Women and girls in Ukraine will face the brunt of the war’s consequences. In this joint op-ed, leaders from two women’s funding networks encourage donors to provide powerful support through women’s funds.
This op-ed was published in Inside Philanthropy on March 16, 2022.
As we watch the war rage in Ukraine with families separated and more than 2 million women and children forced to flee their homes to escape bombings, air raids and violence, we stand in solidarity with all those in Ukraine and elsewhere around the world where there are wars and devastating refugee crises. History shows us that women, children and LGBT+ people face a particularly high threat of violence during armed conflicts, and it’s critical to get emergency humanitarian aid as well as long-term rebuilding efforts into communities.
The consequences of Putin’s aggression are dire for women, girls and non-binary people. Whenever armed conflict breaks out, violence against women increases exponentially, and sexual violence often becomes a weapon of war itself, as witnessed in Bosnia, Sierra Leone and Rwanda, among others.
There’s also the risk to pregnant women, who must try to bring new life into the world without losing their own in the process. The U.N. reports that 80,000 women from Ukraine will give birth over the next three months, many of them away from home and without access to medical care or even sanitary conditions. Already, Ukrainian women have had to give birth in a bomb shelter, in a subway station, and evacuate with their newborns just hours postpartum after the maternity wing of a hospital was bombed. Two decades ago, the Inter-agency Working Group on Reproductive Health in Crises declared that women in war zones should be provided with birth kits, contraception, obstetrics care, and counseling—yet reports say those resources have been delivered sporadically, if at all. It seems in the crisis in Ukraine, women can only count on women’s funders to deliver what they need to survive.
Helping women and girls in crisis can’t be an afterthought. Support for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and those with reproductive health needs must be baked into relief aid from the beginning. Ensuring the survival of activists’ organizing and mobilization efforts are also critical to rebuild strong voices for the future. That’s where gender equity funders come in: We use our collective power, voice and influence to fight for liberation and justice for the women, girls and LGBT+ people, who are often a second thought in traditional policymaking and philanthropy, but always top of our minds. Women’s funders cannot—and will not—stand by as women, girls and other marginalized people once again face the brunt of risk, trauma and tragedy.
Women’s funds are publicly funded organizations founded by women, run by women, and serving women, girls and gender-expansive people. There are hundreds of women’s funds around the world, on every continent except Antarctica, and each fund operates within the community it’s part of. Women’s funds move money six times faster than traditional philanthropic channels, and we get it to where it’s needed most, since we often fund at the margins, reaching nascent, small or underfunded but critical organizations on the ground that are led by women.
For example, we’re supporting key local organizations for rapid responses in Ukraine, Poland and Bulgaria through the Ukrainian Women’s Fund, FemFund and Bulgarian Fund for Women. In addition, Urgent Action Fund for Women’s Human Rights has created a rapid-response fund for Ukraine committed to supporting women, trans and nonbinary activists by providing evacuation and relocation support, medical care, and increasing shelter capacity. The Global Fund for Women has supported feminist organizing in Eastern Europe for over 20 years, listening to and funding the needs of local gender justice organizations in Ukraine and bordering countries that are responding to evacuations, relocation and humanitarian needs for women, girls and gender nonconforming people. The International Women’s Convocation launched a fundraising campaign for immediate humanitarian aid in Romania, where tens of thousands of Ukrainian refugees are crossing the border, to provide women with transportation, emergency shelter, food and water, hygiene kits, infant supplies and counseling.
In addition to quickly raising and delivering funds specifically to help women and girls on the ground, women’s funds and allies, such as Futures Without Violence, are also working on the policy side. This week, they issued an urgent call to action to tell Congress to pass the Safe from the Start Act, which would require protections against gender-based violence and human trafficking (such as access to medical and mental health services for survivors of sexual assault) to be included from day one of any U.S. humanitarian response.
Though the situation in Ukraine is evolving and complex, here’s what is straightforward: our belief that Ukrainian women, girls, LGBT+ folks, and all people have a right to safety, freedom and self-determination.
For philanthropists with $5 million to give or individual donors chipping in $5, we know gender justice funders will move that money faster to the organizations on the ground who specialize in helping the people who are most impacted.
Elizabeth Barajas-Román is the President & CEO of the Women’s Funding Network, the world’s largest philanthropic alliance for gender equity.
Alexandra Garita is the Executive Director of Prospera International Network of Women’s Funds, the global network of women’s funds which resource women, girls, and trans people’s movements around the world.