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Women and Armed Conflict
15 December - 6 February 2005
Moderated by ESCWA-Center for Women


In 2005, a review of the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform of Action (1995) and the outcome of the twenty third special session of the General Assembly (2000) will be undertaken by the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW).

In order to increase participation and input into this process of evaluation, the United Nations Inter-Agency Network on Women and Gender Equality has launched an online discussion on major critical areas of concern identified in the above documents. Your views and analyses will be summarized in a report which will be submitted to the 49th session of CSW.

The Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA- Center for Women) will be moderating the Women and Armed Conflict discussion on-line.

Background Information

Armed conflict is a gendered activity where fighters are men and where women suffer differently and disproportionately. Sexual violence, among other war-strategies, targets women and girls specifically. Yet their plight remains invisible, they are silenced and stigmatized. The Beijing Declaration and the Platform for Action acknowledges this terrible reality while insisting on the full involvement of women in all efforts of prevention and resolution of conflicts and their role in post-war reconstruction. It identifies 6 strategic objectives:

  • Strategic Objective E.1. Increase participation of women in conflict resolution at decision-making levels and protect women living in situations of armed and other conflicts under foreign occupation.
  • Strategic objective E.2. Reduce excessive military expenditures and control the availability of armaments.
  • Strategic objective E.3. Promote non-violent forms of conflict resolution and reduce the incidence of human rights abuse in conflict situations.
  • Strategic objective E.4. Promote women's contribution to fostering a culture of peace.
  • Strategic objective E.5. Provide protection, assistance and training to refugee women, other displaced women in need of international protection and internally displaced women.
  • Strategic objective E.6. Provide assistance to the women of the colonies and non-self-governing territories.

In 2000, a review of the implementation of the Platform for Action was undertaken by the 23rd special session of the General Assembly. In the Outcome Document, key achievements and obstacles were identified:


  • A wider recognition of the differential impact of armed conflict on women and the need for a gender sensitive approach
  • Steps taken to address abuses against women including ending the impunity for crimes against women in conflict such as in the work of the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda
  • Of historical significance, the adoption in the Crime Statute of the International Criminal Court of a provision regarding gender-specific crimes during armed conflict (rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution and other forms of sexual violence) as war crimes and, in certain cases, as crimes against humanity
  • Increased recognition of the role of women in peace-building, peace-making and conflict resolution
  • Introduction of education and training on peace and non-violent conflict-resolution
  • Progress made on the disseminaton and implementation of guidelines for the protection for refugee women and on addressing the needs of displaced women
  • Wider recognition for the need of a gender sensitive approach in humanitarian intervention thus insuring equal access to food and other resources
  • Greater recognition of the need to integrate a gender perspective in the planning, design and implementation of humanitarian assistance.
  • Increased involvement of civil society in the provision of humanitarian assistance with a gender sensitive approach.
  • A major achievement is the Security Council Resolution 1325 (Oct. 2000) which has set a new threshold of action for the Security Council, the UN system and all governments. It has also established a new framework for the involvement of women in decision-making and the integration of a gender perspective in peace negotiations and post-conflict reconstruction. It has also called for further analysis and documentation on the issues mentioned.

    The obstacles

    • Under-representation at all levels of women in decision-making positions
    • Failure to provide sufficient resources and to adequately distribute them to refugees who are mostly women and children
    • Failure of international assistance to keep pace with the growing number of refugees
    • Increasing numbers of displaced persons and the provision of their needs puts a heavy burden on the affected countries and their financial resources
    • Inadequate training of personnel dealing with women in conflict situations (lack of programs to address recovery of women from trauma or to skill train them)

    For the purpose of the Online discussion, the weekly themes are as follows:

    Week 1: Assistance strategies for women during armed conflict
    Week 2: Putting an end to impunity
    Week 3: Increasing the public involvement of women
    Week 4: Strategies for the future

    Week 1: Assistance strategies for women during armed conflict

    The majority of women already suffer from discriminatory practices and are, therefore, particularly affected by the consequences of armed conflict. Displaced women, women head of household - especially in rural areas - youth and poor women, are the most vulnerable groups. They have lost their protection and are exposed to all manners of sexual intimidations and exploitation.

    One of the main findings of an independent report was that NEED is not what determines woman's access to assistance protection and support, but rather the arbitrary attention of the media. This can be observed through the huge disparities in the resources mobilized for different countries.

    Underlying all the issues is the increased invisibility of women during conflict and consequently the difficulty in targeting them and addressing their needs. Women are often not able to voice their needs in times where resources are scarce, often because of cultural restrictions. They do not feel entitled to claim their share as they believe that the needs of the family and community should prevail over their own.

  • What measures can be taken on the national and international levels to insure the adequate response to women' specific needs?
  • When, as in most cases of armed conflict, the rule of law has broken down and the state apparatus has collapsed, or when the state is the main oppressor:

  • Who then are the actors who can provide protection and assistance to women?
  • How will the resources and means to protect women be put in place?
  • Week 2: Putting an end to impunity

    The international legal framework has been increasingly responsive to the ordeal of women and girls subjected to the worse humiliations and violence. Yet, despite the progress made on the international legal front, the stark reality remains the total impunity of men who commit atrocious crimes against women in most war-torn countries.

  • What measures can be taken to put an end to this impunity?
  • Can extra-legal mechanisms - such as truth and reconciliation processes - provide alternative avenues for redress?
  • Are Ad hoc tribunals created by the Security Council an answer?
  • Can we enforce that Amnesty provisions - in conflict settlements - exclude immunity from all war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity including gender-based crimes?
  • The marginalisation and subordination of women are often enshrined in laws that regulate gender relations. In many countries - where a culture of shame prevails - women who have been exposed to sexual violence are further stigmatized. How can the silence around these crimes be broken?

  • What can NGOs and other institutions do to help / encourage women to seek redress?
  • At the police and the prosecution level, how can the system be improved to receive claims from women and to respond adequately rather than add further trauma and stigmatization to abused women?
  • How to deal with the gender bias that usually prevails in the justice system?
  • At the family level, what could be done to help the integration of these abused women and to recover their dignity?
  • Are financial or material compensations offered to the victims a way to repair the damage caused to them? A recognition of their suffering?
  • Week 3: Increasing the public involvement of women

    Security council resolution 1325 calls for the equal participation of women and their full involvement in all efforts to maintain and promote peace and security. The Beijing Declaration insists that peace is inextricably linked with the equality of men and women.

    Women are not passive victims of conflict and their active contribution to the survival of their families, communities and countries remains largely unacknowledged. Women's survival strategies in this context prove, if need be, their resilience and creativity. Many women perform war-related tasks and provide essential support to militias or armies, several others contribute, in leadership positions, to the resolution of conflicts, to peace-making and humanitarian assistance.

  • Women are very active in organizing and mobilizing for peace. How can we increase their access to leadership positions in structures preventing and resolving conflict?
  • What can their role be in post-war reconstruction: in politics, finance, engineering, housing and the health sector?
  • For the past 25 years, armed conflicts have been mainly internal and 'ethnic' in nature. All have resulted in the disruption of the social fabric of communities. In the gap created by the breakdown of family networks there is a great potential for the development of a civil society as a base for peaceful coexistence and democracy. In some countries women have spontaneously organized themselves in associations that often cut across ethnic or religious divisions.

  • How to strengthen women's associations as a base for peace?
  • Week 4: Strategies for the future

    Building on your testimonies, analyses, hopes and visions, how can we possibly build a better environment for women in the midst of conflict? How to overcome obstacles for promoting their safety and dignity?

    » View archived discussion

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