Shetland Times Column 11th March 2022

Stay and fight, or flee to protect your family and home, your freedom and way of life. We see on our screens the terrifying and difficult decisions people in Ukraine are being forced to make. The endless flow of refugees spilling into neighbouring countries, over 1.5 million people now displaced in the biggest humanitarian crisis in Europe since the Second World War. It’s hard to believe this is Europe in 2022.

Watching from afar are feelings of helplessness but people have rallied to the calls for aid, whether financial donations to national appeals from the Disasters Emergency Committee or British Red Cross, or to local fundraisers and events.

It’s a desperate situation. Impossible not to weep when you see a young mother collapsing into her partner’s arms crying “why?” after their toddler was killed by Russian shelling. And the image of a line of pushchairs left by Polish parents at the border for the women carrying small children who have fled Ukraine and made it to safety speaks volumes.

In two debates for International Women’s Day, and at an IWD event last Saturday in Parliament with the theme of ‘Celebrating Women in Scotland’, the situation in Ukraine was at the forefront of everyone’s minds.

Our eyes and attention have been pulled away by other events, but we must not forget what is happening in other places, like Afghanistan where for generations women have had to stay or flee. Women’s rights are human rights.

Women and girls are deeply impacted by war and have active roles from combatants to journalists to carers.

The Sky News team found out last week just how dangerous it is to report from the Front, and there is respect in the way the BBC’s Lyse Doucet and Clive Myrie, and Channel 4’s Lindsey Hilsum have kept us informed.

Now out of Ukraine, Myrie tweeted that his thoughts are with those who have fled Ukraine because they might be killed, and other millions globally who have had to escape repression, poverty and war. “They all pray they’ll be welcomed in other countries as human beings. That’s all they ask”.

I’m appalled at the UK Government’s lack of basic humanity to the refugee crisis. This country has a proud history of offering sanctuary to those fleeing persecution, and Shetland’s arms are open just as they were to those fleeing Nazi-occupied Norway 80 years ago.

In efforts to end conflict women are often left out of the peacekeeping process. Between 1992 and 2019, women made up just 6% of signatories in major peace processes.

The United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 addresses how women and girls are disproportionally impacted by violent conflict and recognises women’s critical role in peacebuilding efforts.

So we shouldn’t see women solely as victims of conflict. Women have an important place in rebuilding new societies after conflicts. Rebuilding is a chance to transform social structures to ensure greater realisation of women’s human rights. We must call for women’s inclusion in such processes around the world.

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