War has been raging in eastern Ukraine since 2014; in 2022, Russia expanded its war of aggression to other parts of the country. As early as summer 2021, we launched a pilot programme with women in conflict-affected communities in eastern Ukraine, who have been affected by rampant poverty, social insecurity and gender-based violence for years. Our Ukraine programme gave them the space they needed to work together on strategies for safety in their daily lives and equal participation in peacebuilding. We continue building peace with them even during the war.
The peace process in Ukraine had been repeatedly stalled for years. The voices of local women and women's organisations were hardly heard even before 24 February 2022. At the 12 Women's Peace Tables (FFTs) that we held in 2021 with our Ukrainian project partner KRF Public Alternative in communities near the then line of contact between Ukraine and the autonomous People's Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk, the focus was on the issues that are important to women in their everyday lives and to their security. These issues also formed the core of our Ukraine pilot programme, which aimed to simultaneously counter gender stereotypes and war-related masculinity.
After the Russian war of aggression began, the urgent humanitarian needs of the women who had participated in the FFTs came to the fore. In close cooperation with Public Alternative, we launched an emergency fund, designed especially for women who were unable to leave the contested areas. Money from the fund was used to buy everyday items and distributed by a network of volunteers: food, medical services and medicines, blankets, fuel, SIM cards, etc.
The peace work continues
The war made the planned start of a multi-year programme impossible. Despite the war, we continue our programme and peace work. Together with partners in Switzerland and abroad, we organised events where members of Women's Initiatives for Peace in Donbas(s) (WIPD) could meet in Switzerland. WIPD is a platform of more than 50 women from Russia, Ukraine and Germany that was founded in 2015, in the wake of the Russian annexation of Crimea. Together they are looking for ways to achieve peace.
Building on the experiences of the pilot project 2021 and based on our feminist understanding of peace, we have further developed the Ukraine country programme. With the Women's Platform for Peace (WPP), we continue the pilot project and build on the experiences and activities shared so far. The focus continues to be on issues that are of central importance to the women: experiences of violence, economic exclusion, lack of jobs, lack of retraining or further education opportunities. Now the aim is to further develop what has been achieved in the smaller projects. The WPP offers the women a safe space for this work. In autumn 2022, dozens of women participated in virtual WPP workshops.
The workshops will continue during the war. The women decide in which areas they want to acquire new knowledge and where they can impart knowledge themselves. As soon as the security situation allows, the meetings will take place physically – and the discussions about genuine security and the role of women in peacebuilding will continue.