Prevention and countermeasures against domestic and gender-based violence against Ukrainian women abroad

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Prevention and countermeasures against domestic and gender-based violence against Ukrainian women abroad

The problem of domestic and gender-based violence knows no borders. Every year, millions of Ukrainian men and women go abroad for employment, education and marriage. Unfortunately, at the same time, the mechanisms of protection against domestic violence available on the territory of Ukraine become inaccessible to most citizens as soon as they leave it.

However, when changing their place of residence, citizens of Ukraine do not cease to be citizens of our state - mutual rights and obligations continue to exist between them and the state. Such communication becomes especially important in situations when the life and health of Ukrainian citizens are threatened. Threats can be completely different, from natural disasters to violence by private individuals. And if large-scale problems are usually not ignored, domestic violence is perceived as a minor problem, an interpersonal matter that does not require a special response, especially if it occurs outside the territory of Ukraine.

The story of Alexandra is illustrative in this context.

About twenty years ago, a successful medical student, Oleksandra, married her fellow Muslim student, and later they went to her husband's homeland in one of the Middle Eastern countries. They had two daughters there. They sent their eldest daughter to Ukraine to live with her grandparents, because at that time Oleksandra and her husband were doing an internship at a local hospital and could not devote enough time to their daughter. When Oleksandra was pregnant with her second daughter, her husband's attitude changed significantly. He began to beat his wife, forbade her to give birth in the hospital and threatened to kill her when Oleksandra started arguing with him. When the child was born, the husband locked them in the basement, taking away all the documents from Oleksandra to make it impossible to escape. Kryvdnyk claimed that, being a Christian, Oleksandra would not be able to properly raise their children.

Once she managed to escape with her daughter, they were in a shelter for some time. However, without her husband's permission, Oleksandra could not leave the country with her daughter. So, not wanting to leave the child alone with the abuser, Oleksandra was forced to return to him.

At this time, her husband decided to get custody of both children. The case had to be heard in a Sharia court, despite the fact that Alexandra was a Christian. Oleksandra found out about the case only two days before the hearing. Since the woman did not speak Arabic, did not know the local laws and could not prepare for the meeting in such a short time, the only hope of not losing custody of her own children was to contact the Ukrainian embassy. However, despite the vulnerable situation in which the woman found herself, the embassy did not provide Alexandra with a lawyer to represent her in court, or even an interpreter, claiming that it was her personal relationship with her husband. As a result, the woman could not defend her rights. According to the decision of the Sharia court, which completely ignored the fact of domestic violence, the right of guardianship over the younger daughter was assigned to the mother, and the guardianship over the older daughter was granted to the father. Oleksandr was ordered to return the child from Ukraine. Returning the eldest daughter to her father meant exposing her to the danger of violence, from which Oleksandra herself and her youngest daughter had suffered for many years. Oleksandra still could not leave the country with her younger daughter, as her father did not give permission for her to leave. Therefore, the woman decided to stay, despite the threat of arrest for non-compliance with the court's decision. When the deadline for executing the decision expired, the man handed Oleksandr over to the police and the woman was arrested. Despite such a complicated situation, the Embassy of Ukraine still helped Oleksandra to release her from arrest, and the woman had to write a receipt with an obligation to comply with the court's decision. When she returned to her husband, he brutally beat her in front of her daughter, then took her daughter and disappeared. Oleksandra again turned to the Embassy of Ukraine, where she was recommended to go to a shelter. While the woman was in the shelter, the husband did not let her see her daughter. In a few days, under the pressure of the asylum administration and the embassy, without any other alternative, Oleksandra was forced to return to Ukraine without her daughter.

More than ten years have passed since that time. However, the story of Alexandra and her daughters, as well as her struggle for justice, did not end there. Wait for the continuation of Oleksandra's story in our next publications.

Similar situations happen to many of our compatriots, and the vast majority of victims are women. So, for example, during 2013-2019, the National Hotline for Combating Domestic Violence, Human Trafficking and Gender Discrimination received 386 appeals on issues of domestic and gender-based violence against Ukrainian citizens abroad. Although 19 of these 386 calls came from men, all of the calls were exclusively about situations where women were the victims. Contrary to the widespread stereotype that domestic violence is mainly suffered by women in Muslim countries, the most calls to the hotline came from such countries as Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Russia, Azerbaijan, Turkey, the United Kingdom, Poland, Hungary, Moldova, South Korea , Belarus and Ecuador. Only isolated situations took place on the territory of such traditional Muslim countries as Pakistan, Iran or Iraq. Also, the fact that the victims had to contact the hotline shows that they were unable to solve the problem in the host country, in particular by contacting the diplomatic institution of Ukraine abroad.

Aware of the need to take active actions to solve this problem, we would like to inform you that the NGO "La Strada-Ukraine" is launching a new project "Everywhere is safe: prevention and countermeasures against domestic and gender-based violence against Ukrainian women abroad". The project is aimed at preventing similar situations with our compatriots, and the state took responsibility for preventing and countering domestic and gender-based violence, from which citizens of Ukraine suffer not only on the territory of our state, but also outside it.

If you have also suffered from domestic or gender-based violence while abroad, we encourage you to share your stories on our Facebook page @lastradaukraine

All the stories and experiences you share will be taken into account when preparing recommendations for the authorities to improve the response to cases of domestic violence and better protect Ukrainian citizens abroad.

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