UK statement to the OSCE on the disproportionate impact of Russia’s invasion on the women and girls of Ukraine

UK statement to the OSCE on the disproportionate impact of Russia’s invasion on the women and girls of Ukraine

Ambassador Neil Bush expressed that their courage and determination continue to deeply humble us, and we stand united with them today and always.

Location: Vienna
Delivered on: 9 March 2023

Transcript of the speech, exactly as it was delivered:

Thank you, Mr. Chair. As you and Ukraine have already mentioned, this morning we woke up to news of Russian strikes across Ukraine including Kyiv, Odesa and Kharkiv. There are reports of at least five people killed in residential areas of Lviv. We also note with concern reports of electrical power supply loss at Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant. Only last week the IAEA again raised concerns about the risk of a nuclear accident at the plant. We condemn Russia’s continued attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure. This has to stop.

Mr Chair, as we will later remark on, yesterday the world celebrated International Women’s Day. With that in mind, I will focus my statement today on the continued impact of Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine on women and girls.

On the last International Women’s Day, in March 2022, there was little to celebrate for the women of Ukraine. In the early months of Russia’s invasion, 90% of those forced from their country, and 60% of those internally displaced, were women – often making perilous journeys whilst Russian missiles rained down. Of those who made the difficult decision to remain, many women and girls suffered unspeakable cruelties at the hands of Russian forces. We will not forget the thousands of women and girls who have been killed or injured as a result of Russia’s brutal and unprovoked war, including our colleague Special Monitoring Mission member Maryna Fenina. Maryna was killed just over a year ago on 1 March 2022 when Kharkiv was shelled by Russian forces. She was simply trying to find food and supplies for her family, her once peaceful city being turned into a war zone by Russia.

War affects everybody, regardless of gender or age – however, it has long been recognised that women and girls are disproportionately impacted and are at far greater risk of gender-based and conflict-related sexual violence and human trafficking. We have been compelled to speak multiple times in this Council of the documented, widespread and systemic use of sexual violence as a weapon by Russian Armed Forces in Ukraine. The evidence uncovered by this organisation, by the United Nations, by the Government of Ukraine, by civil society groups and by many more is staggering and utterly horrifying. This evidence exists because of the bravery of survivors and witnesses, who, in their refusal to be silenced, break down stigma and enable justice. We must not fail them in delivery of that justice.

Ukrainian women have found themselves as the primary caregivers and providers, taking on additional responsibility for their families and communities following the loss or absence of male family members. Access to vital services has been greatly reduced. As stated by the Director of the United Nations Population Fund, “access to sexual and reproductive health services are not peacetime luxuries; they are essential, and they save lives”. Ukrainian women should not be expected to give birth in makeshift underground maternity wards whilst dust falls from the ceiling, caused by relentless Russian shelling. Ukrainian women should not be denied safe abortion care, especially following the trauma of rape and sexual assault by Russian forces.

Despite the horror and trauma many have experienced over the past 12 months, Ukrainian women and girls have shown remarkable courage and resilience. From the tens of thousands of women serving in the Ukrainian Armed Forces and the Territorial Defence Forces, to the millions of women from all walks of life who go to work each day to support the defence of Ukraine, regardless of the daily air raid alerts, power shortages and near constant danger. From the female first responders and medical professionals, to those across the Ukrainian diaspora supporting refugees and displaced persons, we salute the bravery, the humanity and resilience of all those ensuring that Ukrainian voices are heard across the world.

These mothers, daughters, sisters and protectors of Ukraine demonstrate strength, compassion and integrity in support of the defence of their country, their people and their principles in what are for many, unimaginable circumstances. We remain deeply humbled by their courage and determination and we stand united with them today and forever.

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