While there has been an outpouring of public and private support for those fleeing Ukraine, the largely ad hoc and gender-blind response cannot meet the basic needs and protection concerns of forcibly displaced persons (FDPs) and their host communities in Slovakia. Duty-bearers— (including international non-governmental organizations (INGOs) and the United Nations (UN))—have so far failed to adhere to their own global commitments to localization of the humanitarian response. This includes systematically creating ways for women and girls to design and lead responses, incorporating their views into all phases of the operational management cycle. With few exceptions, dedicated funding for sexual and reproductive health (SRH) and services for violence against women and girls (VAWG) has failed to materialize. Instead of the multi-year flexible funding that local women- and -girl-led organizations need, these overworked frontline groups find themselves chasing grants that may only cover one to three months of total costs. In this way, they are made to take on humanitarian work that they are not necessarily trained for, which ultimately derails their core missions.
In every armed conflict, men’s violence against women and girls increases rapidly and stays elevated long after the fighting stops. Like the other countries bordering Ukraine, Slovakia is facing an unprecedented refugee crisis of women and children displaced by the war. Urgently-needed, gender-sensitive violence prevention, and risk mitigation measures are trailing behind the general response. Women’s rights organizations (WROs) in Slovakia have been responding to the needs of forcibly displaced women and girls since the war began. These localized WROs are best-positioned to design, build, and provide the creative solutions necessary for the forcibly-displaced women and girls in, and yet to arrive in, Slovakia. Local organizations have comprehensive strategies that can absorb the refugee response if provided the flexible funding and specific technical support needed to apply critical gender-based violence (GBV) services to the refugee crisis. These organizations are asking for recognition of their expertise and for the requisite funding to utilize their knowledge in continued response to this crisis, while not losing sight of—and continuing to meet the needs of—Slovakian women and girls. Instead, a familiar structure is developing: a top-down, unequal relationship between capable local actors and international humanitarian agencies. This arrangement always fails women and girls, even by these agencies’ own standards.
Women and girls are not consulted in the design of the aid that is being developed for them, and WROs are alienated from humanitarian coordination structures and are expected to do more than ever, with little or no extra funding.
VOICE witnessed this familiar scenario play out in relation to the international humanitarian community’s response to COVID-19, where yet again the humanitarian aid sector—despite its commitments to crisis-affected populations—contributed to denying women and girls their rights to participation, consultation, and services, and in some cases subjected them to its own types of violence.
In addition, there are a number of actors and organizations playing a vital role in the humanitarian space that may not have traditional humanitarian or crisis experience,6 and therefore do not or may not have the more nuanced GBV and broader protection experience. These entities are strongly encouraged to engage expertise to navigate and implement GBV and other protection regulations, policies, and strategies, and to strongly consider and integrate the related assessment recommendations included in this report.
Through a new partnership between VOICE and HIAS, and as part of a six-country assessment in the region, VOICE conducted a six-day rapid assessment in Slovakia to assess the needs of women and girls affected by the war in Ukraine and the needs of WROs and groups responding to the emergency. The most frequently mentioned concerns from forcibly displaced women included access to safe and sustainable housing, access to the job market for decent work (as cash assistance is not reaching them), and day-care and schooling for their children.
The assessment also revealed: high levels of trafficking, sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA), and other forms of GBV; protection concerns related to shelter and unsustainable housing (often heightening the risk of exploitive labor); and inconsistent access to reliable information. Overall, FDPs in Slovakia almost completely lack access to GBV services, reproductive healthcare, mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) services, and legal services and information. On top of this, Roma and LGBTQIA+ communities face additional discrimination and protection concerns.