Violence Against Women in Ukraine: ‘If he hits you, he loves you’

Ukraine ranks 61st out of 152 countries on the gender inequality index. And since the outbreak of the war in the East things have only changed for the worse as violence against women has flourished over recent years. But how are politicians approaching these dramatic challenges?

A Guest Commentary by Anastasia Vishnevskaya

 

Warlike conflicts and political instability always bring along a rise of violence against women and the ongoing conflict in Ukraine is by no means exceptional. While a lot of attention in the media and academia has been drawn to the special political aspects of this ‘hybrid’ war, it still is first and foremost a violent conflict like any other with people being left traumatized, injured and killed. 

 

Consequences Beyond the Front Line

During the Ukrainian part of our seminar Women and International Politics in Germany and Ukraine, several Ukrainian NGO experts and politicians have stressed that women experience those consequences as gender-based violence that has been skyrocketing in the last two years. Among the non-combatants (women have recently been allowed to fight in the Ukrainian army next to men), the most vulnerable group are by far women who still live in the conflict zone and internally displaced people (IDPs) who fled the self-proclaimed republic for other parts of the country.

Multiple reports on indiscriminate violence, torture and captures on the territory of the self-proclaimed republics have been published already and with no doubt the documents are shocking. But as the access of human rights activists and NGOs remains very limited, the scope of the actual violence can hardly be estimated. Especially the displaced people who are mainly women accompanying their children as well as elderly people are reportedly victims to rape, gang rape and sex trafficking with some being forced to become sexual workers due to economic hardships in the country

 

Domestic Violence Remains Unnoticed

The other significant implication of the war in Eastern Ukraine is the rising number of registered cases of domestic violence. Figures have increased by 50% over the last two years reaching some 150 thousand cases in 2015 as experts suppose that actual figures might be up to 1.5 times higher than the official ones. Even though violence against women comprises around 90% of reported cases, only 10-25% of victims of domestic violence accuse their perpetrators formally. Many of those crimes are committed by returnees coming home from the front line who are traumatised and get hardly any psychological assistance to cope with their painful experiences.

The reason why female victims barely report on domestic violence is that any domestic issue (even violence) is still widely considered to be a part of family life, with sayings like “If he beats you, it means he loves you” (Бьёт, значит любит) being conventional wisdom. It is also considered a private issue, which needs no involvement of the public or the state. Sexual violence as well remains frequently unreported because victim-blaming is so widespread, with even police officers blaming women for provoking the perpetrator.

 

Changes Under Way

Though still not ratified, the Istanbul Convention provides a useful framework of what could be done. Elements of the convention are already being implemented, a sustainable implementation, however, would require massive changes in a broad scope of laws, trainings for law enforcement officers, more psychologists for victims and new facilities like shelters for women exposed to violence at home. While those measures might be expensive, they are still easier to implement than making sure that violence against women finally becomes socially unacceptable. Without the latter, however, shelters for victims will never stay empty. 

 

The project Beyond the Protocol – Women and International Politics in Germany and Ukraine is based on two workshops, conducted in Kyiv (09-14 October 2016) and Berlin (20-25 November 2016) focuses on three aspects: gender equality in general; women, peace and security; and women in international politics and diplomacy. Specific issues are further discussed in this blog series. The project is funded mainly by the German Foreign Office and the Robert Bosch Foundation, under the umbrella of the Meet Up! – German-Ukrainian dialogue program of the Foundation “Remembrance, Responsibility and Future”, as well as financially supported by the Alfred-Herrhausen-Gesellschaft and the German-Ukrainian Forum. 

The Polis Blog serves as a platform at the disposal of Polis180’s members. Published comments express solely the authors’ opinions and shall not be confounded with the opinions of the editors or of Polis180. Image: http://bit.ly/2gdoQJc.

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Anastasia Vishnevskaya

Anastasia was born and raised in Nizhnij Novgorod, Russia and is currently based in Berlin. She graduated in International Relations and Diplomacy at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO) and the Free University of Berlin. She is currently a PhD candidate at the Graduate School for Global Politics at the Renmin University of China in Beijing and holds a PhD scholarship from the Hanns Seidel Foundation. She focusses on regimes of autonomies for ethnic minorities regions and governance of those regions in Russia and China. At Polis180, Anastasia is working in the programme area "Women and International Politics".
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