‘Crucial need’ to protect women and girls in Ukraine crisis, aid agencies warn

Some 80,000 women are expected to give birth in Ukraine in the next three months, aid agencies say.

08 March 2022

There is a “crucial need” to protect women and girls who are suffering due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, aid agencies have warned.

The majority of the 1.7 million people who have fled Ukraine are women and children.

Conflict, crisis and displacement puts them at increased risk of sexual and physical violence and abuse, the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) has said.

The warning comes as the world marks International Women’s Day and an estimated 80,000 women are set to give birth in the next three months in Ukraine.

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Refugees at the Romanian border (Andreea Alexandru/AP)

This includes many women who will not be able to get critical maternal health care and it could make childbirth a life-threatening experience, according to the United Nations Population Fund.

Suzy Madigan, Care International’s senior humanitarian adviser for gender and protection, said: “The conflict in Ukraine and resulting displacement is tearing families apart, leaving women and children who are trying to find safety exposed and vulnerable.

“Women fleeing disasters everywhere face the real risk of gender-based violence and abuse when they’re forced to leave home.

“If you become reliant on others for the basic needs of survival, exploitation becomes a real threat.”

Care International is among 15 UK-based DEC charities which are working in Ukraine and in neighbouring countries to ramp up efforts to meet the growing humanitarian need from a situation the United Nations describes as the fastest growing refugee crisis in Europe since the Second World War.

The DEC, which is providing women and families with food, shelter, clean water, hygiene kits, healthcare and child-friendly spaces as well as psychosocial support, including trauma counselling, has raised more than £100 million in its Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal so far.

Rebecca Front, actor and British Red Cross supporter, said: “It’s heartbreaking to think of the situation facing women and children who have fled their homes, fearing for their lives, many of them leaving family members behind who they will be desperately worried about.”

She urged people to give their support saying that “donations to the DEC will ensure aid reaches those who need it, fast”.

Alexandra Parnebjork, Plan International’s gender in emergencies adviser, said the majority of maternal deaths in the world occur in humanitarian crises.

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People holding their children struggle to get on a train to Lviv at Kyiv station, Ukraine (Emilio Morenatti/AP)

She added: “In these situations, women and girls know what they want and need.

“We must work with them to ensure they have access to proper healthcare and protection from sexual and gender-based violence.”

Huge numbers of women, children and young people are arriving at Ukraine’s borders with Poland, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia and Moldova, with only what they can carry.

Niki Ignatiou, ActionAid UK’s humanitarian advisoe, said: “There are deeply concerning reports of racism against refugees of colour, including mothers with babies forced to wait longer in below-freezing temperatures with no shelter, and reports of female young students being stuck at the borders for several days without shelter and toilet facilities.

“Women and girls arriving at the border urgently need food, water, shelter and essential items like soap, period products and underwear.

“Psychosocial support and safe spaces to prevent gender-based violence will also be vital in the coming weeks.”

The DEC is  also dealing with a number of ongoing humanitarian crises around the world putting women and children at risk.

Money from previous and ongoing DEC appeals is still being spent in Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria, Yemen and the Rohingya refugee camps – as well as vulnerable communities affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

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