Gender and money determine perceptions of justice and security in Ukraine

Poverty is a bigger concern than the conflict, and women and poorer people feel significantly more insecure, a new UNDP report shows

UNDP launched this week a new report on ‘Justice and Security: Perspectives of Communities in Three Oblasts’.

The report was undertaken as part of the Rule of Law and Community Justice Project, funded by the Netherlands, and comes under the umbrella of UNDP’s Recovery and Peacebuilding Programme in Ukraine.

As part of that Programme, UNDP and UN Women are working jointly to strengthen understanding, awareness and responses to gender issues, especially gender based violence (GBV) in Ukraine. The Restoration of Governance and Reconciliation in Conflict Affected Communities Project, funded by the EU, integrates community security and gender issues in our work with decentralised authorities in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. At the same time we are also piloting community security and access to justice interventions in a third oblast, Zhytomyr oblast.

This is a pilot project, to test if using a participatory, community-based approach in the realm of Justice and Security can improve peoples’ perceptions, attitudes, and ultimately, their experiences. For that reason, we wanted to show that participatory and community-based approaches improve lives in oblasts quite far from the ‘contact line’ — because although the east of the country has specific and major challenges, the need for improvements in governance, justice and security are nationwide.

UNDP also recognizes that the impact of conflict is felt across the country, although in different ways. Zhytomyr, for instance, has a high number of military bases and active combatants. Fifteen percent of people surveyed from Zhytomyr said they had a relative involved in the Anti-Terrorist Operations (ATO, the Ukrainian armed forces), compared to 1–2% in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. The consequence of this is likely to be felt in terms of trauma, alcoholism, family violence, depression, health issues and other long-term problems. These types of conflict effects must not be forgotten, and it is for that reason that this pilot project included Zhytomyr alongside Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts.

There is more that unites the different regions of Ukraine than divides them

The survey found that for most questions the answers are very similar across the oblasts. People living within 20 km of the contact line of the current armed conflict had some specific issues, but otherwise the population in all three oblasts have similar concerns and attitudes. However, our report shows that there are very clear differences based on economic status, gender and to a lesser extent, whether people live in rural or urban areas. For example:

  • Women and poorer people have a significantly lower level of trust in the police and justice system than others in the population.
  • Two thirds of women in all oblasts do not feel safe outside after dark; one third do not even feel safe in their own homes at night.
  • There are several issues that are seen as “major problems” more often in urban areas more than in rural areas: corruption, drug abuse, environmental pollution, and people traumatized by the conflict.
  • Women, children, the elderly and people with disabilities are perceived to be less safe than others in the community.
  • There was little tension reported between host communities and internally displaced people (IDPs). Generally, IDPs and religious minorities are thought of as equally safe as the general population. While one in ten of IDPs surveyed believed that tension with host communities was a serious concern, the majority of IDPs in all three oblasts stated that they were living in harmony with their host communities.

In this context, the upcoming SCORE survey being undertaken by UNDP in partnership with UNICEF and IOM in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, will explore in greater depth some of the themes of social cohesion and trust that have come up in this report.

Economic issues dominate peoples’ concerns

Around a quarter of the population surveyed in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, and 10% of those in Zhytomyr oblast, said they did not have enough money for food. Conversely, only around 5% of people surveyed said they had money for luxuries such as electronics.

The huge majority of people in all three oblasts name poverty and unemployment as a ‘major concern’. Even respondents living within 20 km of the contact line said that the issues that caused them most concern were largely economic. For example, in Donetsk oblast, less than half of people living close to the contact line listed shelling as a major concern, compared to 97% who said poverty was a major concern.

Data related to Donetsk oblast

Similarly, when asked about which crimes are common, economic crimes are the highest on peoples’ radar: people perceive that petty theft, followed by house burglary are the most common crimes. Although people are most concerned about violent crime, they do not perceive as extremely prevalent.

Not everything is gloomy

On the positive side, when asked about what types of crimes worried them, around 1 in 5 people in all oblasts said they did not have any concerns about crime.

Although people have deep concerns about the fairness of the process and they believe that justice institutions would side with the person with power ad money, overwhelmingly, people believe that they would be treated with respect and listened to if they had to speak to a police officer, a prosecutor or a judge. There are many countries where people would not have this confidence, and it is a sign that people see the problems as structural and institutional, and not about individuals — in other words, this a governance issue.

And people have a very positive response to their local administrations, and have a high degree of trust in them to resolve disputes — specifically land disputes which they prefer not to take to the justice system.

Finally: knowledge is key

Unfortunately, and not uniquely in Ukraine, the collection of reliable, publicly available and gender disaggregated data is rare, especially in the justice sector. This means that it is difficult to track the impact of the reforms that are ongoing. It also impedes evidence-based policy-making, and democratic scrutiny by civil society and citizens.

For example, 27% of men and 47% of women in Zhytomyr said they would fear for their safety if they reported a crime. Such information should lead to further exploration and action by state organs responsible, and should be more easily and regularly available to national decision-makers.

While we believe this survey casts light on key issues, it cannot take the place of consistent, regular, publicly-available data collected nationwide.

So, how should we go forward?

This report should not be seen as simply a set of numbers about how people feel about the courts, prosecutors and police.

Rather, it tells us a story about the state of society in Ukraine.

It gives an insight into social cohesion, the different experiences of men and women, and the everyday worries of the people.

It shows us that East and West are not significantly different, despite what some may say. But society is undoubtedly very stratified by gender, and economics. Despite the progress on reforms, people remain cynical about the way that power and money influences justice.

Percentage of respondents who believe the would get justice if victims of a crime, by gender and socio-economic status. Data related to Zhytomyr oblast.
Data from Luhansk oblast

At the very least, the perception that justice is for the rich and powerful undermines trust in the rule of law, at worst it has catastrophic effects which can even lead to conflict.

These are long-term problems of trust in rule of law institutions across all oblasts which suggests these issues pre-dated the conflict. It remains essential not to lose focus on the need to continue governance and rule of law reforms despite the other critical and urgent matters facing Ukraine.

Without effective and trusted mechanisms to redress grievances, the roots of conflict and social instability will remain, and efforts at economic growth and political stabilization will be undermined.

UNDP remains committed to supporting the Government and people of Ukraine to continue on the path of reform and transformation.

The report can be downloaded in English or Ukrainian here or from the UNDP Ukraine’s website.

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