific needs are met, particularly in relation to health, safety and access to livelihoods.”

Ms Bilkova, one of the authors of a report by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe on war crimes in Ukraine, said: “When we talk about gender-based violence, we very much reinforce gender stereotypes. My fear is that this conflict will reinforce this duality between men fighting and women just getting raped.

“Women are also very active players in this conflict and they should be even more active players. Because they are fighting and they should also be involved in negotiations.”

Sofia Spokesman Sineiro, Secretary General of Care International, said: “What we are hearing from the people of Ukraine is that certain groups, such as people with disabilities, Roma and other ethnic minorities, single mothers and unaccompanied children, are all in need of various forms of protection and assistance.

“To keep our response effective and relevant, such groups must be consulted and prioritized throughout the relief ecosystem as this truly devastating situation continues to unfold.”

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