How War Impacts Vulnerable Populations
by Pam Otal, Daya Outreach and Volunteer Coordinator
Russia, led by Vladimir Putin, invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022, displacing millions of Ukrainians and triggering a humanitarian crisis. Heartbreaking images of refugees fleeing the violence remind us of the inequitable impact of war and conflict on vulnerable populations. In particular, women, children, members of the LGBTQIA+ community, and individuals with disabilities are disproportionately impacted in wartime.
Humanitarian crisis exacerbates existing inequalities. Globally, most women live in patriarchal societies in which men hold the power and women are largely excluded from it. These systemic biases, fosters discrimination, oppression, and violence against women in times of peace. During times of war, gender-based violence is compounded as women become more susceptible to displacement and poverty. In modern conflicts, women have an increasingly larger presence at the frontlines providing healthcare, mobilizing, and other urgent needs. Nonetheless, women are still uniquely susceptible to violence caused by armed conflicts.
While anyone affected by violent crises needs support, Children tend to bear the brunt of wartime sufferings. Security problems, disruption to essential services such as medical care, damage to infrastructure and to means of transportation and communication, and limited capacity of the local authorities, overwhelmed by the upsurge in violence, all limit support capacity for children to ensure their safety. Children are often the least protected among marginalized groups, leaving them distinctly vulnerable to exploitation. Children of all genders are often victims of sexual violence during armed conflicts. The trauma of war and violence also affects children over the long-term, disrupting their education and impacting their mental wellbeing.
During conflicts, challenges arise for all civilians, but these challenges are more complex for members of the LGBTQIA+ community. Queer and Trans civilians are more susceptible to violence and discrimination in times of peace and war aggravates this vulnerability and risk of abuse. Moreover, Trans civilians seeking safety and refuge are often curtailed by transphobia and hostile attitudes. Many are also denied passage because their passport identification might not match their gender. Unfortunately, international human rights laws and protections largely exclude members of the LGBTQIA+ community.
Lastly, violent conflicts have a disproportionate impact on individuals with disabilities in a multitude of ways. Often invisible and their plights overlooked, individuals with disabilities encounter extreme mental, emotional, and physical harm during wartime. Individuals with disabilities are prone to neglect, abandoned in their homes with limited access to food or water. Those who are able to get to refugee shelters face difficulties accessing food, sanitation, essential medications, and medical assistance. Likewise, aid facilities are often not designed with accessibility in mind, especially for those with sensory disabilities and no one to facilitate communication. Children with disabilities are at high risk of abandonment and violence during conflict situations, but their specialized needs are rarely factored into humanitarian aid efforts.
Sadly, violent conflicts, like in Ukraine, are widespread throughout the world and seemingly unending. Governments, donors, and humanitarian agencies must ensure the needs of vulnerable populations are addressed as a priority in conflict and displacement situations. Those providing aid must engage and consult with members of marginalized communities to ensure understanding of the unique risks they face during wartime. Through inclusion, we can leverage the experience and expertise of vulnerable populations to develop more comprehensive and equitable aid assistance to better address the needs of crisis-affected communities. Furthermore, inclusivity must extend to peacebuilding efforts and negotiations to ensure long-lasting systemic transformations, positive cultural changes, and removal of environmental barriers for all.