07 March 2022

The National Director of Australia for UNHCR, Naomi Steer, says this International Women’s Day (Tuesday March 8), the world has again seen the devastating impact conflict has on women and girls, appealing for more urgent assistance to provide relief to those who have been forced from their homes due to military action in Ukraine.

Women and children make up the overwhelming majority of those who have now fled from Ukraine into neighbouring countries.

“We are seeing vast numbers of women and children leaving behind their husbands, fathers – and other loved ones – to seek safety in other countries. Many families have been separated at the border,” said Ms Steer.

“They have left their homes with very little notice and now find themselves in foreign countries with just small pieces of luggage and the clothes they are wearing.”

“Like we’ve seen in conflicts before – these women suddenly find themselves at the head of the family having to support their children with no work, and often very little money.”

The UN Refugee Agency is preparing for more than 4 million people to leave Ukraine, while the situation deteriorates dramatically for those who are displaced inside the country. Men aged 18 to 60 are forbidden from leaving Ukraine, unless they have at least three children or work in certain strategic sectors, such as bringing in weapons.

Ms Steer says UNHCR is highly attuned to the specific needs and challenges faced by refugee women.

“Historically, we’ve seen time and again the devastating impacts war can have on women and girls, including gender-based violence, arbitrary killings, rape and trafficking,” Ms Steer said.

“When displacement occurs due to conflict and crises, the problem of violence and discrimination against women escalates.

Those who are unaccompanied, pregnant, heads of households, disabled or elderly are especially vulnerable.”

On top of the basic needs being provided to refugees fleeing Ukraine, UNHCR is providing urgent psychological support to women and children as they cross the Ukrainian border into other countries.

“Many of these women and their children have directly witnessed active fighting. We are working to provide support to help deal with the trauma of what is happening and the uncertainty around what lies ahead.”

“The UN Refugee Agency is also looking after all unaccompanied children and ensuring that they are protected. We will work with partners - such as the ICRC and Red Cross Societies - on family tracing and reunification whenever possible.”

Even before the recent escalation, conflict was raging in eastern Ukraine since 2014 and women and girls were severely impacted.

Already, more than 1.5 million people – two-thirds women and children – were internally displaced according to UN figures and suffering from impeded access to health care, housing and employment.

“The situation has deteriorated dramatically since military action began on February 24 and the UN Refugee Agency is working hard to provide urgent support for the men, women and children who remain trapped inside Ukraine,” said Ms Steer.

“Our latest numbers show at least one million people are newly displaced inside Ukraine amid heavy fighting. UNHCR has pre-positioned supplies in the country and are continuing to call for access to provide life-saving relief.”

Australia for UNHCR is hosting an International Women’s Day Online Event on Tuesday March 8. Our special webinar will bring you up-to-date on UNHCR’s work not just in Ukraine, but across the globe.

The event will be hosted by journalist veteran Deborah Knight. She will be in conversation with UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner for Protection Gillian Triggs, CEO of Media Diversity Australia Mariam Veiszadeh, and Australia for UNHCR National Director Naomi Steer.

Tickets can be purchased at: https://events.humanitix.com/international-women-s-day-2022-women-on-the-frontlines

To donate to Australia for UNCHR’s Emergency Appeal for Ukraine go to www.unrefugees.org.au/campaigns/ukraine-emergency/ 

For further information, please contact:

Lisa Upton 
[email protected]
+61 420 754 441

Helen Dehen
[email protected]
+61 498 230 830

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