How to Acknowledge IWD 2022 in a time of Conflict

This article reflects current guidance from specialists in social impact, healthcare and reputation management at our agency. Please note that this situation is fluid and this information is correct as of 11.30am GMT, 3 March 2022.

By Kate Olsen

Over the last few years, International Women’s Day (IWD) has become a focal point for organizational efforts focused on gender equality and diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). As the Russian invasion in Ukraine intensifies, it will be important for communicators to reassess plans for IWD 2022 to ensure that content is appropriate in the context of the escalating conflict.

The humanitarian situation on the ground is dire, and bound to get worse, as the impacts of the invasion and escalating war become clearer. The global humanitarian aid community is focused on a few key areas including supporting displaced people who are forced from their homes and across borders, addressing shortages of essential items such as food in supermarkets, medical supplies (oxygen and medication), cash in ATMs, shelter and fuel.

We do not recommend that organizations pause IWD or Women’s History Month communications plans entirely. Instead, we recommend that planned campaigns and communications activities should be reassessed to ensure they are focusing attention on and acknowledging the most urgent issues in a way that is appropriate for the moment we are in.

“Unless the conflict ceases, thousands of additional families will be forcibly displaced, dramatically escalating the scale of the already dire humanitarian situation and increasing the risk of sexual violence and exploitation”

– Pramila Patten, UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, February 28, 2022

Here are five important considerations for IWD 2022:

Acknowledge the war in Ukraine as part of IWD communications, even if the planned campaign is more expansive, or domestically focused.

The agenda to advance true and lasting gender equality is broad with many important issues, domestic and global in nature. IWD 2022 also coincides with the 2-year anniversary of the start of the global pandemic, which has had profound and disproportionate impacts on women across all aspects of life. There are many important issues to highlight and address, but given the immediacy of the situation in Ukraine, it is important to ensure messages are sensitive to the current reality and appropriate in tone and sentiment. It is important to think through how content about the situation in Ukraine should be handled separately from content about other topics or projects, or if there is an effective way to sensitively align messages.

Ensure communications and commentary about Ukraine inform audiences more broadly about the unique struggles faced by women and girls during armed conflicts.

While conflict inflicts suffering on everyone, women and girls are particularly impacted by its short- and long-term effects including gender-based violence, increased trafficking and child marriage, and lack of access to essential services such as health care, including sexual and reproductive health services.

  • UNHCR states that more than 1 million people have now fled outside of Ukraine — the majority of whom are reported to be women and children.
  • An estimated 80,000 women will give birth in the next three months in Ukraine — many of them without access to critical maternal health care.
  • For millions of other women and girls, including those who have lived in the shadow of conflict in eastern Ukraine for the last eight years, gender-based violence is a serious problem. Some 75 percent of women in the country said that they had experienced some form of violence since age 15, and one in three had experienced physical or sexual violence according to a 2019 survey supported by UNFPA.

Be conscious of the importance of global funding, expertise and advocacy being applied justly.

The war in Ukraine is rightly a major focus of the international community, but it is a horrific reality that conflicts continue in Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Ethiopia & Sudan, and other places around the world. Avoid statements such as “On an IWD like no other” or “On the darkest IWD in memory,” which may inadvertently dismiss or minimize many other global realities, including those wrought by the pandemic.

Focus on tangible support via monetary donations to credible international organizations that are in the country and surrounding areas to meet growing demands in the region.

Most organizations are now requesting funds instead of supplies so they can direct aid in the most effective way as needs become clear. Consider supporting organizations such as ICRC*Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without BordersSave the Children*, UNICEF*, and UNHCR*. They also support women and girls impacted in other conflict zones across the world. Beyond corporate donations, consider matching employee gifts and donating planned paid media spends for March 8th.

Carefully consider how language and visual assets will support — or undermine — your intended message.

  • Watch out for the use of language which has a technical meaning (i.e., asylum seeker) or may be culturally sensitive (i.e., “the Ukraine” and “Kiev” which are used by Russia and rejected by Ukraine).
  • Do not use imagery or footage of identifiable individuals from the conflict.
  • Do not use memes as the tone of the format does not reflect the gravity of the situation.
  • Ensure the tone of all communications on the day are appropriate for the context (i.e., nothing jovial or tongue in cheek).
  • Use credible sources for all data referenced, ideally from the EU and UN — and check the updated time stamp.
  • The official #breakthebias theme and hashtag for IWD 2022 does not need to be used, under these circumstances.

* Indicates a current or former client of our agency.

Kate Olsen


Kate specializes in developing strategies and integrated engagement campaigns that help purpose-driven clients build brands and advance sustainable development.

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