#StoryOfResistance — Leaving no woman or girl behind during the war in Ukraine
Interview with Halyna Skipalska, Executive Director, Ukrainian Foundation for Public Health
“The war has changed our lives, and particularly the lives of the most marginalized”
From 2011–2014, the Ukrainian Foundation for Public Health (UFPH) received support from the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women (UN Trust Fund) to lead a project to improve health services for women living with HIV as well as homeless and internally displaced women and girls, including survivors of violence. The project built the capacity of social workers, health service providers and law enforcement actors to respond swiftly to cases of violence, and provide both long- and short-term support.
Building on the success of this project, UFPH created a new online platform SafeWomen Hub, an initiative funded by the Women Peace and Humanitarian Fund and in collaboration with UN Women Europe and Central Asia, as soon as the war broke out in Ukraine. The Hub enables social workers and health service providers to reach the most marginalized women and girls during the war and provide comprehensive, timely services.
We spoke with Halyna Skipalska about how UFPH has adapted to provide specialist services that meet the needs of underserved women and girls in Ukraine today.
Since the war broke out, how have the lives of Ukrainians changed, especially women and girls?
We woke up on 24 February to explosions, sirens and alarms in most cities of Ukraine. Many women decided to leave their homes to find safe refuges. That day marked the beginning of massive displacement in Ukraine.
Many of our clients and women we serve, such as women living with HIV or homeless women, and women survivors of violence, needed to adjust to these new realities. For women living with HIV and women who use drugs, they needed to find health services to receive antiretroviral treatment or a substitution therapy.
Between April and October 2022, we supported over 2,750 women and young girls through the SafeWomen Hub platform and provided assistance to 214 gender-based violence survivors including 95 survivors of domestic violence. Also, our organization is currently supporting 52* women survivors of rape during the war, so we surely know that these 52 women will need our support not during one, two or three months, but long term as they are still facing risks of displacement, unintended pregnancy as a result of rape, and infections. They will return to this traumatic experience, and we will be there to support them with psychological services and access to social workers.
*as of October 2022
How is UFPH responding to these challenges while meeting the needs of women and girls affected?
UFPH is a women-led organization focusing on humanitarian action. Since the war broke out, we have seen gaps in services that need to be filled. Women need safe spaces, and social workers or supporters like ourselves need safe ways to reach our clients.
That is why we have created, with the support of UN Women, an online platform SafeWomen Hub. Built on our experience leading the UN Trust Fund-funded project and lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic, the platform helps us provide online specialized services and assistance, including antiretroviral treatment prescriptions for women survivors of violence who are also living with or affected by HIV/AIDS.
What has been the role of civil society and women’s rights organizations like UFPH in this turbulent context and time?
Civil society organizations and particularly women-led organizations are acting as first responders to address different needs of women and girls following the breakout of the war.
Hundreds of organizations like ours have started providing support services, facilitating volunteering efforts, and fundraising for more support to meet the needs of survivors as well as internally displaced women and girls. Their work needs to be recognized and shows that civil society organizations are service providers who also support their staff and others who live in their own communities.
However, civil society organizations also need to be supported by the international community, by international society, and donors. They not only need funds but also capacity development on how to manage all these additional resources they receive, how to reprogramme, how to be accountable and responsible for those funds and finances, and how to grow beyond the programme cycle.
How can the donor community better support civil society and women’s rights organizations in Ukraine?
Since the beginning of the war, civil society organizations have ensured the continuity of service provision to survivors, especially for women and girls at the highest risk of marginalization and exclusion. For these organizations to continue building their capacities and adapting to new developments, we need core and longer-term funding from donors to be able to adress long-term consequences of this protracted crisis. Additionally, we want to highlight the need to consider allocating resources to the self-care and mental health of staff.
I would like to thank all donors who continue supporting Ukraine and civil society organizations on the ground, while emphasizing the need to draw attention to eventual post-war long-term recovery needs.
It is important not to treat civil society and women’s rights organizations just as those who provide immediate services, but also to build their capacity and understand that they are important players who can implement reforms in their communities — and at the national level — after the war.
*UN Women shares the UN Secretary-General’s concern for the safety and wellbeing of all civilians in Ukraine. In particular, the war has had devastating consequences for the lives and livelihoods of women and girls. Incidents of gender-based violence, including allegations of conflict-related sexual violence, and massive displacements have increased. Women survivors of violence urgently need medical and psychosocial care, as well as legal counselling, economic assistance and support for relocation.
#StoryOfResistance is an editorial series during the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence 2022 of the UN Trust Fund. The series features the important, lifeline work of women’s rights organizations in ending violence against women and girls, in the context of overlapping crises and rising pushbacks from anti-rights and anti-feminist movements.