The Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security hosted an expert discussion on May 9, 2022, on the war in Ukraine and its consequences for women and girls. Panelists included high-level policymakers and Ukrainian women leading efforts across humanitarian, human rights, and security sectors. Watch the event recording and read the key recommendations below.
As war in Ukraine rages on, women and girls face a particularly devastating toll. Of the 10 million people forcibly displaced, 90 percent are women and children. There is mounting evidence that sexual violence is being used as a tactic of war and thousands of women are being trafficked across the border. Civil society organizations, many led by women, lack critical funds, supplies, and freedom of movement. Yet, Ukrainian women are resilient, serving day and night on the frontlines of the war effort.
The crisis in Ukraine is an urgent reminder of the relevance of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (UNSCR 1325) on women, peace and security, which calls for the meaningful inclusion of women in all areas of peacebuilding and conflict prevention. Panelists shared their analysis of the situation and key recommendations for how the international community and regional actors can support Ukrainian women and their communities.
The experts’ top recommendations to the international community include:
Ensuring Women’s Participation in Negotiations & Peace Processes
- Women must participate at the highest levels of strategy and decision-making in the peace process. Previous peace talks in Minsk have ignored UNSCR 1325, largely excluding women from the negotiations. Donor countries must reinforce the call and uphold their own commitments to UNSCR 1325, recognizing that women’s meaningful participation is critical to national security, governance, finance, and peacebuilding.
- The gender quota set at 40 percent in Ukraine’s electoral legislation should be translated into representation in the negotiations. Special measures for childbearing mothers, including caretaking accommodations, should also be provided to ensure their full and meaningful contributions to the peace talks.
Support Civil Society & Women-Led Organizations
- Build the capacity of women and women-led civil society organizations who are best placed to lead peace and reconstruction processes at local and community levels. International organizations should provide trainings and resources to local partners, and ensure civil society groups are included in decision-making on all response efforts.
- Create platforms and opportunities for women peacebuilders and human rights defenders to connect with leaders outside of Ukraine to share information, document war crimes, and strategize for the post-war reconstruction phase. The OSCE’s new networking platform for women leaders and peacebuilders is a promising model.
Preventing Human Trafficking
- The OSCE should support EU countries and Ukraine in strengthening anti-trafficking policies, including implementing monitoring mechanisms at the border crossings and ensuring systematic registration of women and girls.
- Support Ukrainian authorities in identifying potential victims and women at risk of trafficking. Enhanced monitoring and protection services are crucial to ward against criminal gangs who often prey on the vulnerability and unpreparedness of women evacuees.
- Strengthen the capacity of local human rights monitoring organizations, such as La Strada Ukraine and Civil Network OPORA, that are documenting instances of trafficking, human rights violations, and war crimes against civilians. Since the start of the invasion, La Strada’s hotline has had five times as many calls for assistance.
- Ensure gender-specific information regarding protection services is widely accessible. Information centers and hotlines in multiple languages are needed to distribute accurate information on trafficking risks.
Countering Conflict-Related Sexual Violence
- Adapt Ukraine’s National Action Plan (NAP) on 1325 to address specific wartime challenges, including the disproportionate impacts of conflict-related sexual violence on women and girls. The UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict can play a key role in leading a comprehensive, long-term strategy to address abuses and trauma on individual and societal levels.
- Provide timely and accessible services and psychological support to survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, including access to contraception and medical services. The UN’s recent framework for cooperation, covering gender-responsive security sector reform, prevention of conflict-related trafficking, and comprehensive service provision for survivors, should stand as a guidepost.
Advancing Inclusive Security
- The United States and the European Union (EU) should increase military support, including weapons, defense systems, and artillery, to the Ukrainian people. The overwhelming sentiment of Ukrainian women leaders, including women in Ukraine’s Armed Forces, is that the peace talks can only begin after a military victory.
- International donors and local authorities should direct attention to human security, including access to bomb shelters, food, medicine and medical assistance, emotional support, and information. Measures to address traditional security, human security, and women, peace and security should not be siloed.
- International aid organizations, including the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the International Rescue Committee (IRC), need to pay attention to the compounding risks facing Ukraine’s most vulnerable, including the LGBTQ+ community and elderly populations. Transgender women fleeing Ukraine face a particular risk of discrimination during border crossings and when seeking shelter in host nations. 30 percent of people facing dire humanitarian conditions in Ukraine are over 60 years old, the majority of whom are women left behind due to mobility and health issues.
Monitoring and Investigating Gender-Based Crimes
- Western allies should create an international tribunal for war crimes committed by Russia. 9,000 cases of human rights violations have already been reported. Ensuring robust international legal mechanisms and accountability is vital to preventing future atrocities.
- Support swift investigations of reports of crimes of rape and sexual violence. The International Criminal Court (ICC), The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), and the UN Human Rights Council’s Independent International Commission of Inquiry should closely investigate all gender-based war crimes committed by Russian forces. External documentation of human rights abuses is critical to ending impunity and ensuring accountability. All field operations assessments and programs should include a gender analysis.
- The OSCE must ensure international monitoring missions continue in Ukraine, while supporting the capacity of local agencies to report on the human rights situation on the ground. The failure to renew the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine’s (SMM) mandate due to Russia’s veto threatens justice and accountability measures. Bolstering domestic law enforcement and developing a special local jurisdiction body to document and address abuses will also be critical.
Providing Financial and Humanitarian Aid
- The United States and the EU should increase emergency financial aid to Ukraine and support the local economy, including by encouraging World Bank and IMF proposals for financial aid, debt write-offs, and cash assistance programs to vulnerable communities. All funded proposals and aid interventions should include a gender analysis.
- International donors should fund and partner with local NGOs and women-led grassroots organizations, such as the Ukrainian Women’s Fund, to direct social support and cash payments. Mobilizing resources that respond to the needs of locally-based, women-led organizations is critical to reaching the people most in need.
- Design a post-war compensation plan and financial assistance for victims and their families. A robust post-war economic package for Ukraine that addresses the disproportionate impacts on women and girls is needed for successful recovery.
- The World Food Programme (WFP), World Health Kitchen, and other humanitarian aid organizations should consult local volunteers on food delivery methods and ensure equal access to the information on food assistance, especially for the communities without internet access.
Supporting the Health Sector
- The World Health Organization (WHO), European Health Ministries, and international donors should deliver medical assistance and equipment to rural and small villages, and bolster the capacity of the local hospitals to provide physical, mental, and psychosocial support. Many physicians, hospital directors, and healthcare providers have been displaced, and key medical facilities are located near conflict lines. Donors should provide medicine, personal protective equipment, and medical technology equipment according to the needs and priorities of Ukraine’s Ministry of Health.
- Address the increased care burden for women healthcare providers, who represent the majority of frontline workers across Ukraine. Women health workers should also be included in all decision-making spaces to improve relief and recovery responses.
- The EU and neighboring countries should ensure cross-border access to sexual and reproductive health care, including free emergency contraception and timely abortion care. Regional protection efforts must go beyond immediate defense systems and humanitarian aid to address the long-term health impacts of the war on women and girls.
Addressing the Needs of Refugees and IDPs
- The EU and regional countries should ensure that borders remain open for all women refugees fleeing Ukraine. Denying regular entry to refugees increases risk of human trafficking and gender-based violence.
- The UN and the OSCE must prevent Russia from forcibly deporting Ukrainian citizens from the occupied territories. Providing continued support to refugees across Russian-held areas is critical to preventing trafficking, exploitation, and sexual violence.
- The EU should create a regional mechanism to facilitate Ukrainian refugee women’s access to labor markets in host countries. The private sector can play a key role in supporting training and job placements for displaced women who are well-placed to contribute to European host country economies.
- Ensure gender-sensitive and inclusive accommodations for refugees and IDPs. Shelters should ensure a dignified environment for women and girls, including access to hygiene kits, wash facilities, and food and water assistance.
The panel of leading Ukrainian women and regional experts included:
Amb. Oksana Markarova, Ambassador of Ukraine to the United States
Helga Schmid, Secretary General of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE)
Yevheniia Kravchuk, Member of the Parliament of Ukraine (Verkhovna Rada)
Olha Aivazovska, Chairwoman of the Board, Civil Network OPORA
Kateryna Cherepakha, President, La Strada Ukraine
Maria Berlinska, Veteran; Activist of the Movement for Women’s Rights in Ukraine’s Armed Forces; Founder of the Women’s Veteran Movement of Ukraine
Moderated by Amb. Melanne Verveer, Executive Director, Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security
With voices of grassroots women leaders from Kharkiv, Mariupol, Luhansk-Oblast, and Donetsk-Oblast
Hosted by the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security.