Equity and Opportunity

The Ukraine war — like all conflicts — will hit women and girls the hardest, UN warns

Key Points
  • All conflicts, including the one in Ukraine, "exact the highest price from women and girls," the executive director of U.N. Women told CNBC.
  • Bahous told CNBC that women and girls are particularly vulnerable in conflicts to sexual and gender-based violence, loss of access to healthcare, education, food, water and sanitation.
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Why International Women’s Day is so important: UN Women executive director

Women and girls pay the "highest price" during conflicts like the one in Ukraine, the executive director of U.N. Women told CNBC.

Sima Bahous, who in Sept. 2021 became head of the U.N body dedicated to gender equality, was speaking on International Women's Day on Mar. 8. 

She told CNBC's Tania Bryer that women and girls are particularly vulnerable to sexual and gender-based violence during conflict, as well as loss of access to healthcare, education, food, water and sanitation.

"But more importantly, we see also that women are not only victims in crisis, but they are also carrying their families, their communities and their nations, from fragility to stability, if we only give them the space to do so," Bahous said.

"So, this is why we seek to empower women in crisis, and in countries not in crisis, because empowering women from the negotiating table, to the family level, to play the leadership role that they can play, and if we give them access, if we give them resources, if we support them, and if we have solidarity with them, they are capable always of leading and of shining hope in their homes, in their communities and in their countries."

Women and children from war-torn Ukraine, including a mother carrying an infant, arrive in Poland at the Medyka border crossing on March 04, 2022.
Sean Gallup | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Bahous' comments came after the International Rescue Committee warned on Monday that of the over 1.5 million refugees who have fled Ukraine since Russia's invasion, the vast majority are women and children at disproportionate risk of exploitation, including sexual violence and trafficking.

According to the aid group, about 80,000 women will give birth in the next three months in Ukraine — many of whom will be without access to critical maternal health care if the conflict continues to disrupt essential services.

Ukraine again accused Russia of war crimes after an attack on a children's and maternity hospital in Mariupol on Wednesday.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said pregnant women had been removed from the hospital days before the attack, though a video taken after the missile strike showed a pregnant woman being carried away on a stretcher. Ukraine Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told CNBC after Lavro's claims that Moscow's leadership "live in their own reality."

Bahous told CNBC that stopping the conflict "is the best hope that we can have for women and girls."

She called for humanitarian corridors that would allow citizens to flee the conflict and humanitarian aid to enter. There have been multiple attempts to establish safe routes over the last few days, but many have ended in failure following accusations of Russian forces continuing to attack despite cease-fires.

"Let's all do our best to end the conflict," Bahous said. "Let's all put on a gender lens also to see how this conflict is affecting women and girls and let us all come together to find a solution through negotiations and through peaceful means, not forgetting to keep women at the table when we are negotiating this peace and when we are negotiating how we move forward."

U.N. Women has been working in Ukraine since 2015.