All humanitarian crises disproportionately impact women, girls and people on the margins of society — and that's especially true right now in Ukraine.
After all, most men have been prohibited from leaving the country, and Ukraine’s population is 54 percent female. Today, the ranks of Ukraine refugees teem overwhelmingly with the most vulnerable –women, children, the elderly, and the disabled. So, as the world grapples with how to respond to the estimated 3.3 million people who have been forcibly displaced, it’s essential to consider why and how the global response should be different as well.
For women caught in the conflict, there are an array of heightened dangers. An estimated 80,000 women in Ukraine are expected to give birth in the next three months, and many of them are without access to adequate maternal healthcare. In addition, 12,000 of those 80,000 women will require life-saving emergency obstetric and newborn care for complications in pregnancy.
It’s unclear how many pregnant, breastfeeding or new mothers have been displaced, where they are located and how they can get the critical services they need to prevent maternal and newborn mortality. According to the World Health Organization, 60 percent of preventable maternal deaths in the world take place in fragile settings, like Ukraine, where political conflict, displacement and disasters prevail. The humanitarian response must consider these women high priority.
It's also important to remember that women and children crossing the border with no contacts or help are also at higher risk for trafficking and other forms of abuse. German authorities, for example, have issued a warning to refugees about accepting unsolicited help at train stations. In Poland, predators have targeted young girls traveling alone. Reports are emerging of sexual violence by Russian soldiers against Ukrainian women and girls who are fleeing the country. Without structured and safe support for women in place, criminals may step into the void.
The world community, including the United States, has stepped up with unprecedented financial commitments to support the Ukrainian refugee population. But the scale and specificity of the crisis requires an equally all-encompassing response - especially addressing the unique needs of women and children crossing the border.
Basic needs like shelter, food and clothing are essential, but so too is support for nursing mothers and infants. We also need to consider child nutrition, medical care for pregnant women, infrastructure for housing and support to prevent a proliferation of trafficking.
The world has committed to standing with Ukraine, but that means also standing with the millions of women bearing the brunt of this catastrophe.
The face of the Ukraine disaster is a woman’s. Let’s ensure the world community does not let her down.
Lauren Leader is CEO of All In Together, a non-profit women’s political leadership organization. She tweets at @LaurenLeaderAIT