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Impact of Ukraine war on the men who fight played down in UN Women’s report

UN Women is the United Nations entity dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women. A global champion for women and girls, UN Women was established to accelerate progress on meeting their needs worldwide.

That’s what it says about itself.

Like many gendered organisation is not impartial but is an activist organisation that looks at the world through a gendered lens. With a particular tint.

The war in Ukraine has a particular gendered aspect to it. Men cannot leave the country if they are between 18 and 60 and are likely to be conscripted.

A recent publication from the organisation, would be expected to look primarily on this aspect.

However, it barely gets a mention and when it does, it is almost dismissive. In the section focused on the gendered impact inside Ukraine, the report states:

“While men’s lives are deeply impacted by the conscription requirement, the multisectoral impact of the crisis is affecting women disproportionally.”

Unpacking that statement for those not absorbed in the language of the aid sector, this means something so abstract as to be unfalsifiable. The UN Women report essentially dismisses the gendered aspects of the war affecting men – death, disfigurement, life-changing injuries, severe psychological scarring of front line combat, to claim that the gendered impacts of the war affecting women are just more important or more severe.

What is this multisectoral impacts that are more severe fighting and dying in conflict? The report states:

  • the crisis in Ukraine is largely exacerbating pre-existing gender and intersectional inequalities and discrimination.
  • Women’s care burden has increased significantly, with the lack of access to education facilities due to security risks, women’s engagement in volunteer activities and men’s absence due to engagement in the armed forces
  • The war is expected to increasingly impact unemployment rates among all categories of the population and will likely continue to push women into the unprotected informal sectors of the economy.
  • Poverty and dependency on social payments, especially among female-headed households, will be expected to increase.
  • The data confirm that the impact of the war is particularly disproportionate for marginalized groups, such as female-headed households, IDPs, Roma people, LGBTQIA+ and people with disabilities.
  • Women facing multiple forms of discrimination, such as women from minority groups, face particular challenges in accessing humanitarian support and have increased protection needs.
  • The impacts on mental health are a key area of concern. Expectations on traditional gender roles are likely to have compounding impacts, with women more likely to take on additional emotional care responsibilities within the family and men less likely to seek support for mental health concerns.

While not insignificant, it is not clear how these impacts are ‘disproportionate’ on women and other groups, relative to the impact on men who cannot leave and many of whom are dying a bloody death. To the uneducated layperson, losing a leg is disproportionately worse than having to carry an additional care burden.

The report continues to highlight other areas where women are affected due to the war, or with secondary impacts. Again, these are not insignificant and deserve to be looked at and addressed in their own right.

  • Incidents of GBV, particularly domestic violence and conflict-related sexual violence, are reportedly increasing, but services for GBV survivors are not provided in full.
  • In many parts of Ukraine, the police are no longer responding to cases of domestic violence.
  • Women are also confronted with particular challenges in accessing necessary services and are experiencing a greater loss in sources of livelihoods. At the same time, they face increased pressure to provide for their families while male family members are involved in defense activities.

The section ends with the statement: “These compounded pressures on women mean that they are disproportionately affected by the crisis.”

Does UN Women feel that women would be better off if they were conscripted? Would they be less disproportionately affected if they were on the front lines facing the bombs and the guns?

It is not to make light of the impact of the war on women – they have to carry a huge burden and that is the nature of war. But men carry a huge and different burden too, yet UN Women seems disinterested.

UN Women in its quest for gender equality does not seem to be interested in the unequal aspects of male conscription, for example.

 It wants equality only in areas that suit. It has, like most others, ignored the reality of this inequality belying the truth that it harbours traditional stereotypes and gender roles deep in its psyche as much as any of us.

The men should fight and the women shouldn’t. At the same time, once the war is over, there will be more campaigns about equality in the armed forces. Equality: everyone wants it until you get invaded by an aggressor.



Karen Dwyer

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