The recent coup in Myanmar, Taliban takeover in Afghanistan, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have all highlighted the fact that women bear a disproportionate burden in conflict, particularly those forced to flee their homes and seek refuge in other countries. COVID-19-related economic stressors exacerbate the situation. In many countries, important indicators of gender equality and civilian protection have been reversed.
Women bear a disproportionate burden in conflict zones.
- Conflict zones and the plight of women: Every two hours, a woman dies in childbirth in Yemen.
- More than 65% of women in South Sudan have experienced sexual or physical violence, which is double the global average.
- More than 40% of Nigerian girls marry before the age of 18. Each of these statistics is directly related to the countries’ ongoing violence.
- Displacement: According to UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, women and children make up more than half of the world’s 80 million displaced people.
- Political violence breeds gender violence: Sexual violence against women and girls is frequently used as a war tactic to terrorise civilians around the world.
- The United Nations confirmed 2,500 cases of conflict-related sexual violence against women and girls in 18 countries in 2020.
- In Afghanistan, 62% of women have experienced all three types of GBV: psychological, physical, and sexual abuse.
- The ordeal of refugee women: An estimated one in every five female refugees living in humanitarian settings has experienced sexual violence and its consequences, which include trauma, stigma, poverty, and unintended pregnancy.
- Domestic violence and human trafficking are also common during times of conflict, owing to rising insecurity, poverty, and a weakening rule of law.
- War and child marriage: Because war disrupts economies, supply chains, and agricultural production, it frequently results in widespread poverty and hunger. As a result, child marriage rates rise as families seek additional income or one less mouth to feed.
- Child brides are frequently subjected to a lifetime of torment.
- Disrupts access to lifesaving reproductive health care: The violence and chaos of war frequently destroy a country’s health infrastructure. Without access to sexual and reproductive health care, including family planning, girls and women in conflict are more likely to have unintended pregnancies in dangerous situations.
- Only 20% of Yemen’s remaining hospitals, for example, can provide maternal and child health services.
- A looming famine and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic have only exacerbated an already perilous situation, particularly for mothers.
- An estimated 2 million pregnant and breastfeeding women in Yemen are acutely malnourished at the moment.
International policy on gender-based violence prevention
- In 2000, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 1325, launching the Women, Peace, and Security agenda.
- The resolution urged women’s participation in peace initiatives, protection from violations of their human rights, and conflict prevention.
- Eight additional resolutions have since been approved, broadening the scope of the agenda and making it more ambitious.
- There are additional measures aimed at protecting women and highlighting their specific needs both during and after a conflict.
- Recommendation 30 of the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), approved in 2013, is one such framework.
- This includes issues such as women’s participation in all areas, including peace processes, access to and protection of all their rights, and active participation in conflict prevention.
- The Sustainable Development Goals, in particular SDGs 5 (Gender Equality) and 16, serve as a further benchmark framework (Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions).
- Finally, the Arms Trade Treaty is the first treaty to acknowledge the links between international arms transfers and gender violence.
- Article 7(4) expressly states that exporting countries must take into account the possibility that the arms transfer will be used to commit or facilitate acts of violence against women.
- Refugee camp safety audit: Countries that host refugees must conduct camp safety audits to ensure that women are not exploited or trafficked. A mechanism for reporting human rights violations and instances of abuse is required.
- Access to reproductive health and contraception: Unrestricted access to contraception and scientific awareness about its use will lead to the prevention of unintended pregnancies in conflict zones.
- Ability and potential for economic independence: It is critical to provide income-generating opportunities. Workshops for skill development and work permits will aid in their integration into society.
- Gender-based violence screening at health camps: Creating services that do not lead to stigma is the quickest way to increase reporting in communities.
- Women must be included in peace talks: Because women are the most affected, all peace talks must include their presence and input.
Conflicts and unstable situations exacerbate pre-existing patterns of discrimination against women and girls, exposing them to increased risks of human rights violations. Possible solutions for protecting these displaced women who are vulnerable to abuse must be investigated.