Invisible Women - Helping Ukrainian Women on #IWD
Dear GFPs, a break in our usual programming.
I'm sure you have all, and especially fellow European GFPs, been watching what's unfolding in Ukraine with the same horror and sense of helplessness that I have. I'm sure many of you already know about the mainstream places you can donate or go to help.
Today, on International Women's Day, I want to talk about the specific effects of war on women. Because, as I wrote in Invisible Women, "while men and women suffer from the same trauma, forcible displacement, injury and death, women also suffer from female-specific injustices."
Domestic violence against women increases when conflict breaks out. In fact, it is more prevalent than conflict-related sexual violence. To put this in context, an estimated 60,000 women were raped in the three-year Bosnian conflict and up to 250,000 in the hundred-day Rwandan genocide. UN agencies estimate that more than 60,000 women were raped during the civil war in Sierra Leone (1991–2002); more than 40,000 in Liberia (1989–2003); and at least 200,000 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo since 1998. Because of data gaps (apart from anything else, there is often no one for women to report to), the real figures in all these conflicts are likely to have been much higher.
Ukraine is currently a conflict zone, so the data is patchy, but there is no reason to think that this war will be different from any other. Indeed, parts of Ukraine have been at war since 2014 and according to the Mukwege Foundation, women in the Donbas region "were subjected to rape, mutilation of sexual organs, forced nudity, torture, and video recording of acts of sexual violence against them." These women have testified against their aggressors -- and for their bravery in speaking up, they have now become targets for reprisals.
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Women in conflict zones have more than sexual violence to contend with, because just as women don't stop giving birth in a pandemic, they also don't stop giving birth when war breaks out. They are just more likely to die when they do. From Invisible Women:
Women are also more likely than men to die from the indirect effects of war. More than half of the world’s maternal deaths occur in conflict-affected and fragile states, and the ten worst-performing countries on maternal mortality are all either conflict or post-conflict countries. Here, maternal mortality is on average 2.5 times higher, and this is partly because post conflict and disaster relief efforts too often forget to account for women’s specific healthcare needs. (IW, pp.296-7)
The UN estimates that 80,000 women will give birth over the next 3 months, many of them without access to critical maternal health care. Women are already giving birth in unsanitary metro stations, in bomb shelters, in hospitals under shelling. The shock is sending some women into early labour. These are the kinds of birthing scenarios where the lives of mothers and babies are at risk -- and it's only going to get worse.
But if previous conflicts are anything to go by, these are the areas that receive the least amount of funding:
For over twenty years, the Inter-agency Working Group on Reproductive Health in Crises has called for women in war zones or disaster areas to be provided with birth kits, contraception, obstetrics care and counselling. But, reports the New York Times, ‘over the past two decades, that help has been delivered sporadically, if at all’. One report found that pregnant women are left without obstetrical care, ‘and may miscarry or deliver under extremely unsanitary conditions.’ (IW, p.297)
So. What can we do? I am going to make two suggestions of places you can donate to help Ukrainian women.
The Mukwege Foundation, which has been working with Ukrainian survivors of conflict-based sexual violence since 2014. You can donate to their Ukraine appeal here.
The UN's Ukraine Appeal has a focus on helping women and girls affected by the war. You can donate here.
You can also write to your political representatives with the information in this newsletter and ask them to make sure the needs of women are not forgotten in this conflict as they have been in so many others before them.
If you do one thing this International Women's Day, make it this.
Signing off for now, my dear GFPs. Let's hope that brighter days are coming.
PS: if any Ukrainian GFPs have suggestions for other ways GFPs can help the women of Ukraine, please do hit reply to this email and I'll share in a future newsletter.