Women and Armed Conflict
Armed conflict is a political conflict in which armed combat involves the armed forces of at least one state (or one or more armed factions seeking to gain control of all or part of the state), and in which at least 1,000 people have been killed by the fighting during the course of the conflict.
Throughout history, women have often been targeted in wartime for violence. They have also been excluded from conflict prevention and resolution efforts. Despite increased awareness and mobilization at the local and international levels, women in conflict continue to face multiple challenges.
These conflicts cause various social vulnerabilities. These vulnerabilities include rape, forced marriage, forced impregnation, indentured labour, sexual servitude, and the intentional spread of HIV/AIDS. During times of armed conflict, women are exploited in ways that relate to their reproductive responsibilities or gendered expectations of womanhood.
The impact of armed conflict on women takes many forms, some more apparent than others. One of the most torturous consequences of armed conflict for many women is the issue of missing relatives. Thousands of women are searching for news on the fate of their relatives – generally male – who are missing. The inability to mourn and bury loved ones has an enormous impact on the survivors of war and the coping mechanisms they are able to adopt. This search for missing relatives often drags on long after the end of armed conflict and can be a lasting impediment to the process of reconciliation.
Women are less often combatants than men and are less often detained for reasons related to armed conflict. However, when they are detained, their conditions may be worse than those of men. Furthermore, women more often flee into displacement due to the fighting and are more often the victims of sexual violence. Sexual violence is a particularly heinous violation of international humanitarian law.
Women are frequently widowed and find themselves forced to take on new and unaccustomed roles – for example, as heads of household.
Throughout the world women are continuing to respond to war with remarkable courage, resourcefulness and resilience, confronting the effects of war and the obstacles it imposes on their ability to sustain and protect themselves and their families.
In order to assist in the best possible way, the international community needs to understand the realities confronting all persons not taking part in hostilities, including of course women.