Women face fear and despair in the struggle to survive winter in Ukraine, Syria, and Afghanistan.

20 Dec 2022 by World Vision
Women face fear and despair in the struggle to survive  winter in Ukraine, Syria, and Afghanistan.

From the report:
• Cold weather and the inability to keep their children fed and warm, is taking a serious toll on the mental health of female family heads who have been forced to flee their homes
• Displaced female-headed households are putting themselves and their families at risk by using last-resort heating methods, such as burning plastics
• A lack of employment opportunities threatens to plunge displaced women further into poverty and debt as never before

A perilously cold Northern Hemisphere winter is leaving refugee families led by women in Ukraine, Syria, and Afghanistan struggling with mental health issues as they cope with the harsh conditions.

A new report Out in the Cold by international aid agency, World Vision, examines how households headed by women who have been displaced from or within Ukraine, Syria and Afghanistan will cope with the impending bitter winter.

The report finds the rising costs of, food, fuel and winter essentials has led to displaced women from these countries reporting despair, fear, anxiety and grief.

World Vision New Zealand National Director, Grant Bayldon, says women bear a disproportionate burden when they become refugees or internally displaced.

“Women in Ukraine, Afghanistan and Syria have been forced to flee their homes, many alone with their children. They are now struggling to survive harsh winter conditions and their mental health is understandably suffering as they cope with all they have lost.

“They face huge pressures to care for and support their children on their own and live double lives to fulfil both domestic duties and generate an income outside the home. Sadly, it’s often difficult for them to find paid work because displacement camps have limited employment opportunities which can lead to extreme poverty and desperate choices,” Bayldon says.

Out in the Cold found women were reducing food consumption, taking on dangerous debt burdens, and sending their underage children to work to try and make ends meet.

As temperatures hit life-threatening lows, they are also putting their own and their family’s health at risk by using last-resort heating methods, such as burning plastic, to try and stay warm.

“Displaced families from Ukraine are now facing their first harsh winter away from home, but for Syrian and Afghani women this is yet another year of living in freezing temperatures where they are unable to buy fuel to heat their shelters during winter.

“As a result, they resort to using methods of heating and cooking which are unhealthy and extremely unsafe. They are burning plastic bags and old clothes to stay warm. These practices have chronic impacts on their own and their children’s health and significantly increase the risk of fires in their communities,” Bayldon says.

The report highlights the toll the extreme cold weather, combined with the inability to keep children warm and properly fed, has on women’s mental health with many reporting sadness, grief, fear, anxiety, and despair.

Out in the Cold highlights the need for early and better mental health support services for women as they battle the winter season on all fronts.

It also recommends prioritising cash assistance to displaced female-headed households so that they can be empowered to provide for their families, as well as the distribution of solid eco-friendly fuel and heating devices, winter clothing and blankets, and shelter insulation.

World Vision’s Middle East and Eastern European Regional Leader, Eleanor Monbiot, says the international community needs to support women and families facing the prospect of a bitter winter.

“We’re calling on the international community to step-up and prioritise cash assistance for displaced female-headed households in Ukraine, Syria and Afghanistan this winter. The world must not forget these women. Their plight does not disappear as their stories disappear from news headlines. They have already been through unimaginable trauma, and they need and deserve continued support now and in the future.”