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New Report Says Humanitarian Community Needs to Do More to Support Women and Girls Displaced by Ukraine Conflict
Regional assessment from VOICE, in partnership with HIAS, analyzes needs of women and girls and women’s organizations responding to the emergency across six countries
Silver Spring, Md. – The global humanitarian community must do more to meet the needs of women and girls displaced by the war in Ukraine, and to adequately support women- and girl-led organizations on the frontlines of the emergency response. Those are the recommendations of a new, seven-part regional assessment from VOICE, a feminist organization dedicated to eradicating gender-based violence (GBV) and holding the humanitarian aid sector accountable to women and girls.
The report, Waiting for the Sky to Close: The Unprecedented Crisis Facing Women and Girls Fleeing Ukraine, based on research supported by HIAS, was developed by VOICE’s 10-member assessment team. Researchers spent four weeks in March and April of 2022 interviewing women’s rights organizations (WROs), frontline workers, local NGOs, United Nations (UN) agency actors and refugee populations in Hungary, Moldova, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia. VOICE also conducted virtual interviews with WROs and other local organizations in Ukraine. The complete assessment series can be accessed here.
The report highlights the challenges faced by women and girls in Ukraine, as well as other forcibly displaced persons after they leave Ukraine, and the need to ensure that WROs and other local actors are integrated into response design and leadership from the beginning.
Sexual exploitation and trafficking: Displaced women and girls are at high risk of sexual exploitation and trafficking, especially at border sites where forcibly displaced persons are fleeing the war.
Exploitative labor: Women and girls are being forced into exploitative labor in both institutional and informal settings.
Unregulated response: To date, much of the humanitarian response has been left to volunteers and ordinary citizens who have not been able to access the resources and funding they need to sustain their assistance, leaving the door open for gendered exploitation and abuse of power. While the UN and INGOs are increasingly arriving to support the response, they often are doing so in a manner that undermines local capacities, especially those of WROs.
Resources for response to gender-based violence: While medical supplies, surgical equipment, and combat medicine specialists have been flooding into Ukraine to treat wounded soldiers, care for women who have been raped is almost forgotten. Several countries have seen rollbacks in reproductive rights in recent years, making it harder for survivors of conflict-related sexual violence to access the resources they need.
Cash assistance: Cash assistance has been positioned as the solution to this crisis, but it isn’t reaching the women and girls who need it, or in the amounts needed.
Double discrimination against populations of concern: Roma, LGBTQ, people of color, and other marginalized groups face additional challenges and discrimination: for example, trans women being forced to undergo humiliating ‘bio-medical’ checks at some borders, and those who have not undergone gender-affirming surgery being immediately conscripted and sent back.
“The UN and other international organizations are failing to meet their own commitments to put local organizations and expertise at the center of their response,” said VOICE Co-Founder and Executive Director Mendy Marsh. “We cannot and should not combat this crisis without centering the response efforts on what women and girls and the organizations they lead know is critical. Disregarding their voices and essential input will set up crisis response to fail every time.”
“Women’s rights organizations in Ukraine and the surrounding region have been responding to this crisis since day one, and without direct support and sufficient funding, their life-saving support will run out,” said VOICE Emergency Response Director Kelly Joseph. “We’re looking at the entire humanitarian architecture, including the UN, the EU and the United States, when we say these organizations need your support as equitable partners.”
“We thank our partners at VOICE for this extensive look at the effects Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is having on women and girls throughout the region,” said Rachel Levitan, HIAS Vice President for International Policy and Relations. “Given our ongoing work to combat gender-based violence affecting refugees around the world, HIAS is proud to support this ground-breaking research, which will help governments and humanitarian organizations alike to mount a more effective response to the exploitation of women and girls.”
The VOICE report calls on the UN, international NGOs, local governments, and humanitarian donors to:
Fulfill their commitments to localization by sharing and shifting power to women-led organizations. This includes ensuring WROs and other local actors are part of the design of coordination structures from the beginning, and making emergency funds accessible so that WROs can redistribute aid to women at greater vulnerability.
Address gaps in the protection of women and children. This includes incorporating the views and contributions of forcibly displaced women into program monitoring, to ensure accountability to affected populations, to which all coordination systems, INGOs, and UN agencies have endorsed commitments.
Improve access to essential services for women and girls. For border country governments, this means developing gender-informed strategies for responding to the Ukrainian crisis, with participation of WROs, feminist groups, local NGOs, INGOs, and the EU.
Ensure a gender-sensitive humanitarian response by centering the needs of women and girls and supporting local feminist priorities, ranging from legal reforms and political participation to gender mainstreaming in public policies, econimic empowerment, and ending violence against women and girls.
Detailed recommendations for region-wide action can be found starting on Page 34 of the report.
VOICE is a feminist organization confronting one of the world’s oldest and most widespread human rights abuses: violence against women and girls (VAWG). We power the revolutionary force of women- and girl-led organizations, fueling their efforts across the globe as they build networks, launch movements, and provide critical programs at the frontline of crisis, conflict, and disaster where VAWG is at its worst. Our approach, steeped in women’s rights practice, offers something new and necessary in the fight to end VAWG. We are working toward a world where girls and women are respected leaders in designing and implementing solutions to eradicate violence – both in their communities and within the halls of power. Ultimately, VOICE’s goal is greater direct resourcing of local women’s organizations and their solutions to address violence. We help meet the needs of women- and girl-led organizations in a growing number of countries, including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Colombia, Hungary, Iraq, Moldova, Myanmar, Pakistan, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, South Sudan, Syria, Ukraine, the United States, Venezuela, and Yemen.
HIAS, the international Jewish humanitarian organization that provides vital services to refugees and asylum seekers, has been helping forcibly displaced persons find welcome, safety and opportunity for more than 130 years. Currently working in more than 17 countries, HIAS is responding to the war in Ukraine through its core programming areas, including Economic Inclusion, Mental Health and Psychosocial Support, Legal Protection, and Prevention and Response for GBV, with a focus on violence against women and girls and individuals identifying as LGBTQ. In 2013, HIAS Ukraine helped establish an independent Ukrainian NGO “Right to Protection” (R2P), which is now in the vanguard in the human rights movement in Ukraine, where it is a leading voice in the protection of the rights of IDPs, refugees, and stateless persons.
Learn more and take action at HIAS.org.