Every Woman Coalition | Statement on Ukraine and Russia

The illegal invasion and war in Ukraine are catastrophic for women and girls across the region. Emerging accounts are horrific. The Russian missile strike on a Mariupol maternity hospital resulted in deaths. In Düsseldorf, an 18-year-old Ukrainian woman who was housed on a hotel boat for refugees on the Rhine River was reportedly sexually assaulted by two men. Ukrainian parliamentarians have detailed reports of elderly women – typically female senior citizens who had been unable to get out – being raped and executed. Women and girls have come forward to testify to atrocities like gang rapes, assaults taking place at gunpoint, and rapes committed in front of children. Those in Russia are also at risk. When soldiers return from conflict, domestic violence spikes.

Despite the profound pain the conflict has caused, women in the region are united and resolute in the face of Putin’s onslaught. The cross-border solidarity these women show one another in the fight against the military machine is striking. It is at once extremely difficult for women in Ukraine to hear anything in Russian or about Russia and also critical for them to know that their Russian sisters care. And care the Russians do. Some 15,000 Russians have been arrested in anti-war demonstrations, like 77-year-old activist and artist Yelena Osipova, who took part in a protest in St Petersburg.

Every Woman condemns the war in Ukraine, the illegal invasion, the war crimes and crimes against humanity being committed, and the Russian dictatorship. We are a global coalition of 1,700 women’s rights activists from 128 countries. We work to provide backup to frontline women’s rights advocates and to secure a new global treaty specific to ending violence against women and girls. From our vantage point, the war in Ukraine is an appalling indicator that coordinated international action on violence against women is acutely needed and painfully overdue. A treaty on violence against women and girls is a vital means of safeguarding women’s rights activists and preventing sexual violence in conflict.

A new global norm would serve a safety function for women’s rights activists who find themselves targeted during hostilities. According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, even before the invasion, numbers of killings and attacks against women human rights defenders were on the rise. A treaty would mean accountability for the warmongering state if women activists were targeted for their anti-war advocacy.

Had this treaty been in place, it would have mitigated the risk of violence against women and girls. The new treaty will affirm that such violence is not an inevitable by-product of war. It will pinpoint state and non-state actors’ accountability in conflict and mandate prevention education so that future catastrophes do not boil over into violence against women and girls. Crucially, it will require whole-of-government interventions underpinned by a dedicated budget to serve survivors of sexual violence. These services will include psychiatric support.

The international community has not been able to forestall Russia’s invasion or prevent the gruesome violence the war has inflicted upon women and girls. But we must be unwavering in our work to ensure that women and girls whose lives are devastated by crises like this one, including frontline women’s rights activists, have full access to essential services and baseline legal protections. A standalone, comprehensive global treaty provides the path. Join the call and donate to build support for activists across the region.