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Gender-based violence and the Ukraine War

Emergency Gender

Reports suggest that rates of gender-based violence have greatly increased since the escalation of the war in Ukraine.

Two years since the escalation of the war in Ukraine, Plan International’s partners are warning of skyrocketing cases of gender- based violence, with girls and young women in particular increasingly exposed to intimate partner violence, sexual violence, online harmful content and sexual exploitation and abuse.

This unfolding GBV emergency remains grossly overlooked by donors and the international community. At only 4% funded, GBV is the most underfunded sector across the Ukraine response. More funding for GBV prevention and support is urgently needed – without it, there is a huge risk of normalising violence and harmful gender norms for generations to come.

At least 3.6 million people inside Ukraine are in need of GBV prevention and response services.

The UN Commission of Inquiry into Ukraine continues to document cases of rape and other sexual violence against women and men, which amount to war crimes, including while in detention. This has left many girls and young women fearing rape. Some families have developed plans of action in case adolescent girls face the threat of being raped.

“During the war, most of us young girls experienced fear. People are incredibly stressed and this stress is causing more violence against girls and women, ” says Elizaveta, a university student from Kyiv.

“During the war, most of us young girls experienced fear. People are incredibly stressed and this stress is causing more violence against girls and women.”

As is all too often the case in conflict, intimate partner violence is also increasing. We have also heard alarming reports of mothers in single female-headed households, experiencing violence from their adolescent sons.

According to a November 2023 study, one in four (26%) refugee women from Ukraine have experienced sexual or physical violence after fleeing the country. 6 Out of the 800 women surveyed, more than one in 10 (15%) had survived sexual violence. 7% experienced physical violence and 4% have survived both.

“With the war, we see an increase in the number of gender-based violence cases but these are not being reported,” says Yuliya Zdorova-Sporysh of NGO Girls, a Plan International partner in Ukraine. “There are several reasons for this: the first reason is the general stigma around gender-based violence, including rape. And in peacetime, rape was very little reported. Now, women who have suffered, they believe that there are many other pressing issues, and this is not a priority.”

Online abuse

Online sexual exploitation and abuse is also a huge concern, as many Ukrainians use messaging apps and social media (particularly Viber, Telegram and Facebook) to seek support. Searches for sexually exploitative terms relating to Ukrainian refugees, especially women and girls, increased by 300% following the escalation of the war. Adolescent girls aged 15-19 have told us that they are being harassed online and exposed to exploitative content, but there is limited awareness and information available on online safety.

A call to action

Plan International calls for an age and gender responsive approach to the ongoing humanitarian crisis and for continued support for the millions of people impacted by the war in Ukraine, including those internally displaced and refugees in host countries.

In particular, legislating and localising, in consultation with women’s organisations, the implementation of the recently ratified Istanbul Convention, to increase the capacity of local authorities, service providers, police and the judiciary on survivor centred responses to gender-based violence.

In host countries, GBV services need to be made available in multiple languages and with clear communication that reporting cases will not impact refugees’ protection status.

In Ukraine, targeted outreach is required in areas with large military presence. Prevention of GBV must extend to online safety awareness programmes to keep displaced women and girls, particularly in host countries, safe from growing risks of online sexual exploitation and abuse.