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Nearly two years have passed since 24 February 2022 when Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Research shows that gender inequality is both a cause and a consequence of war. Traditional gender roles are reinforced in times of conflict, with conscription requiring all Ukrainian men aged 18-60 to register, prohibiting them from leaving the country. The gendered conscription policy results in gender segregation and reinforcement of the stereotypical binary view of women as civilian victims, and men as protective combatants. Characteristics associated with masculinity such as strength, dominance and aggression are reinforced and men face higher expectations to fulfill an idealised image of how men in war should be, which risks impacting overall societal norms negatively. 

Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security stipulates that countries commit to integrate a gender perspective in the peace and security efforts. The resolution aims to protect and empower women and girls in armed conflict and ensure their participation in peace processes. As part of the implementation of the resolution, each member state is required to implement a national action plan (NAP) for the work on women, peace and security at the national level. In response to the war, Ukraine’s national action plan has been updated to include the impact of the war on gender equality in the country. Despite the update of the NAP, it still leaves more to be desired. Addressing the root causes and potential consequences of the war requires a more comprehensive approach with a more nuanced gender perspective on the impact of norms. Three areas of the action plan that could have been developed are presented below. 

Lack of consideration for men and norms of masculinity 

Studies show that gender-based violence in general, and specifically domestic violence, increases in the context of conflict and can be seen as a manifestation of militarised masculinity. After Russia’s annexation of Ukraine in 2014, an increase in men’s domestic violence against women could be seen. The increase was seen to be directly linked to soldiers returning from the frontline, and as a result of mental health problems such as alcohol abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder. Reintegration efforts and mental health care for returning soldiers are, thus, an important component in contributing to the long-term well-being of Ukrainian society, and also in reducing gender-based violence. Among men and boys, as well as the older population, there is a stigma around seeking psychological support as masculine stereotypes prevent men from showing vulnerability and talking about emotions, making reintegration more difficult.  

Gender-blind care for survivors of conflict-related sexual violence 

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has reported several cases of conflict-related sexual violence where most of the cases are male prisoners and the perpetrators are Russian or Ukrainian soldiers. Although, the majority of victims are men, the new action plan focuses on women. Research shows that gender-sensitive psychological support targeting women, LGBTQIA+ people and men is crucial for adequate care. This increases accessibility and the likelihood that people will have the courage to seek care and feel safe to share their experiences without compromising the space for other groups. 

The perspective of LGBTQIA+ people is absent 

The war has challenged the notion of citizenship and made visible the role of gender and sexuality in these constructions. The action plan takes no account of gender identity, gender expression or sexuality when analysing how the war affects and reinforces discrimination against different groups. Even before the war, LGBTQIA+ people were particularly vulnerable to discrimination, threats and hate crimes. The war has increased the vulnerability of these groups, and new forms of discrimination have emerged. For example, trans women are not allowed to leave the country, and LGBTQIA+ people are a group of internally displaced people who face the most discrimination when seeking shelter and are sometimes denied accommodation.  

In recent years, the country has seen positive developments in recognising the rights of LGBTQIA+ people, and in December Ukraine adopted legislation against hate speech. In addition, a new bill to legalise civil partnerships for homosexuals has been submitted. Researchers and journalists argue that the bill was made possible because a large number of LGBTQIA+ people have enlisted in the military, which has legitimised their existence and their demands for equal rights can therefore no longer be ignored. Current legislation restricts the ability of partners to make medical decisions and their right to inherit property. Despite these positive developments, there is still strong opposition to the rights of LGBTQIA+ people. As recently as June, presidential advisor Aleksey Arestovich stated that he sees LGBT people as “deviant” and that he opposes what he calls “LGBT propaganda”. 

In addition, the development should be seen in the light of the ongoing conflict, the country’s EU accession and Russia’s declaration of LGBTQIA+ rights as extremist. In response to the proposed legalisation of same-sex partnerships, parliamentarian Andrii Kozhemiakin, who has been a strong opponent of LGBTQIA+ rights in the past, stated that he supports the bill because he supports everything Russia is against. 

Civil society must continue to be a strong voice for equality 

Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine has had far-reaching consequences for gender equality. The NAP is important to mitigate these consequences and to ensure that the gender perspective is included in peace and reconstruction efforts. For the NAP to be more transformative in its approach and to address the root causes and consequences of the war, a greater focus on masculinity norms and LGBTQIA+ rights is required. Civil society plays an important role in ensuring compliance with the NAP and holding decision-makers accountable for its limitations. 

Emelie Hultén, volunteer Operation 1325