Astheguardianandpromoterofinternationalhuman-itarian law,the ICRC takes measures to minimize theconsequences for civilian populations caught up inconflict and those hors de combat.The specific pro-tection afforded to women under IHL is widely pro-moted.Theorganizationremindscombatingpartiesof theirobligationsaswellasdocumentingviolationsandreporting them to the relevant authorities with itsrecommendations.Thus the ICRC’s first objective is toprevent (or at least mitigate) the consequences of armed conflict for civilian populations and those nolongertakingpartinthefighting. TheICRCrecognizesthatarmedconflictshaveadiffer-ent impact on men,women,children and the elderly,and that the needs of women are often overlooked.At the 27th International Conference of the Red Crossand Red Crescent in 1999 the ICRC made a pledge toassess and address the specific needs of women andgirls more effectively in its programmes, and to pro-motetherespectthatmustbeaccordedtothem,withaparticularfocusonsexualviolence.TheICRCtherefore
Womenareoftenportrayedashelplessvictimsandasaparticularlyvulnera-blegroupinsituationsofarmedconflict.However,womenarenotvulnerableas such.On the contrary,many display remarkable strength and courage inwartime,protecting and supporting their families,or perhaps taking on theroleofcombatantorpeaceactivist.Theyoftenfindingeniouswaysofcopingwiththedifficultiestheyface. Therealquestionisnotwhoismorevulnerablebutratherwhoisvulnerabletowhichparticularrisks.Womenandmenareoftenexposedtodifferentrisks.Whilemenmakeupthevastmajorityofthosekilled,detainedormadetodis-appearduringwar,womenareincreasinglytargetedasciviliansandexposedtosexualviolenceintimesofconflict.Theyalsogenerallybearalltherespon-sibilityforensuringtheday-to-daysurvivaloftheirfamilies.Men do not always take up arms;they,too,may be part of the civilian popu-lation.Likewise,womenmaytakepartinhostilities.Femalesoldiershavebeenknown to commit violent acts or incite others to perform them,sometimesprovingtobecruellerthantheirmalecounterparts.Obviously,it is simplistic to judge vulnerability based on stereotypes.That iswhytheICRCcarriesoutathoroughneedsassessmentforeverysituation,inordertoidentifywhoismostvulnerableandwhy.strives to incorporate the needs and perspectives of women and girls in all its activities,and where neces-sary creates separate programmes to respond to theirspecific requirements – whether these are social,psychosocial,medical,economicorprotection-related.By developing a more sensitive and thorough under-standing of the roles,responsibilities and experiencesofmenandwomen,theorganizationcanmoreappro-priately respond to their needs in times of conflict.Gender analysis is therefore used to better appreciatetherespectivesocioculturalrolesattributedtomenandwomen when it comes to the division of labour,pro-ductive and reproductive activities,and access to andcontrol over resources and benefits. The ICRC alsoendeavours to send mixed teams to the field so thatdirect dialogue can take place with all victims, bothwomen and men.This also allows the teams greateraccesstolocalnetworksandcirclesofinfluence.Inaddi-tion, the organization aims for a balanced representa-tion of women and men at senior management level,toensureabroaderoutlookinprogrammingdecisions.
Much of war’s impact on women depends on how awoman’s personal safety is affected, how wellequipped she is to ensure her survival and that of herfamily, whether she suffers injury or loss and, if so,how she deals with it. It is also often a consequenceof what happened to the men of her family.Protection for women in wartime is enshrined ininternational humanitarian law (IHL), which is bind-ing on both States and armed opposition groups.Thisbody of law,which includes the four Geneva Conven-tions of 1949 and their two Additional Protocols of1977,provides protection for women as civilians andas captured or wounded combatants. Many of itsrules constitute customary law and are thereforebinding on parties to an armed conflict whether theyhave ratified the relevant treaties or not.Women benefit from the general protection affordedby IHL. Along with the rest of the protected popula-tion, they must be able to live free from intimidationand abuse. In addition, IHL includes a specific pro-tection regime for women, primarily in respect oftheir health and hygiene needs and their role asmothers. Human rights law and refugee law providefurther protection for women in times of violence.Hence, the tremendous difficulties women continueto face in today’s conflicts do not arise because ofgaps in the law, but rather because the law is notsufficiently respected, implemented or enforced.The following chapters look at the major risks andchallenges that women and girls face during war,and some of the ICRC’s responses. For the purposesof clarity and simplicity,this brochure relates prima-rily to situations of armed conflict.However,the ICRChas similar concerns and takes similar action inother situations of violence, such as disturbances.War and violence today spare no one, but they affectmen, women, boys and girls in different ways. Moreconflicts are now fought internally between rivalethnic,religious or political groups over the control ofresources,territories or populations.But whether theviolence is internal or cross-border, civilians are alltoo often caught in the firing line,directly targeted orendangered by the proximity of the fighting. Womenand girls in war-torn countries are therefore facedwith unimaginable risks, threats and challenges.Women are not a homogeneous group, and theyexperience war in a multitude of ways – as victims,combatants or promoters of peace. War can meanviolence,fear,loss of loved ones,deprivation of liveli-hood, sexual violence, abandonment, increasedresponsibility for family members, detention, dis-placement, physical injury, and sometimes death. Itforces women and girls into unfamiliar roles andrequires them to strengthen existing coping skillsand develop new ones.Despite all the hardship women endure in armedconflicts,the image of women as helpless victims ofwar is flawed. Women are playing an increasinglyactive role in hostilities – whether voluntarily orinvoluntarily.Women may be found in military dressor lining the perimeters of prisons to visit relatives.They may be found queuing for food parcels or clear-ing debris from their shelters in transit camps.Manyalso play a proactive role post-conflict in peace-building and social reconstruction. On a daily basisin conflicts around the globe, women demonstratetheir resilience by caring for family members and byholding communities together.
D o m i n i c S a n s o n i / I C R C
WOMEN AND WAR
N i c k D a n z i g e r / I C R C