Sports & Politics

Style PASS talks to TERRE DES FEMMES about the situation in Ukraine

Flight, fear and sexual assault

The current situation in Ukraine is a disaster from a humanitarian point of view. Nevertheless, there are many who are trying to show solidarity with small and big deeds. The people in Ukraine are receiving support from the women's rights organisation TERRE DES FEMMES, among others - Style PASS was able to talk to Gesa Birkmann on the occasion of the current situation.

Style PASS: What is the situation in Ukraine at the moment?

Birkmann: Dozens of Ukrainian towns and villages have been attacked by Russia with all kinds of weapons, including bombs and grenades. They have hit children's hospitals, women's shelters, kindergartens, schools and homes. Innocent people were and still are hidden in basements, subways and bomb shelters. Others were and still are forced to leave their badly damaged homes or towns to save their lives and escape the horrors and effects of war.

Style PASS: Women and children suffer the most?

War has a disproportionate gender impact on the affected population. Women are affected differently by war and displacement than men. They are often the ones who then (have to) ensure the survival of their families. At the same time, they are at particularly high risk of suffering sexualised and other forms of violence. Gender-based violence adds to the other forms of war violence to further traumatise the women affected.

Style PASS: The situation for those who are completely innocent of the situation must be terrible?

Fear is the constant companion for people on the run - fear of hunger and disease, fear of losing loved ones on the run and those they have to leave behind, fear of an uncertain future. For women on the run, the fear of sexual assault is always added to this.

Style PASS: What are the concrete measures that TERRE DES FEMMES is currently taking? How can citizens in Germany help at the moment?

We have sent an open letter to the German government in which we draw special attention to the situation of refugee girls and women from Ukraine and call for their special protection. Together with the Workers' Samaritan Association, we are currently working on a flyer that shows refugee women from Ukraine how to protect themselves on arrival.

We are in close contact with the women's shelter "City of Goodness" in Chernivtsi (Western Ukraine), for which we have launched an appeal for donations to support their work.

Since the beginning of the war on 24 February 2022, City of Goodness has taken in women with children and elderly people from all over the country in their women's shelter in Chernivtsi. They also support medical facilities and medical care for women fleeing within Ukraine.

Style PASS: Germany is also affected by the influx of refugees from Ukraine. Is Germany sufficiently prepared for this?

Germany is not well enough prepared for this influx of refugees. The shelters are only partially geared towards girls and women, but overlook many of their needs. It is especially difficult for girls and women in shelters if, for example, the women's wing is too far away from the main house or right next to the wing for men travelling alone to get help quickly in emergencies. There is still a lack of violence protection concepts in some shelters, a lack of women's representatives or further training for security staff. There is still no crisis team to coordinate the necessary protection and reception measures between the federal, state and local governments. We need safe shelters for women and children, medical care (including covid vaccinations), therapeutic measures to deal with the trauma of war, and uniform implementation of violence protection concepts.

Style PASS: As an internationally networked and politically positioned women's rights organisation, did TERRE DES FEMMES find Putin's behaviour surprising?

We were surprised by this war and condemn the attack on Ukraine, which is contrary to international law, in the strongest possible terms. The humanitarian catastrophe affects women and children in particular. We welcome the solidarity and aid community from all over Europe and admire all Russians who demonstrate against the war in Ukraine, risking police violence and prison sentences.

Style PASS: Some media are reporting: There are said to be pimps at the train stations in Warsaw and Berlin, making promises to women (good life, housing) while in reality they are being trafficked into brothels. How does TERRE DES FEMMES assess this?

The danger is there. The risk of being lured by traffickers, pimps under false conditions and then forced into prostitution is unfortunately high.

Already the number of Ukrainian prostitutes in Europe is increasing, as is their trafficking and exploitation. Buzzwords like "Ukraine" and "Ukrainian girls" are already trending on pornography websites, and we see buyers of women in prostitution celebrating the war in Ukraine because it will drive more women and girls into this violent system.

The legal socially recognised infrastructure for prostitution in Germany encourages and facilitates trafficking and forced prostitution, which is why TERRE DES FEMMES is calling for a ban on sex buying and the introduction of the Nordic Model (decriminalisation of prostitutes, criminalisation of sex buyers and state-funded exit programmes for prostitutes).

Style PASS: Your wishes for (German) politics with regard to Ukraine?

At the latest when they arrive in Germany, women and children need security through area-wide, long-term, barrier-free shelters where their (health and initial) care is guaranteed. Private offers of help for accommodation or even carpooling must be registered and checked by the police.

In an open letter to the German government, we demanded protective measures for refugee women and children from Ukraine upon their arrival in Germany. The arrival infrastructure must be better adapted to women and children. This includes, for example, that the refugees as well as the helpers are informed about possible dangers and their rights and receive care and support from specialised personnel, especially in cases of sexualised violence. Consistent follow-up by the police in cases of suspected trafficking in women and exploitation of refugees, as well as expulsions, e.g. at the main railway station in cases of conspicuous behaviour, are indispensable.

We also demand that health care be guaranteed and that care, support and violence prevention be provided when Ukrainian girls and women are accommodated in Germany. We appeal to the Russian government to stop the war immediately and to end this brutal anti-human violence that is contrary to international law. Immediately!


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