The head of the UN’s population agency has said she is “extremely concerned” about the potential for the war to cause a rise in unintended pregnancies, as concerns mount over sexual violence targeting women both in and outside Ukraine.
“Apart from the inability to provide women with services that they need, such as their regular contraceptive services, there is also the question of coercion, which is very bound up with women and girls who are vulnerable. So the fears of trafficking [of female refugees], the fears of being displaced, linking to sexual violence is a preoccupation that we have,” said Natalia Kanem, executive director of UNFPA.
Kanem was speaking at the launch of UNFPA’s annual report, which showed that nearly half of all pregnancies worldwide are unintended. While data relating to Ukraine is hard to come by for now, previous research has found that more than 20% of refugee and internally displaced women say they have experienced sexual violence. “And I would have to bet that that is an under-reporting because there’s so much stigma around around the issue,” added Kanem.
Giulia Vallese, UNFPA’s regional director for eastern Europe, said that although the UN had not been able to independently verify reports of rape and sexual violence inside Ukraine, “this doesn’t necessarily mean that it hasn’t happened. We know very well that conflicts around the world have been accompanied by sexual violence. And we have to be very, very clear that every case of rape is one case too many, even though it might be difficult to quantify them.”
Last week, Ukraine’s prosecutor general, Iryna Venediktova, said the authorities were investigating an alleged rape of a woman by a Russian soldier in Brovary, an eastern suburb of Kyiv. Dmitri Peskov, spokesman for the Kremlin, said the allegation was “a lie”. “We don’t believe it at all,” he said, according to the Interfax news agency.
Maria Mezentseva, a Ukrainian MP, said there were “many more victims” of sexual assault. “We will definitely not be silent,” she added.