Ukraine

Helpdesk Report: Gender and conflict in Ukraine

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Analysis
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Originally published

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Brian Lucas, Brigitte Rohwerder, and Kerina Tull
23.02.2017

Question

Provide an overview of gender roles, dynamics and impacts in the Ukraine conflict, including humanitarian impacts, social impacts, the role of women as conflict actors, and structural factors and causes of tension and conflict insofar as they relate to gender roles and dynamics.

1. Overview

The conflicts in eastern and southern Ukraine constitute a significant humanitarian crisis for the country and the region, with at least 1.7 million internally displaced persons, two-thirds of whom are women (UNOCHA 2016, p. 7; UNHCR 2015, p. 5) and approximately 1.5 million people seeking asylum or other forms of legal stay in neighbouring countries (UNHCR 2016, p. 7). Women are at risk of gender-based violence (GBV) perpetrated by armed groups, although GBV does not appear to be systematically or widely used by either side as a weapon of war (OHCHR 2017a; UNOCHA 2016; OSCE 2015). Human trafficking, including trafficking of women for sexual exploitation, is endemic and has been exacerbated by the conflict (OHCHR 2017b).

There is some limited evidence that the conflicts may have led to an increase in the prevalence of domestic violence (UNFPA 2015; UNOCHA 2015; OSCE 2015). However, domestic violence remains largely a hidden problem and incidents frequently go unreported (UNFPA 2015).

The conflicts in the country have tended to reinforce traditional conservative gender roles. There has been a tendency for women to return to more traditional gender roles and patriarchal models of marital relations as a survival strategy (Ukrainian Centre for Social Reforms 2016, pp. 6-7) and many women have become sole providers for their families with traditional roles as carers for children, the elderly, and the disabled, and other domestic roles, which has restricted their freedom of movement and livelihood opportunities (SIDA 2016, p. 1; UNOCHA 2015, p. 10; OSCE 2016, p. 14). On the other hand, the conflict has also opened up opportunities for some women to take up non-traditional roles (Philips 2014; Ukrainian Centre for Social Reforms 2016; WILPF 2014) including participating in the 2013-14 Maidan protests and fighting in the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

Women have fought alongside men in the conflict in eastern Ukraine as members of the armed forces, volunteer battalions, and rebel groups, although they face gender discrimination and do not always receive official recognition for the roles they play (Martsenyuk et al. 2016). Women also play roles in providing humanitarian assistance to those affected by the conflict (Kapur 2016; Fellin 2015).

There has been virtually no official civil society engagement with the peace process but a small number of women activists have undertaken local outreach, confidence-building, and dialogue activities including shadow peace talks which brought together activists, civil society leaders, volunteers, journalists, public servants and women directly impacted and displaced by the fighting to discuss ways to help end the conflict (Kapur 2016; OSCE 2015).

The availability of up-to-date information for this report has been somewhat limited, particularly in relation to non-government-controlled conflict areas. Information about the conflict also carries a significant risk of bias or propaganda; in this report we have relied primarily on information from multilateral organisations such as UN agencies rather than on local sources. The prevalence of gender-based violence is difficult to determine as the issue has traditionally been rather hidden in Ukrainian society.