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Interview: “The war in Ukraine may be changing the women’s movement, but it’s not stopping it”

How does the escalation of conflict affect women and girls? What do you see as an emerging phenomenon?

Women and girls were forced from their homes and ran the risk of being killed, raped, involved in human trafficking, injured or infected on the way to evacuation. Women and girls who decided to stay at home or in bomb shelters faced the same challenges.

Many women and girls who have managed to survive are in constant search of shelter and livelihood, caring for children, elderly parents and disabled family members. Many of them have lost opportunities to work and earn money. Many have yet to heal from physical and psychological trauma.

Many children were sent to live with elderly relatives, where their parents considered safer places while they themselves remained to work. Liza, 16, did not speak after being evacuated from Izium. When she finally found the strength to speak, she shared that her mother was in Odessa. Liza hadn’t slept for weeks: she was afraid of dying in her sleep, having never kissed her mother.

What role do women’s rights organizations play in the evolution of the crisis?

The war in Ukraine may be changing the feminist/feminist movement, but it is not stopping it. On the contrary, we are translating most of our movement development initiatives into new formats.

Beneficiaries of the Ukrainian Women’s Fund provide essential shelter supplies for people fleeing combat zones in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. Photo courtesy of Ukrainian Women’s Fund

One of the UWF-supported organizations, which focused on single mothers and mothers with multiple children, stayed in the war zone of Donetsk Oblast to rescue wounded, disabled women and others women and girls with reduced mobility.

The organization’s leader, a mother of four, and other members of the volunteer group were transporting people when her car was hit by targeted shelling. Nevertheless, she continued to drive until she lost consciousness.

She said: “It was important for me to get behind the wheel and show everyone that a woman does not succumb to fear, that a woman makes everything work. It lifts the spirits of other women and encourages men.”

Currently, she continues to coordinate the work of the organization from the hospital. She also shared that some of the rescued mothers decided to stay with the organization to help save others who had been deprived of sleep and food.

In addition, women’s rights organizations and human rights defenders ensure that incidents related to hostilities are documented.

How does UWF support women’s rights organizations and what does your organization need right now?

UWF currently supports women’s/feminist organizations to implement effective and systematic solutions such as:

  • collecting and distributing humanitarian aid where it is most needed and supplying women serving in the armed and defense forces;
  • evacuate people and create shelters;
  • coordinate the transit of displaced persons, volunteers and authorities;
  • record offences;
  • organize medical and psychological support for victims and witnesses of military aggression; and
  • create information collection and transmission systems that will save lives and enable communities to host displaced people.

On February 28, the UWF announced a grant competition in response to the crisis caused by the Russian Federation’s military incursions into Ukraine. These grants help women’s/feminist non-governmental organizations respond to pressing humanitarian issues, with a focus on the needs of vulnerable women and girls.

Over the next month, UWF will continue to provide rapid response grants for critical humanitarian challenges. We also prepare institutional support grants for women’s/feminist organizations, as well as grants to strengthen organizational networks and to form alliances with organizations in other countries. Every day, we seek out and implement solutions that help women and girls overcome the challenges of war and lessen its impact on their future. The UWF is also working to implement the National Action Plan for Women, Peace and Security, translating it into military terms.

We encourage people and organizations who are willing to help provide resources to women’s and feminist organizations in a timely manner and to invent systemic solutions in times of crisis.

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