THE IMPACT OF WAR ON WOMEN
“War hits home when it hits women and girls.”
It was October 2000 when the United Nations Security Council issued Resolution 1325. This was the first Security Council Resolution that addressed a fact that women in armed conflict areas around the world had known for a long time: that war has specific impacts on women.
Women and girls experience conflict and displacement in different ways than men due to differences in gender responsibilities as well as specific targeting of women by armed forces. Sexual violence, such as rape or sexual slavery, is one of the ways that women are so targeted. Systematic rape can be used as a weapon of war in ethnic cleansing. Whether ethnically motivated or not, sexual violence against women strikes into the core of a society, hurting families and communities and attacking culture in societies where women are seen as “repositories of a community’s cultural and spiritual values.” During armed conflicts women and girls may be forced into prostitution or trafficking, sometimes by their own government or military authorities. Poverty, hunger, and desperation can also force women into prostitution. With sexual violence comes an increased risk for women of contracting sexually transmitted diseases including HIV/AIDS.
Women, along with children, constitute the majority of the millions of persons displaced by armed conflicts. In the refugee and internally displaced persons (IDP) camps that are meant to shelter them, women encounter further negative impacts of war. Often men control the distribution of essentials such as food, water, firewood, and plastic sheeting. These men sometimes demand bribes or sexual favors for these life-saving necessities, putting women, especially female heads of households, at risk. Traditional social protection systems often unravel in camps leaving women and girls even more vulnerable. Food aid sometimes fails to meet special female nutritional requirements leading to malnutrition. Women’s needs may also be neglected by the health services available in camps when access is inadequate for women or the services are culturally inappropriate. Reproductive health services are often lacking.
Armed conflict also puts a strain on women and girls who remain at home. Domestic violence has been seen to increase under the stress of death, upheaval, and poverty that results from war and civil unrest. The absence of males from the household increases the workload for women and children. Some girls leave school because of the demands. Or they leave school when it becomes unsafe for them to leave their homes. In some cases this accelerates early marriage. The breakdown of health services and public education increases the impact of disease during these periods. On returning home after being forced to flee a conflict female heads of households may be denied property rights or lose custody of their children. It is exactly because of the monstrous impact that war has on women that they are crucial contributors to the work of conflict resolution and sustainable peace.
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