Women fleeing Ukraine cross the border in Medyka, on the Ukraine-Poland border, on March 2, 2022. © Adrienne Surprenant /MYOP
As with all conflicts, the crisis in Ukraine is disproportionately affecting women and girls, both within the country and those fleeing across borders. CARE has identified five key areas where more support and attention are urgently needed for women and girls affected by the crisis in Ukraine:
Exploitation, abuse, and trafficking
When populations become wholly reliant on others to meet their basic needs, this often makes them extremely vulnerable to different forms of exploitation and abuse, including trafficking.
“Currently the incidents of trafficking we are aware of are anecdotal, which is concerning,” said CARE’s humanitarian advocacy coordinator Delphine Pinault. “The lack of information and processes to register and track people arriving in neighbouring countries from Ukraine is extremely worrying. While it is important to avoid long queues at borders, a minimum of personal information on people fleeing (name, sex, age) must be registered at border crossings and in the countries where Ukrainians are fleeing. Without this, there are real risks that exhausted, shocked and traumatized women and children-already in increasingly desperate conditions-face yet more abuse. We are particularly concerned about unaccompanied and separated children trafficking risks,” Pinault continued.
Risk of infant and mother mortality
An estimated 80,000 women in Ukraine are expected to give birth in the next three months, and many of them now find themselves without access to adequate maternal health care. Of these women, 12,000 are anticipated to require life-saving emergency obstetric and newborn care. Globally, 60 per cent of preventable maternal deaths in the world take place in fragile settings, like Ukraine, where political conflict, displacement and disasters prevail.
Pinault said, “We already see the devastating impact of prolonged conflict in other humanitarian crises. In Yemen for example, only half of all existing health facilities are currently fully functional. Only one in five facilities provides maternal and child health services. As a result, a woman dies during childbirth every two hours. There is a real worry that we could see a similar situation develop in Ukraine if the conflict prolongs.”
Around 500,000 Ukrainian refugees arriving in Poland are thought to be suffering from trauma, but actual numbers are likely to be much higher. Families have been ripped apart, ordinary citizens have had to take up arms, and millions of children are at risk of missing out on education as the conflict continues and schools are forced to close.
Melinda Endrefy, an Emergency Psychologist working for CARE’s partner Amurtel on the Romania-Ukraine border, said, “I have heard so many terrible and touching stories in my work with Ukrainian children arriving in Romania. Mothers have told me how their young children have been forced to grow up in an instant. One 7-year-old girl doing my art therapy session cried for over an hour after drawing herself in the war. She thanked me after, as she said this was the first time she had been able to cry about this experience.”Tatiana Ganchou was displaced a first time during the Tchernobyl catastrophe, when she was a young girl living in Pripyat. “I can’t sleep, I have panic inside. I am frightened that everything will happen again like in Tchernobyl, I have the same feeling I had then,” she said. Adrienne Surprenant /MYOP
Heightened risks of domestic violence
The conflict in Ukraine also poses a risk of increased gender-based violence for those inside the country as well as those fleeing. Even before the current conflict, one in five women in Ukraine had experienced gender-based violence.
“Conflict and traumatic situations often result in increased tensions within families, that can unfortunately manifest in violence, aggression or abuse,” Pinault said. “In such situations, we tend to forget that men and boys, particularly those who were forced to pick up a gun or who have witnessed atrocities, are also traumatized. Yet, in most societies, men are expected to show strength and opening up about their trauma is seen as a sign of weakness.”
Secondary effects may also be felt in nearby countries, further increasing tensions. According to Sherine Ibrahim, CARE Turkey Country Director, “Our recent gender analysis in North Syria reveals alarmingly higher rates of gender violence, harassment, child marriages and psychological distress than in previous years. With the crisis in Ukraine already having devastating implications on the price of bread and basic food items for Syrian families, the situation will only get more desperate for women and girls.”
Food is one of the key items reported to be scarce across conflict-affected areas in Ukraine. Globally, price spikes and food shortages triggered by the Ukraine crisis are having serious impacts on women and girls, from Egypt to Yemen to Kenya and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Many of these countries were already hunger hotspots before and are heavily reliant on Ukrainian and Russian wheat and oil imports. As with any hunger crisis, women and girls eat last and are most likely to give up meals first. The impact of the Ukraine conflict is already being felt by women and girls in countries such as Somalia.
“Over 90 percent of wheat supplies in Somalia come from Russia and Ukraine. With the supply chain interrupted, we are concerned about what will happen when current supplies run out,” says Iman Abdullahi, CARE Somalia Country Director. “We are already seeing an increase in the number of hungry and malnourished women and children arriving at the fixed health facilities and mobile teams we are operating in.”
Working with partners who are already on the ground and working in Ukraine and the region, CARE is providing urgently needed emergency supplies such as food, water, hygiene kits, psycho-social support, and cash to cover daily needs. We are prioritizing the needs of women and girls, families, and the elderly in our emergency response.