and Armed Conflict
It is estimated that close
to 90 per cent of current war casualties are civilians, the majority of
whom are women and children, compared to a century ago when 90 per cent
of those who lost their lives were military personnel.
Although entire communities
suffer the consequences of armed conflict, women and girls are particularly
affected because of their status in society and their sex. Parties
in conflict situations often rape women, sometimes using systematic
rape as a tactic of war. Other forms of violence against women committed
in armed conflict include murder, sexual slavery, forced pregnancy
and forced sterilization.
Despite this, women should not be viewed solely as victims of war.
They assume the key role of ensuring family livelihood in the midst
of chaos and destruction, and are particularly active in the peace
movement at the grassroots level, cultivating peace within their communities.
However, the absence of women at the peace negotiating table is undeniable.
The Platform for Action,
adopted by the Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing in
1995, identified the effects of armed conflict on women as one of
12 critical areas of concern requiring action by governments and the
international community, and stressed the need to promote the equal
participation of women in conflict resolution at decision-making levels.
During its forty-second
session in 1998, the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women
discussed the issue of women and armed conflict and proposed further
action to be taken by member states and the international community
to accelerate the implementation of the Platform's strategic objectives
in this area, including the mainstreaming of a gender perspective
into all relevant policies and programmes. Among the agreed conclusions
of the session were measures to ensure gender sensitive justice, address
the specific needs and concerns of women refugees and displaced persons,
and increase the participation of women in peacekeeping, peace-building,
pre- and post-conflict decision-making and conflict prevention.
Since the Beijing Conference there have been important developments
at the international level in the treatment of crimes committed against
women in situations of armed conflict.
- Rape is explicitly incorporated
as a crime against humanity in the statutes of the Ad Hoc Tribunals
created by the UN Security Council to address crimes committed in
the Former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. Both Tribunals have issued several
indictments relating to sexual violence, and the Rwanda Tribunal
has convicted one defendant of genocide, including as a result of
- At the regional level,
inter-American and European human rights bodies have found sexual
violence and rape in conflict situations to constitute violations
of human rights treaties. Several have initiated criminal and civil
proceedings against individuals alleged to have perpetuated gender-based
violence against women in conflict situations.
- The International Statute
establishing the International Criminal Court, with jurisdiction
over individuals responsible for the most serious international
crimes, was adopted in June 1998. The definitions of the crimes
under the Court's jurisdiction take gender concerns into account:
Genocide is defined to include measures intended to prevent births
within a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.
- Crimes against humanity
include rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy
and enforced sterilization.
- War crimes include rape,
sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy, enforced
sterilization, and any other form of sexual violence constituting
a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions.
Displaced and Refugee Women
The growing number of
armed conflicts and the violations associated with them have resulted
in an increase in forced internal displacement and refugee flows.
As a rule of thumb, more than 75 per cent of displaced people are
women and children, and in some refugee populations they constitute
90 per cent.
The abuses that women and
girls suffer in armed conflicts may take various forms, such as rape,
sexual slavery and forced prostitution. Women refugees remain vulnerable
to violence and exploitation while in flight, as well as in countries
of asylum and during repatriation.
Responses of the international community and Member States have included:
- The United Nations High
Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has issued guidelines on the protection
of refugee women, including the prevention of and response to sexual
violence against them.
- UNHCR has sought to
ensure that refugee women obtain adequate protection in international
law, particularly in circumstances where they experience gender-based
- Australia, Canada, France,
Germany, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States are
among the growing number of countries that have granted refugee
status on the basis of persecution on gender grounds, including
female genital mutilation, forced marriage, forced abortion, honour
killings and domestic violence.
- Several member states
have recognized the importance of providing physical and psychological
support to refugee women, particularly those that have suffered
Conflict Resolution, Peacemaking and Peace-building
Though women have performed
a variety of roles during war and in peacekeeping, especially as medical
and administrative personnel and increasingly as election monitors,
they have been mostly absent from formal peace negotiations and policy-making
processes on war and peace issues.
There is, however, a growing
understanding of the role of women in conflict resolution and the
specific skills and abilities they bring to the decision-making process.
- The Netherlands has
introduced a programme entitled "Engendering the Peace Process",
which encourages Israel and Palestine to appoint more women to negotiating
teams and political decision-making posts in the on-going Middle
East peace process.
- The African region developed
a "First Ladies for Peace Initiative" in early 1997, which has included
conferences on peace and humanitarian issues, the resolutions of
which have been presented to African heads of states and government.
In addition, the Organization of African Unity and the Economic
Commission for Africa launched the Women's Committee on Peace and
Development in 1999.
- Belgium has initiated
a joint project with the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF)
through which a women's non-governmental organization identifies
detained children and negotiates their release from rebel soldiers.
Belgium has also supported the use of women mediators in conflict
situations and has developed an initiative for peace-building between
the women of two parties in conflict.
- Georgia has adopted
a Plan of Action for Improving Women's Conditions, which includes
the development of a mechanism to ensure the active involvement
of women in decision-making in armed conflicts and peace-building.
- The United Kingdom has
taken steps to ensure that women are included in the peace process
in Northern Ireland.
- In several states, including
the United Kingdom and the United States, women occupy high-level
decision- making posts, including as secretary of state and departmental
heads, posts which have important implications for conflict prevention
and peace processes.
The Changing Nature of the Military
Traditionally women have
not been active in armed forces and are in some countries often denied
the right to enlist. A number of countries have taken steps
to increase the number of women in their armed forces in recognition
of the right of women to participate in their nation's military. The
changing role of the military in some countries, and at the international
level in particular, is moving towards the prevention of conflict,
securing of peace, and the reconstruction of countries after wars
and natural disasters. These new roles of the military and police
provide more room for women's participation. Some examples of action
- Women from several member
states and from the United Nations system participate in UN peacekeeping
missions and election monitoring.
- In Denmark, women have
reached high levels in the military. Legislation has been enacted
to allow women to be recruited under the same conditions as men,
and efforts are being made to ensure that more women are promoted
through the ranks.
- Israel, where conscription
for women is compulsory but service in the military is differentiated
by gender, has reviewed its admission procedures for the air force
to allow women to take the entrance examination for pilot training.
- Norway has introduced
specific targets for the recruitment of women into the armed forces.
For instance, by the year 2005, seven per cent of officers and enlisted
personnel should be female.
- Since 1995, Australia
has twice undertaken reviews of the cultural and social barriers
to women's career progression and retention in the defence forces.
This fact sheet
is based on "Review and Appraisal of the Implementation of the
Beijing Platform for Action: Report of the Secretary-General"
the United Nations Department of Public Information