'Women that believe in each other can survive anything'

People take part in a demonstration on Whitehall, at the entrance to Downing Street, London, to deno

Women take part in a demonstration in Whitehall against the Russian invasion of Ukraine - Credit: PA

The images primarily of women and children, cold, bewildered, hauling backpacks and wheelie bags as they attempt to flee Ukraine, are haunting.  

Separated from their husbands, sons and fathers who have stayed to fight, hundreds of thousands of refugees are desperately searching for safety in a world turned upside down overnight. 

The theme for International Women’s Day, #BreaktheBias, is focussed on gender inequality and whilst this clearly wasn’t its original focus, it does resonate loudly with the Ukrainian crisis. Whilst the men of Ukraine are extraordinarily bravely signing up to fight for democracy and freedom, the women too are facing hardship specifically relating to their gender. 

Laura Marks OBE

Laura Marks says that there are specific ways women suffer in modern day wars - Credit: Laura Marks

The charity Fight for Sight identified a myriad of ways in which women specifically suffer in modern day wars. These include the massive numbers of women civilians who are killed and injured, the widows of war who are displaced, disinherited, and impoverished, the rape, sexual torture and sexual exploitation fuelled by war, and that women are particularly exposed to toxic chemical weapons and environmental contamination during and after war.

Equally clear is the role that women play in supporting communities and people who are at risk and in pain. It was particularly poignant to see a Polish volunteer on the news welcoming a bewildered mother and her children at the border, taking her bag and gently leading her away to find food, transport and shelter. Whilst many men will be involved, the backbone of grassroots volunteering tends to fall to women, who will be cooking warm meals in the biting cold, collecting nappies, blankets, dry clothes and comforting toys, and providing much needed hugs and tear-ready tissues. 

Whether we see our role as sending money to support the humanitarian crisis, campaigning to allow refugees to enter the UK, providing support and comfort for refugees who arrive here in north London over the coming months, or offering other services or expertise where it is needed, this International Women’s Day there is work to be done. 

Poet Nikita Gill wrote: “Women that believe in each other can survive anything. Women who believe in each other create armies that will win kingdoms and wars.”

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This International Women’s Day let’s gather our efforts together to ensure that she is right. 

Laura Marks OBE is founder of Mitzvah Day, chair of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust and an interfaith consultant – commongood.uk.com