On the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) together with the Feminoteka Foundation call on donors and the international community to come together to put the protection needs of women at the heart of the Ukraine crisis response. Nine months since the war in Ukraine escalated, a staggering 93% of refugees staying in Poland are women and children - many of them face exploitation on their journey, or leave homes where they had already experienced violence.  

As in every humanitarian crisis, the ongoing war in Ukraine has triggered increased levels of violence used as a weapon of war, but also borne witness to escalating cases of domestic violence. Women and girls are not only at high risk of abuse on their way to safety, but oftentimes do not find the protection they need upon arrival to their destination points in Europe. In Poland, the situation is compounded by pre-existing legal barriers to sexual and reproductive healthcare. 

It is an imperative that humanitarian organisations active in countries hosting Ukrainian refugees work with international donors, local and national authorities to prioritise the needs of women and girls, and are well equipped to provide them with all necessary services and support. All actors must unite in solidarity to mitigate risks, including the risks of trafficking, inequalities, sexual violence, or discriminatory barriers in the labor market women and girls might experience in the host countries.  

Barbara Araujo, IRC’s Women’s Protection and Empowerment Manager, said: 

“Even before the conflict escalated, two thirds of women in Ukraine had experienced some form of gender-based violence in their lifetime. The Ukraine crisis is - first and foremost - a protection crisis, in which the vast majority of people affected by it are women and girls. However, it is unclear how much funding is available to deliver life-saving services for survivors and to protect those at risk of experiencing abuse. Donor governments should inquire how humanitarian funding is prioritised, how the need for specialised services for women and girls is assessed and in how far their needs are currently met.” 

Feminoteka, in partnership with IRC Poland, has opened a safe space in Warsaw for women who have fled Ukraine and experienced violence. In a carefully curated space, clients find a comfortable place to live, seek psychosocial support and information, take part in workshops on their rights, and get referred to a wide range of support services. 

Joanna Piotrkowska, CEO of Feminoteka, said: 

“Having been through the horrors of war, women fleeing Ukraine who make it to Poland deserve nothing but care and protection. Our place is a safe haven for women and their children to heal and to get back on their own two feet. We see that whilst many of the women affected by the war in Ukraine have survived war-related violence, the majority of women we are working with have escaped situations of domestic abuse. No matter what experience, survivors of violence and trauma compounded by the ongoing war are in dire need of specialised services to help them recover, connect with their potential and thrive.”

The IRC launched an emergency response to the war in Ukraine in February 2022, working directly and with local partners to reach those most in need. In Poland, we are providing cash assistance to the most vulnerable households, improving access to legal assistance and providing a variety of tailor-made protection services, including safe spaces for women and children. Together with Feminoteka, we join forces to ensure that women have a safe haven in Warsaw to recover from the experience of the war and stand on their own two feet. Feminoteka has a long-experience in supporting women who experienced GBV to address the needs of the survivors on the best ways; With IRC's support, Feminoteka continues to support women affected by the war in Ukraine with quality case management from a survivor centred approach. 

Responding along the entire arc of the crisis, we are responding in Ukraine and Moldova, and running activities targeting Ukrainian refugees in Romania, Hungary,  Slovakia,  Czechia and Bulgaria, as well as in Germany, Italy, Greece and the UK.