Ukrainian women in defence and in peace efforts

On 18-19 May, 2022 I was honored to take part in the Meeting of the Women Peace and Security Focal Points Network in Geneva, Switzerland.

I was asked to talk about:

  1. The WPS agenda and gender in humanitarian programming in the context of Ukraine;
  2. Seeking a balance between diplomacy that includes women and military action.

Here I would like to share the key recommendations I provided.

The WPS agenda and gender in humanitarian programming in the context of Ukraine

While the government was taking immediate actions to resist the excessive armed aggression of Russia and international organizations were taking a step back to estimate the risks, these have been local often women-led organizations responding to the crisis since the very beginning. These have been activists helping people get evacuated and distributing medical supplies and food with their own resources while risking their lives.

1.1. Despite women leading the response to the ongoing humanitarian crisis, they are largely excluded from decision-making around humanitarian programming.

So, partner up with the local CSOs, particularly women-led and women’s rights, LGBTQI+ rights organizations directly, not through big international organizations, offer them flexible and easy to access funding and other support (informational, contact support). Partner both with the organizations who have stayed in Ukraine and moved abroad. This way we will be able to ensure that humanitarian assistance addresses the needs of vulnerable populations while accounting for the diversity within the groups and the intersection of vulnerabilities. This way we would be able to learn about the emerging needs of the affected population, as the representatives of the organizations are in direct contact with them, they are themselves affected.

1.2. On 3 May, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, co-signed a memorandum of cooperation with the Ukrainian government aimed at combating and preventing sexual violence in wartime. The memorandum builds upon a comprehensive Framework for cooperation between the Government of Ukraine and the UN on the prevention and response to conflict-related sexual violence.

Yet wartime sexual violence is primarily committed in the territories that are not under the Ukrainian government’s control. And so, the real prevention would entail making sure that humanitarian corridors are respected by the Russian side, which is often not the case.

1.3. The Second NAP (2021-2025) is currently being updated in Ukraine to fit the emerging needs of the war-affected population.

Support the implementation of the updated NAP. Help provide funding and encourage the government to implement it by inviting its representatives and CSO representatives to the events to share the state of implementation and the according needs for further support.

Seeking a balance between diplomacy that includes women and military action

Since the peace talks between Ukraine and Russia have stalled, currently it is mostly about how and when or rather under what conditions to proceed with the negotiations. My hope is that this will also give us some time to think about how to ensure diversity and inclusion when it comes to the delegation composition and the agenda of the meetings.

2.1. The 1325 Resolution calls for the meaningful participation of women in all peace processes. There is no doubt that the more input in the peace talk is made by women and for women with careful attention to the intersecting forms of inequality, the more long-lasting and sustainable the peace would be. As a feminist peace activist, I would definitely advocate for investing in negotiations. However, while the aggressor, Russia, denies the right of Ukraine to independence and democracy, its territorial integrity, while Russian soldiers continue raping women and girls, torturing and killing the civilians in Ukraine, including during the peace talk meetings, there is nothing meaningful about such negotiations. In order to start the negotiation process we, as an international community, need to make sure that all parties are equally interested in it and that the power imbalance between them is minimized. So:

  • continue providing all means possible to enable Ukraine to protect its independence and democracy NOW, without hesitation, as people currently staying in the basements do not have the benefit of time. Arm Ukraine now!
  • make sure that Russia does not have the tools to continue attacking people in Ukraine. Impose effective sanctions, and support an embargo on buying Russian gas!
  • and that Russia faces international court for all the war crimes it has been committing.

Please tell me if there is any other way to save the lives of the people currently having their lives in danger, women, and girls being raped and tortured. The international community owes them rapid intervention. Time is a luxury for them.

2.2. The role of Ukrainian women in resisting the Russian invasion includes armed fighting and non-combat support.

The only true negotiation happening at the place is a dialogue on a prisoner exchange and humanitarian corridors, which is led by Iryna Vereschuk - Deputy Prime Minister of Ukraine and Minister of Reintegration of Temporarily Occupied Territories. At the end of April, Iryna Vereschuk highlighted that despite a significant number of war prisoners from Ukraine being women they are rarely offered to be exchanged and, thus, upon her initiative starting from May no exchange will be taking place without having women in the list.Justice is an integral part of reconciliation. As peace is more than the absence of war, sustainable peace requires ensuring that survivors of war crimes are getting justice and this should be on the table from the very beginning. These have been exclusively women and human rights organizations involved in documentation of the war crimes and particularly wartime sexual violence and providing the necessary support to the survivors of the unbelievable atrocities.

Women make approximately 15% of Ukraine's army, meaning there are around 30,000 women facing Russia on the battlefield. I would strongly like to highlight that the high presence of women in the army has been a result of years of work and advocacy (Invisible Battalion), which finds its reflection in the NAPs.So, help make the contribution of women in the resistance to the Russian invasion visible:

  • provide media coverage of their work, make the world hear about their deeds and their struggles;
  • invite women’s rights and feminist civil society activists, servicewomen, and people involved in ensuring humanitarian corridors work to international meetings, and listen to them.

This way we will facilitate the advocacy for the inclusion of the gender agenda in the peace talks as soon as all conditions are met for negotiations to get restarted or started, in the first place.