As the UN hosts world leaders to discuss the Ukraine war crisis and its fallout, UN Women zeros in on how the conflict and its devastating ripples are impacting women and girls worldwide.
On the sidelines of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) this week, at a high-level roundtable of humanitarian representatives, UN Women presented their latest urgent brief on the “Global Gendered Impacts of the Ukraine Crisis,” in which they report the devastating and disproportionate impact the war is having on women.
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Developed in collaboration with the UN Global Crisis Response Group on the War in Ukraine (GCRG), the report focuses on the impact that conflict and crisis are having on women’s livelihoods, health, and well-being, and what the world must immediately do to address this.
UN Women highlight how the war’s global impact on oil, gas, and food supply, as well as its catalysis of skyrocketing prices, has caused an increase in food insecurity and energy poverty. They stress that these unprecedented circumstances have exacerbated existing inequality, and drastically widened the already wide gender gap in hunger, education, and poverty.
Nearly 7.3 million people have fled Ukraine, 7.7 million are internally displaced, and most of them are women and children, according to the report.
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The report highlights that the safety and prosperity of women and girls are at stake, bringing urgent attention to the reality they face including increased gender-based violence, forced child marriages, transactional sex for food and survival, malnutrition, and a crippling domestic burden from the escalating cost-of-living crisis.
This serves as a sobering window into the acute physical and mental trauma the world’s women and girls are enduring as a result of the war in Ukraine and other relentless global crises, and how this “deepens and aggravates pre-existing structural inequalities.”
While the focus is on the war in Ukraine, the report also sheds light on the compounding effect that climate change, depletion of resources through environmental deterioration, and the COVID-19 pandemic are having on further “entrenched” gender inequalities and women’s and human rights violations.
UN Women urges immediate action from the worldwide community, without which women’s livelihoods will be endangered worldwide, and an array of sustainable development goals, most notably SDG 5 “Gender Equality,” will risk spiraling rapidly into reverse.
Progress towards completion of SDG 5 is measured using 9 targets, which are collectively made up of 18 indicators. At present, UN Women report that 13% of these indicators are “very far” from reaching their target, with a further 15% categorised as “far from target,” meaning over a quarter of the indicators are “far or very far” from the 2030 targets.
“Women and girls suffer differently”
“This report seeks to address that silence, the persistent invisibility of women’s and girls’ particular needs and challenges and their exclusion from decision making processes, which deepens their vulnerability around the world,” explained Coordinator of the Global Crisis Response Group, Rebeca Grynspan, in the report’s Foreword.
Here’s some of the report’s findings.
Women are worst affected by food insecurity and malnutrition
Whilst caring for children and living in areas of active combat, women do not have sufficient access to essential medicine, healthcare, and funds to buy baby food and formula. Moreover, pregnant women and newborn babies have specific dietary requirements, which humanitarian aid doesn’t always meet.
265,000 women were pregnant in Ukraine when the war broke out, the report shows.
When food is in short supply due to war and crises, women and girls eat less and eat last, saving food for children, and older and sick people. Their unpaid domestic duties in caring, preparing, and providing also increase at the expense of their physical and mental health and wellbeing.
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Women experience increased violence and exploitation
The pressure of conflict and food insecurity frequently leads to increased domestic violence, and in order to survive and make ends meet, women and girls are often forced to exchange sex for food and money.
This exposes women to an increased risk of sexual exploitation and trafficking, as well as the associated risks of pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.
When desperate families are financially devastated, they often resort to removing their daughters from school, and forcing them into child- or non-consensual marriages in exchange for dowry or “bride-price income.”
The report reveals that over the past year of turbulence, rates of early or forced marriages have more than doubled in Ethiopia, with child school drop-outs increasing by 2.2 million in the last three months alone in parts of Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia.
Women are worse affected by energy poverty
As oil and gas prices rise as a result of the war in Ukraine, not only do societies have to revert back to extractive and more polluting sources of energy, but women are increasingly tasked with sourcing fuel alternatives to cook for their families, especially in areas devastated by the conflict.
Finding and collecting these sources requires excessive amounts of time and energy which could otherwise be spent on educational, economic, and leisure activities.
What’s more, the air pollution from these inefficient and polluting biomass alternatives causes 3.2 million related premature deaths per year, most of which are women and children, according to the World Health Organization.
Disruptions to energy, infrastructure, transport and public security also limit access to water, transport, the internet, healthcare, banks, and other public services, all of which disproportionately affect women, especially in single-parent and women-headed households.
In Ukraine, over 90% of single parents are women, and 70% of the heads of households are women.
“Systemic, gendered crises require systemic, gendered solutions”
“The war’s impact on food security, energy and finance is systemic, severe, and speeding up,” warned the UN Secretary-General António Guterres.
The consequences of the war in Ukraine are felt globally, within all walks of society. But as the report states, “at times when there is great suffering, women and girls suffer differently,” a fact that is “dangerously overlooked” and repeatedly ignored, increasing inequality, reducing resilience, and deepening vulnerability.
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The UN report seeks to make women’s voices heard.
“The war in Ukraine is producing profound impacts far from its borders, and women and girls are at the frontline. Their problems might be invisible to many, but they are very real to them,” says Coordinator of the Global Crisis Response Group, Rebeca Grynspan.
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Chief Guterres said in his UNGA opening address to the world, “the rights of women and girls are going into reverse.”
We are hundreds of years away from legal equality between women and men.
I cannot accept a world that tells my granddaughters that gender equality must wait for their granddaughters’ granddaughters.
— António Guterres (@antonioguterres) September 8, 2022
In her executive summary of the mission of this report, UN Women Chief, Sima Bahous, expressed her concern that “gender equality considerations remain largely missing from discussions on the Ukraine crisis.”
She went on to say that “more gender statistics and sex-disaggregated data are needed to inform and shape the response.”
In the report, she noted “‘business as usual’ will not achieve a global recovery,” stressing female leadership and participation are essential ingredients in effective policy development and decision making, especially in the context of Ukraine and other conflicts, crises, and humanitarian settings.
Though the report echoes the UN’s recent appeals for solidarity and action in the face of global crises such as hunger, poverty, climate change, and financial destabilization, the recent UN Women’s brief reframes the current global perspective from the viewpoint of the disproportionate female suffering these issues bring to the surface.
“It has never been more urgent to adopt gender-responsive, climate-resilient and sustainable food and energy systems that have women and girls at their centre,” states Bahous in the Executive Summary, ending by stating:
“All conflicts, from Ukraine to Myanmar to Afghanistan, from the Sahel to Yemen, exact their highest price from women and girls. The stakes could not be higher. As a global community we must rise to the challenge.”
Let’s hope the world is listening.
"I am very proud of what our women are doing. All women, each an every one of us, including myself, we need victory."
— Charles Michel (@CharlesMichel) September 21, 2022
Correction: This article has been amended since publication to remove the first paragraph and mention of food prices due to these statements being unrelated; add quotes from the report for further clarity; and to remove the paragraph regarding the message of the report to avoid repetition.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by the authors are their own, not those of Impakter.com — In the Featured Photo: Ukrainian children fleeing Russian aggression. Featured Photo Credit:Mirek Pruchnicki/Flickr