'Womenandchildren': A Gendered Perspective on the Ukraine Crisis

The conscription of men in Ukraine is explored in gendered terms to see whether the current turn of events is fair on either men or women

Hannah Ross
15th March 2022
Ukrainian Refugees at Train Station Assisted by Volunteers (source: Wikimedia Images)
As the crisis of war and destruction continues in Ukraine, we are starting to see the stories emerging of Ukrainian nationals and how they have been affected. However, are some Ukrainians suffering more than others due to gender discrimination? After the announcement from Ukraine that women and children may flee but men must stay and fight, I explore how this has affected men and women in different ways and how they are subject to different forms of suffering due to their gender. 

It seems a broken record at this point to continue asking why women and children are still lumped together as if they are a single category to the media. To this end, prominent feminist international relations scholar, Cynthia Enloe coined the phrase 'womenandchildren' to highlight this, now almost inseparable, association. Women, portrayed in this way, are seen as helpless as the children they try to protect. This does not seem to be the case in Ukraine however, as many mothers are dropping off their children somewhere safe (relatively speaking) beyond the border, and then returning to protect their country with their partners.  

The iconic video of a Ukrainian woman berating a heavily armed Russian soldier before handing him sunflower seeds to put in his pocket so that they bloom after he died demonstrates the attitude many women hold of standing fearless against the Russians. Rather than portraying women as only good for running away with their children, the media must start distinguishing the two, showing women's strength; we must not forget that female refugees are strong too, considering they often have to care for a number of dependents such as children, the sick and the elderly.  

Examining the other side of the policy put forward by Ukraine, men suffer in an entirely different way; 18-60 year old men are being prevented from leaving the country, forced to stay and fight even if they do not want to or feel able to. Men are painted as the heroes that swoop in and save everyone, a pressure that even the strongest of us would struggle to deal with being thrust upon us. Are the men less scared than the women? Absolutely not – war is frightening, period. Why should men be forced to fight when it may be against their will, all in the name of proving some toxic, archaic form of masculinity?

The gendered discourse of the nation expects men to fill the role of protectors to follow a 'masculine trope', whilst women must be protected as they are seen as the reproducers of the next generation of national culture and society. It is 2022. Why are people expected to fulfil roles based on their gender? Today, it should be one rule for all, not a division of roles based on a superfluous categorisation. Women should not have expectations placed on them to flee conflict and men should be given the opportunity to leave and care for their family if women are also permitted to do so.  

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