Violence against women and girls in Ukraine can be stopped

This week, Foreign Minister Margot Wallström visited Ukraine - a country where one in four women is exposed to gender-based violence, according to our survey from 2014. Now there is a unique chance to reverse the trend of increased violence against women and girls, writes the UN Population Fund UNFPA.

Violence against women and girls is a universal problem that tends to increase further in connection with war and conflict. In the case of Ukraine, where an ongoing armed conflict in the country's eastern province has driven millions of residents to flee, the growing visibility of gender-based violence has created a unique opportunity for government, civil society and the international community to work together to reverse the trend of violence against women. and girls.

As in many other parts of the world, the exact figures for the number of women affected by gender-based violence have long been difficult to determine in Ukraine. According to a study by UNFPA, the UN Population Fund from 2014, it turned out that it is about one in four women. The study also found that 80 percent of all affected women do not report their cases to the authorities. In 2014, when parts of Ukraine's eastern provinces of Donetsk and Lugansk were taken over by armed groups, up to three million people were forced to flee internally to other parts of the country.

As a result of increased insecurity, reduced livelihoods and a general breakdown of social safety nets, women and girls are at increased risk of gender-based violence when war and conflict break out. Internally displaced women are three times more likely to be exposed to gender-based violence compared to women who have not been forced to flee. In addition, women who report cases of gender-based violence are close victims of stigma, which further increases their vulnerability.

Multifaceted measures are required

Gender-based violence is a systematic violation of human rights. It can only be eradicated with far-reaching and multifaceted measures; legal, social and institutional. Since the onset of the crisis in Ukraine, UNFPA has led humanitarian efforts addressing gender-based violence and the need for reproductive health services among the most vulnerable women and girls, especially in remote areas and near the conflict zone. As one of the largest contributors of core support to UNFPA, Sweden contributes to this work. UNFPA runs mobile clinics for psychosocial support that reach women and girls when they themselves cannot get to a clinic. During the past year, 14 women who have been exposed to gender-based violence have had access to psychosocial counseling from 600 mobile teams in 26 regions.

UNFPA has trained hundreds of police officers, doctors and social workers to help women and girls exposed to gender-based violence. By coordinating the efforts of more than 80 health clinics, law enforcement agencies and civil society organizations, UNFPA ensures that vulnerable women have access to the full range of legal, health and psychosocial services. Authorities and non-governmental organizations work together to process cases and, if necessary, channel cases to the appropriate institution such as the police or social workers. It is a system that works.

The war has made gender-based violence more visible

Ukraine signed, but has not yet ratified, the Istanbul Convention on Gender-Based Violence. Although much emphasis is now being placed on ratification of the Istanbul Convention, the truth is that many of the factors needed to combat gender-based violence in Ukraine are already in place: multisectoral coordination of efforts and psychosocial and legal support. Authorities, including the police and the Ministry of Social Policy, agree that measures cannot wait for ratification. Women in Ukraine are also not afraid to speak out and make their voices heard. In other words, the armed conflict created the momentum that is now opening the door to creating a national mechanism for the prevention of and action against gender-based violence.

So what can the international community do? Call on Ukraine to ratify the Istanbul Convention on Gender-Based Violence. It will ensure the obligations of the police and other authorities, as well as provide a legal framework for the courts. The international community can also support national efforts by funding programs aimed at building local response systems; increase the capacity of the police, health systems and social workers to detect cases of gender-based violence and offer the help and rehabilitation needed.

Pernille Fenger

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