Ukraine women turn to sex for food as war rages

Women refugees from Ukraine at a shelter tent at the Ukrainian-Romanian border in Siret on March 02, 2022. As the war rages, cases of GBV, transactional sex for food, sexual exploitation and trafficking and early child, and forced marriages have drastically increased.

Photo credit: Photo | AFP

What you need to know:

  • A UN policy paper says war-induced food price hikes and shortages in Ukraine have widened the gender gap in food insecurity.
  • Spiralling energy prices have also caused families to return to using less-clean fuels and technologies, exposing women and girls to household air pollution.
  • Rural women in occupied territories are increasingly unable to perform agricultural work due to high insecurity and lack of resources.

A policy paper presented to the UN Security Council shows the devastating impacts of the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war on women and girls.

The report indicates the war has widened gender gaps in food insecurity, malnutrition, energy poverty, and increased gender-based violence inside Ukraine and in the neighbouring countries hosting refugees.

And as the war rages, cases of gender-based violence; transactional sex for food and survival; sexual exploitation and trafficking; and early, child, and forced marriage have increased drastically.

The report, which was developed by UN Women and the UN Global Crisis Response Group on the war in Ukraine, shows that war-induced food price hikes and shortages have widened the gender gap in food insecurity, women have even reducing their food intake to prioritise household members.

Spiralling energy prices have also caused families to return to using less-clean fuels and technologies, exposing women and girls to household air pollution.

Food insecurity

According to the UN estimates, air pollution kills 3.2 million people, mostly women and children, per year across the globe. Women-headed households in Ukraine were already more food-insecure prior to the war, with 37.5 per cent of them experiencing moderate or severe levels of food insecurity compared to 20.5 per cent of male-headed households.

The rural women in the territories occupied by the Russian military are increasingly unable to perform agricultural work due to high insecurity and lack of resources.

They are, however, rising to the challenge to accommodate and feed internally displaced people, multiplying their unpaid care and domestic work responsibilities.

Sima Bahous, UN Women Executive Director, while addressing the gathering said the systemic, gendered crises require systemic, gendered solutions.

“That means ensuring that women and girls, including from marginalized groups, are part of all the decision-making processes. That is simply the only way to be certain that their rights and needs are fully taken into account as we respond to the clear facts before us,” said Ms Bahous.

Gender statistics

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has, on several occasions, condemned the invasion of Ukraine by Russia.

“Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a violation of its territorial integrity and that of the Charter of the United Nations. It must end for the sake of the people of Ukraine, Russia, and the entire world,” said Mr Guterres when he briefed the UN Security Council after visiting the two countries in May.

To minimize the suffering of women and girls in conflict, the report has recommended that the international community prioritize women’s and girls’ voice, agency, participation and leadership in conflict response, recovery, and peace building.

It has also called for the enhancement of gender statistics and sex-disaggregated data to build the evidence base for gender-responsive policy, planning, and reconstruction measures.

The report also calls for the promotion and protection of the right to food by targeting the specific nutrition needs of women and girls and more equitable, gender-responsive, and sustainable food systems, and equitable access to inputs, technologies, and markets by women.

In April, UN Women released data showing that about 90 per cent of the 10 million people who had been displaced by the Ukraine war were women and girls.

The UN Women indicated refugees comprised women, girls and children who have fled to neighbouring countries, and others displaced within the country.

The organisation registered concerns that women and girls who have fled to the neighbouring countries are increasingly being exposed to gender-specific risks such as trafficking, sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) and denial of access to essential services and goods.

The United Nation Population Fund (UNFPA) in May, reported that an estimated 265,000 women were pregnant in Ukraine, with 80,000 expected to give birth in the coming few months.

Maternal care

These numbers are expected to increase significantly as the offensive continues.

Damage and destruction to medical facilities as well as a shortage of service providers and critical supplies, have also severely compromised the delivery of essential health services including access to maternal care for expectant women.

Despite Russia facing stringent sanctions from the 27 member European Union for invading Ukraine, the war still continues.

Canada, the European Union, Japan, New Zealand, Taiwan, the United Kingdom, and the United States in March unveiled a series of sanctions against Russia targeting banks, oil refineries, and military exports.