March 20, 2022
War in Ukraine: Impact on women and feminist resistancePresented at Radical Women U.S. online meeting
by Luma Nichol
Roma refugees from Ukraine at shelter in Moldava. (Al Jazeera)
Last year, before the war, Radical Women (RW) published a statement by Australian sisters Debbie Brennan and Maudie Osborne entitled Women’s Bodies are a Battlefield. Its focus was the impact of climate destruction, the refugee crisis, and attacks on reproductive justice. It said, “It is women who absorb the shock of massive cuts to jobs and services, hold together communities suffering shortages of food, water, and electricity or facing armed attack.” This is now the reality for Ukrainian women.
Russia, a former workers state that is now ruthlessly capitalist, is clearly the aggressor, though the U.S. also had a role in promoting hostile NATO affiliations on Russia’s doorstep. Stymied in direct combat with Ukrainian forces, Russia has increasingly turned its guns on civilian targets and infrastructure. It is destroying apartment buildings, schools, grocery stores... The day after International Women’s Day, Russia bombed a maternity and children’s hospital in Mariupol.
Women face a horrid situation. As the RW statement points out, “The chaos of disaster upsets, even destroys, networks and supports that women, trans, and queer people rely on for safety.” Sexual assault is but one danger.
In Ukraine, many women are staying to fight and provide healthcare. Some were already in the military. Women are on the move, crossing the border to buy food and supplies and then returning to temporary shelters or vulnerable homes. Many living abroad are going back to help.
Most women are making the difficult choice to take their children to safety in neighboring countries, leaving behind their male relatives who are forbidden from fleeing.
To date, there are 10 million displaced persons and 3.5 million refugees who have fled the country. Half the refugees are children; the rest are women and the elderly. They are mostly going to Poland, but also Moldova, Slovakia, and other Eastern European countries. These nations tend to be conservative on women’s rights. In Catholic Poland, a huge battle over abortion has been raging for several years.
And many of these Eastern European countries are hostile to Roma people and refugees from Africa and the Middle East. We have also seen the racism toward Black migrants in Ukraine trying to flee and being held back.
Plus, Russia is invading under the banner of “traditional values” which include gender inequality, exploitation of women, and state repression of those whose lives do not conform to patriarchal norms.
People with disabilities are also at immense risk. For more information, see Fight for Right
The war is a crisis for the LGBTQ community. Ukraine was a mildly accepting oasis in the region. Putin is rabidly homophobic, but the neighboring countries accepting refugees also tend to be queer-unfriendly. In response, LGBTQ+ networks in Western Europe are trying to provide pathways to safety for those fleeing. Some queers are staying and fighting in the resistance. Many are going back in the closet.
The refugees are getting a lot of international sympathy, but not much practical help from nations, including the U.S. which has admitted only 500 refugees.
International impact of the war
It isn’t solely our sisters in Ukraine who suffer from this war. Throughout Europe and in the U.S., military machines are gearing up. As money flows to arms, domestic funding is cut for social services, education, healthcare, services to the disabled or elderly. Skyrocketing gas prices on top of inflation, which is raising costs of food and all basic supplies, means working moms and poor families are struggling even more than before. And economic turmoil fuels the right wing that is on the offensive against abortion, trans and queer folk, immigrants, and anti-war activists.
Of course, the women of Russia are especially impacted. Many are soldiers and many also have male relatives in the military. To date, 10,000 soldiers have been killed, duped into believing they are “de-Nazifying” Ukraine.
“Anti-war protests, they have a woman’s face in Russia,” said one of the leaders of the Feminist Anti-War Resistance, founded by Russian feminists. Their manifesto can be read here. Feminists in the UK, Italy, Switzerland, and over 190 cities the world over are using the Russian feminists’ symbols and demands in demonstrations. They appeal to anti-war organizers everywhere for support. On International Women’s Day they left bouquets tied with yellow and blue ribbons (the color of the Ukrainian flag) at war memorials. Says their manifesto: “We are the opposition to war, patriarchy, authoritarianism, and militarism. We are the future that will prevail.”
Putin is persecuting protesters. More than 13,000 have been arrested, some sentenced to 15 years, others made to squat naked in the snow.
So, opposition to the war is getting creative. We see graffiti on buildings, carved into the ice. One LGBTQ activist wore yellow and blue socks – and was fired when someone snitched on him. Some are replacing the red stripe in the Russian flag with white, to create a flag without blood. Famously a woman TV news producer held up a sign on live TV calling for peace.
There have been protests in Ukraine as well. In the city of Kherson, on March 3, hundreds of people took to the streets to protest the occupation.
Tens of thousands have rallied in cities the world over, including in the U.S.
Nature of this war
How do we respond as U.S. left feminists? First, we must understand the nature of the war.
I am drawing from two statements written by socialists, one issued by our sister organization, the Freedom Socialist Party (“For International Working-Class Solidarity…”), and one by the Committee for Revolutionary International Regroupment, (“Invading Russian Troops Out of Ukraine”) a collaboration of U.S. and Latin American radicals.
At heart, this is an imperialist war. Under capitalism, powerful nations vie for world dominance—at the expense of smaller nations. Today, the U.S., Russia, and China are maneuvering for control.
Ever since the break-up of the Soviet Union, a key question is: who will control Eurasia, its oil reserves, and other resources?
In recent decades, the U.S. has expanded its sphere of influence in Europe. It worked to install regimes friendly to U.S. economic policies and military bases in Georgia, Ukraine, and elsewhere through the former Soviet bloc. They have installed missiles in Poland and the Czech Republic that are clearly aimed at Russia.
NATO is the tool of the U.S. It is a Cold War military alliance in Europe, headed by a U.S. general. Many former Soviet bloc countries, such as Poland and the Czech Republic, entered NATO recently. The U.S. is now pushing NATO membership for Ukraine and Georgia. NATO is now at Russia’s border.
As the Chinese president said to Biden when refusing to break with Russia: “He who put the bell on the tiger, must take it off.” The battle between the U.S. and Russia has the poorest people in Europe—the Ukrainians—caught in the middle.
As U.S. feminists and socialists, what should the focus of our demands be? I see three points:
1. We call out “our” government—the U.S.— and its warmongering media for lies about U.S. responsibility.
2. We lend no support to the imperialists: not NATO, and not the governments of the U.S., Russia, or capitalist Ukraine.
3. We stand with the people of Ukraine whose lives are in the balance.
As long as capitalism rules, inter-imperialist conflicts will intensify. And women will bear the brunt. It is up to us as feminists and radicals to form international alliances with our counterparts abroad to end this war and the next. And we will continue our fight for socialism because that is what will eliminate capitalism.