The rights of Ukrainian women and girls are under threat, both of those still living in the country as well as of those who fled the violence. The number of reports of sexual violence and rapes by Russian forces continues to grow, writes MEP Hilde Vautmans, and Europe must do all it can to restore the sexual and reproductive rights of Ukrainian women.
Belgium, (Brussels Morning Newspaper) The testimonies are numerous, and harrowing. At least 75 allegations of sexual violence have been received by the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, including of gang-rapes, assaults, and rapes in front of children. According to official documents from Ukraine’s human rights commissioner 25 women were kept in basements in Bucha, where they were systematically raped. This is probably just the tip of the iceberg of the appalling acts Russian troops have done.
The EU must act against these war crimes. As a Union, we are bound by our fundamental values such as human dignity, freedom, human rights. We have a responsibility towards the women and girls of Ukraine. We cannot stand idly by.
That is why, today, we have adopted a resolution on this issue in the European Parliament and called on the European Commission to step up actions to support Ukrainian women. Our main priority should be to provide short-term emergency sexual and reproductive healthcare. This is very important in a context where raped women end up pregnant, as happened to nine women who survived the horror in the basements of Bucha. Due to the war, there has been a disruption of supply chains, meaning that emergency contraception medications, such as the morning-after pill and abortion pills are not available. As a result, victims of rape end up with unwanted pregnancies.
The International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) has sent 3.000 packets of morning-after and abortion pills to Ukraine. The EU should join such initiatives. I called upon the European Commission and the Member States to finance and provide so-called ‘dignity health kits’, including the morning-after and abortion pills.
At the same time, we should also help the women who have found refuge in the EU. Poland, which has received over 3 million Ukrainian refugees (more than 90% of whom are women and children) has a near-total ban on abortion. As a consequence, hundreds if not thousands of women and girls are unable to end their unwanted pregnancies. We see the same situation in Slovakia and Hungary. We have the responsibility of ensuring that the dignity health kits are available for refugees in neighbouring, transit and host countries.
That is why it is unacceptable that Poland and Hungary require strict prescription requirements, and that Romania and Slovakia have refugees pay the full cost of ending the pregnancy out of their own pockets. All European countries have the responsibility and obligation to ensure access to abortion care for women who became pregnant because of rape. Sexual and reproductive rights are human rights. EU members states must act accordingly.
Second, it is the International Community’s responsibility to protect the victims of abuse, exploitation, and rape so that justice is served. We must gather evidence that we can bring to the International Criminal Court to prosecute these war crimes. I applaud the European Commission’s proposal to extend the mandate of Eurojust, the EU Agency for Criminal Justice Cooperation. Time is of the essence now to quickly approve the Commission’s proposal in order to set up all the proper reporting mechanism to make sure all perpetrators are held accountable.
Third, support programs such as psychological and mental health services should be provided for the survivors of violence and abuse in all Member States. Also, the continuity of gender-based violence response services in Ukraine and hosting countries is of vital importance. More support for local and international organisations that provide services to gender-based violence survivors should be given by the Commission and Member States.
Fourth, a rise in human trafficking of Ukrainian women has been documented. Therefore, I call on the swift approval and implementation of the EU anti-trafficking plan and the establishment of a free European helpline, in Ukrainian, for all those victims of human trafficking and gender-based violence. It’s also a requirement that Europol gets involved and conducts awareness campaigns on human trafficking at the points of transit and at the centres where refugees are received.
It is now clear that the EU must take its responsibility and ramp up its efforts to prevent any more women or children being victimised and subjected to suffering, be it by Russian soldiers or human traffickers. People are relying on the help of the European Union. Let’s make sure we are there in their hour of need.