Article by ATTAC France, January 2023, by Alona Liasheva, Huayra Llanque

As war rages in Ukraine, women are doubly mobilized. First to take part in the resistance and organize against the Russian invasion. But also to defend their rights, all the more threatened by the conflict.

This text is taken from the latest issue of our quarterly, Lignes d’Attac,

More than nine months after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the war continues intensively. The offensive launched by Vladimir Putin aims to expand the base and territory of Russia, by dominating Ukraine by denying the autonomy, political freedom and culture of its people.

Since February 24, 2022, the peoples of Ukraine have been resisting in extreme conditions, to defend their freedom, their integrity, while finding the means to survive, heal, work.

From the beginning, women took part in the resistance in various forms, organizing on the local terrain, in civilian and military tasks. Groups spontaneously formed throughout the country. Women in a veterans’ organization supported those fighting by providing medical equipment. Some join the army, 20% of whom are women.

But Ukrainian women have also been the targets of extreme violence. Numerous testimonies have alerted to the rapes organized and used as a weapon of war by the Russian army, which aim to subjugate women, the entire Ukrainian people and to annihilate any resistance.

It was essential very quickly to organize shelters for women victims of violence, to find housing locations  All this under very difficult conditions: many people are displaced across Ukraine, the bombings that have intensified in recent times have caused damage and power cuts throughout the country. The situation in the occupied territories has further worsened.

Feminists, mobilized for women’s rights long before the start of the war in Ukraine, had to position themselves in this context. In addition to this extreme violence, they emphasize that war reinforces the tensions and violence of everyday life. Even if they are actively involved in resistance, the context accentuates the gendered distribution of activities: household chores and care are still heavier for women.

In addition, access to health is made very difficult for everyone, including reproductive health for women. In Ukraine, access to the right to abortion becomes much more complicated and those who go into exile face many obstacles – difficulty in respecting legal frameworks, precariousness, care under tension – and in Poland they face a legal framework of the most restrictive.

After justifying the invasion to “de-Nazify” Ukraine, the Russian government now puts forward another argument: the need to preserve the values of the traditional family. Russian feminists pointed out from the beginning of the war the strengthening of an ultra-conservative, patriarchal ideology, valuing women in the role of reproductive. And the Duma strengthened the law on “homo-propaganda”. The LGBT marriage currently being discussed in Ukraine appears to be a threat.

For all these reasons, feminists in Ukraine are working, in addition to urgent tasks, to transmit their political analysis and to report on what is happening in Ukraine, through the production of videos, interviews, articles. The point of view of Ukrainians has long been downplayed, including in social movements and the European left. That is why, in order to make their voices heard, 100 feminists from Ukraine wrote the manifesto The right to resist.

For feminists, the challenge is twofold: not to let their guard down, to continue the struggles for women’s rights and social rights, including labour rights threatened by the Zelenski government… while facing an emergency situation, that of national defence. They call for international solidarity, reminding us not only that they are not resigning themselves, but affirming their political position.

Against the domination of one people by another, they stress the need for mechanisms capable of preventing future aggression and preserving the integrity of peoples. Cancelling Ukraine’s debt and prioritizing essential and care activities in the reconstruction of the country are prerequisites for a more egalitarian society.

Thus, solidarity “from below” is necessary not only to defend the fundamental rights of an attacked people, but also to strengthen progressive and feminist forces in Ukraine and neighboring countries.

Their resistance is part of the solutions to build a more just world. In solidarity with those in other countries who face attacks or ferocious repressions, they see feminist solidarity as a political practice that must defend women’s right to independently determine their needs, political goals and strategies.