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Ukraine: The devastating effect of war on women

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In conflict, women and children are the worst sufferers. They are often termed collateral damage though they are the hardest hit in terms of mass displacement, sexual violence, and exploitation.

As Russia’s war in Ukraine rages on, vulnerable groups have had it the worst. With over 2.8 million refugees fleeing the country, visuals indicating a shortage of humanitarian aid have surfaced. According to a recent United Nations (UN) Women survey conducted between March 4 and 10, there has been a significant impact on women’s civil society organisations (CSOs), which have come up against several roadblocks in their efforts to bring succour to the affected.

The report reveals alarming findings. One, the operations of these CSOs have been disrupted, with only 51% fully operational, 42% partially operational, and 7% not operational. Susan Ferguson, country representative, India, of UN Women says, “Conflict affects women and girls hugely. Therefore, women have to be part of the solution through representation at the peace-making tables. Without this, we cannot be sure that peace agreements are durable, or recognise their needs and issues.”

These CSOs are run by both volunteers and employees — in partnership with the UN, the private sector, local authorities, international donors and non-governmental organisations (NGOs). However, CSOs are more active in certain areas, while other regions are neglected.

CSOs work on themes like gender-based violence; women, peace and security; empowerment; political participation; social protection and inclusion. In war, interventions on these become more crucial. Meenakshi Gopinath, director of Women in Security, Conflict Management and Peace and chairperson for the Centre for Policy Research, says, “As a group disproportionately affected by conflict, women in fractured societies work through the corridors of human security, namely trying to enforce freedom from fear among the communities they work in. They have demonstrated uncommon resilience in breaking the discourse of victimology and rediscovering agency in the darkest of hours. They have created spaces for peace which we need so desperately today.”

In Ukraine, CSOs face several obstacles, the biggest being lack of funding. For partially and fully operational CSOs respectively, 64% and 50% do not have the ability to move communities; 61% and 65% are suffering due to broken supply chains; 29% and 24% have no access to bank services, among other key issues that inhibit their ability to help women, the report added.

These organisations have, nevertheless, persevered through the crisis by making adjustments in their services, providing remote support, managing with limited funds, relocating their staff to safer areas and providing financial support to staff.

But they need help as the report suggests the conflict will have long-term effects on people, which these CSOs will need to be supported to be able to deal with. The damages of the war on health are devastating, with basic amenities lacking at the moment. Also, the psychological impact due to human rights violations will affect women who have been excluded from any decision-making in this war. These CSOs must become key drivers to ensure that the impact of the war is restricted. Prioritise funding and get women to the heads of decision-making tables.

Women’s issues, in the best of times, are deeply affected by conflict situations. In a war, this is hugely amplified. For Ukraine to finally come out of this and begin, at some point, to rebuild, the women of Ukraine must be at the centre of its reconstruction.

lalita.panicker@hindustantimes.com 

The views expressed are personal



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