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Gender-based violence in Ukraine

Blog 3

War has been raging in Ukraine since 24 February 2022, but the mounting tension and threat long predates the war. The war has been in the news since it started, even now, in July 2022. Although other news is now also making the front pages. 

It is a conflict rendering people powerless: war is a battle that cannot be won. History has long taught us that. The struggle for recognition, for dignity, for respect will always go on, even if a different line on the world map has put an end to the clash of arms. 

Not all weapons are as obvious as that. Some weapons are 'silent killers', gender-based violence, which has been officially labelled a 'war crime' since 1919, is one such weapon. The subject has received more attention since the Yugoslavia and Rwanda tribunals. 

It is an effective weapon: it instills fear, it humiliates its victims and those around them. It may generate new offspring, so the group being fought against is 'hollowed out from within'. It is cheap and requires no special education or training. Since the war in Ukraine, this form of violence has received more attention than ever. On 26 April, Rebecca Gomperts* was interviewed for Radio 1, NPO. She explained that gender-based violence against women and girls often results in pregnancy and she talked about how she tries to help them by making medical abortion possible. This is especially important for the women and girls who fled to Poland and Hungary, because of the strict laws that exist in this area. 

It is a good thing the silence is broken, but one thing strikes me in these reports. Rarely is there any mention of the child born of this violence. The effects of gender-based violence on the victims is mentioned, and that doesn’t just include the person who suffers it, but also their family and the community around them. It mentions the significant risk of pregnancy as a result, and the difficulties that arise with regard to terminating a pregnancy. But it is never about the child. While we know, ever since the Second World War, and especially since the conflicts in Cambodia, the Balkan countries and in Rwanda, that there are very likely many children who have been conceived in this way. 

Let us not silence them, let us look at how we can help them, their mothers and their families to connect with each other. If the mothers, their children and the community around them can manage to accept, care for and respect each other, we can at least save their world. 

Author: Adriana Jasperse 

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* Rebecca Gomperts: Dutch doctor and renowned activist for women's rights and in particular abortion rights with her organisations Women on Waves and Women on Web. 

Listen to the interview with Rebecca Gomperts at www.vpro.nl 

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Current affairs program from Dutch public broadcaster NPO/NTR, Nieuwsuur, provides an overview of gender-based violence as a weapon of war. Why, where when…