In Ukraine, there is a clear understanding that CRSV is a war crime


This opinion was expressed by Sabine Freizer Gunes, UN Women Representative in Ukraine. She believes that attention to gender equality issues in Ukraine helped the country to respond promptly to the problem of conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV) and to counter it.


– How is the situation in Ukraine regarding the gender equality policy and the CRSV response different from the situation in other countries?

– In recent years, Ukraine has made significant progress in terms of institutionalizing gender equality. The country has adopted several very important laws which will facilitate women's empowerment. Ukraine has signed and ratified a number of important international documents, such as the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (Istanbul Convention).

At the same time, there are certain areas where the country can make further progress. For example, 21% of the Ukrainian parliament are women, so there is still gender imbalance in representation. Therefore, the introduction of effective quotas and intermediary special measures aimed at strengthening the representation of women in the authorities and their representation in party lists in the next elections can still contribute to a better gender balance in decision making.

As for conflict-related sexual violence, it is important to note that the Government of Ukraine immediately recognized it as a serious issue, as a serious violation of the rights of women and men. Back in the spring 2022, the Framework of Cooperation between the Government of Ukraine and the UN on the Response to Conflict-Related Sexual Violence (CRSV) was adopted. It was signed by the Deputy Prime Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration Olha Stefanishyna and the UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflicts Pramila Patten. The Agreement is now being implemented by the Government and the UN system, through an inter-agency working group which meets regularly to implement an Action Plan focusing on different pillars including the provision of comprehensive services to the survivors of CRSV and access to justice and accountability for survivors.


– UN Women is an entity that works not only with the governments to ensure women's rights and gender equality, but also with other UN agencies in relation to gender mainstreaming in their activities. Do you do such work in Ukraine?

– UN Women has been present in Ukraine since 2016. Our mandate includes activities for women's empowerment, gender equality, as well as activities to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, specifically, Goal #5 (Gender equality - ed.). We do this in close cooperation with other UN agencies as part of the UN Country Team and UN Humanitarian Team. For example, we cooperate closely with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) on issues related to gender based violence including conflict-related sexual violence. While UNFPA is more focused on providing services and immediate assistance to CRSV survivors, we work more on building the capacities of justice and security actors to prevent and respond to CRSV.

Another example of close cooperation is with the International Labor Organization (ILO). We are both part of a global initiative called the Equal Pay International Coalition (EPIC) with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which the Government of Ukraine has signed on to. According to this Ukraine has committed to ensure that men and women receive equal pay for equal value. With ILO we supported the Government develop and now implement a new strategy on equal pay, to support women’s full and equal integration into economic life.

In the context of advancing gender equality, it is important to work on gender stereotypes. Because in many cases people don't even understand that there is some kind of inequality between women and men and what violence is. From November 25 to December 10 last year we supported an information campaign as part of the global initiative "16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence against Women and Girls." The national communication campaign called - #NoExcuse - was aimed at drawing society's attention to the issue of gender-based violence against women and girls, at promoting its prevention and informing about platforms that can provide support to survivors. It was broadcast on national media every evening for 16 days and really helped make viewers aware of the different types of violence that exist and how to best respond.


– What programs and projects does UN Women implement in Ukraine in response to CRSV?

– I have already mentioned the Framework on the Response to CRSV. It is very important because it is necessary to have coordinated activities both with the Government of Ukraine and with various UN agencies. To implement it, we actively cooperate with the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration Olha Stefanishyna, the Office of the Government Commissioner for Gender Policy Kateryna Levchenko, the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA), the Office of the Prosecutor General, the State Emergency Service (SES), as well as local authorities, civil society organizations.

In particular in 2023 we contributed to the capacity development of the security sector in terms of CRSV response. We conducted trainings for the National Police, the State Emergency Service, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and other institutions. We also worked with the National Agency on Civil Service (NAC) – we developed and launched a video training course that increases the awareness of civil servants in identifying and responding to CRSV cases and providing assistance to survivors. Some 1,500 civil servants were trained through the NACs so far. We developed and launched this course together with the Ukrainian Women Lawyers Association "JurFem". We estimate that through our cooperation with JurFem 3,120,000 people were reached through dissemination of information and referral materials on CRSV.

We are also involved in the Government's work on the preparation of draft laws aimed at supporting CRSV survivors. Draft law #10132 on conflict related sexual violence was registered in parliament in October 2023, it is closely related to draft law #10256 on the registration of war damages caused by the Russian Federation which is also currently being finalized. The experience of other countries shows that it is very important to create a system of reparations for survivors   of conflict related sexual violence. So that they can receive various types of support - medical, psychological, legal and financial. We realize that it will take a lot of advocacy work to find funding to implement this law on reparations: on one hand some of the money may come from frozen assets but on the other it is likely to be necessary to find donors who can help with reparations.


– The Government of Ukraine, the World Bank, the European Commission and the UN are preparing the third Rapid Damage and Needs Assessment for Ukraine. How will this report reflect the gender-specific impacts of the war in Ukraine, as well as the CRSV issues?

– It is essential that this report reflects the gender-specific impacts of the war. Because the first and second RDNA reports did not have much information that would be specifically related to the gender-disaggregated data. And unfortunately, from previous reports, you will not get a clear understanding of what are the specific issues faced by women and girls in the conditions of war. You will not see information about women losing their jobs and how they are economically affected by hostilities. There is also lack of information about the CRSV issues. Therefore, for the RDNA3, together with the Government of Ukraine, other UN agencies and civil society organizations, we have prepared a small chapter that deals specifically with the impact of war on women and girls. There, we highlight issues related to women's participation in political life, their economic security, as well as safety issues and the CRSV situation.


– How important is it to take into account the ensuring of gender equality, as well as the needs of CRSV survivors in the Ukraine Recovery Plan?

– I must say that people often associate reconstruction with infrastructure objects - with rebuilding of bridges, schools, etc. First two RDNAs indeed placed a big emphasis on the infrastructure, on destroyed buildings. Why is it this way? Partly because it is much easier to calculate how much it will cost to rebuild such facilities destroyed by the war. It is much more difficult to measure human rights violations, in particular to assess the impacts of violence against women. Therefore, we felt that it was very important to highlight the gender component and have such a gender-focused chapter in RDNA3[1] to reflect the gender needs in the recovery of Ukraine.

As for CRSV, it is crucial to have the law on reparations in place, subject to which the survivors will be able to get access to justice, expect the necessary services, as well as financial reparations.

I am not sure if financing for reparations is included in the Ukraine Recovery Plan. But what we can say for sure is that the implementation of the future law on reparations will require funding. So I think it would be very important to include this in the Recovery Plan. Because we often see that there is a positive political will, there are many statements saying that gender equality should be included in the agenda, but at the same time, funding is not always provided for. We are talking about a rather serious budget for the proper support of CRSV survivors. This is not a one-time payment, after which the problem will disappear. No, survivors will need long-term support.

This is important and it needs to be planned now. We see from the experience of the Western Balkans, for example, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, that the trauma of CRSV survivors extended to their children. Therefore, this issue can be observed for several more generations and will require human and financial resources.


- What challenges in CRSV response in Ukraine do you observe and how do you tackle them?

- As of now, we know that there are 257 CRSV cases recorded by the Office of the Prosecutor General. We don't know if this is an actual number or just the tip of the iceberg. Because very often CRSV survivors do not want to tell their story, do not talk about what happened to them. Therefore, I would say that one of the biggest challenges in this work is building trust so that survivors feel confident that they can talk about their experiences and get justice. That is why I emphasize the need to implement the law on reparations. Then survivors will see that by going public with what happened to them they can obtain real support.

Another challenge for Ukraine: it is difficult to get a clear understanding of what is happening in the non-government controlled areas. We don't have full information about what happens in detention centers for those taken captive, what sexual violence might be committed there, what happens in private homes. We do not know the number of cases of sexual violence in the territories currently controlled by the Russian Federation. Even if we know about such cases, we often face a situation when the perpetrators are not in the territory of Ukraine, and so if they are sentenced there is little that can be done to ensure that they go to prison.

So there are indeed many challenges when we talk about CRSV.


- How do the developed policies of ensuring women's rights and gender equality, which is prioritized in Ukraine, help to manage the CRSV consequences?

- The interest shown by the Government of Ukraine in advancing gender equality and women empowerment in Ukraine became the factor that helped to promptly respond to CRSV. Unfortunately, in some countries, people think: well, CRSV is something that cannot be avoided, it's just a consequence of war, nothing can be done about it. Maybe the woman is to blame, maybe she provoked it. But in Ukraine, there is a clear understanding that CRSV is a war crime. And that those affected by it should be able to access justice.


Volodymyr DOBROTA,

National press-club “Ukrainian Perspective”

The material is prepared as part of the “Resilient Together: improving the system of response to war-related sexual violence” project. The project is implemented by the Ukrainian Women's Fund in partnership with the CSO "La Strada-Ukraine" and the Ukrainian Women Lawyers Association “JurFem” with the support of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration and the Office of the Government Commissioner for Gender Policy and with the financial support from the European Union.