The brutal rape in New Delhi on 16 December 2012 which led to protests, debates and discussions regionally and globally was yet another grim reminder of the forms that violence can take whether it is in situations of conflict or in the daily lives of women in the urban or rural landscape. The intensity of the demonstrations unpacked, albeit gradually, the layers of debate which have always existed but often get lost along the fault lines of varying agendas. What the protests also brought home was the ability and tenaciousness of a group of young men and women to push for reforms irrespective of their own political, social or other affiliations.
Recent debate has insisted on moving away from the notion of women as only victims and as needing “protection”. And not unfairly so. They have shown remarkable courage and resilience in fighting back and coping with the most daunting situations that accompany any form of conflict or violence. Women have taken on roles of heads of households, community leaders, peace-builders and activists amidst a plethora of other traditional roles. And they have also been members of armed groups and armed forces. A study by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in 2001 revealed that women and children constitute around 80% of the world’s displaced persons, despite most of them being non-combatants. It is under these situations that women face the most disproportionate costs where often they are not only dispossessed of the physical safety of their homes but also left to cope with the situation without the male members of the family or community. It is this peculiar situation that pushes women to the forefront in the struggle to reclaim normalcy for themselves and their families and has prompted the international community to take note of women and their position in conflict.
International efforts continue to promote, preserve and protect the rights of women through various judicial tools including international humanitarian law. However, it is time for the discourse to shift in a manner where women are not seen as mere recipients of protective tools but active participants, and taking the lead in the development and implementation of these tools.
The ICRC used this year’s International Women’s Day to turn the focus on the specific hardships of women in prison. This edition of the ICRC newsletter attempts at highlighting these and other aspects of women’s rights, their courage and resilience, issues of international law and other legal tools available to them to protect themselves against violence. We hope that these small yet sure steps contribute towards changing social attitudes and refining official interventions. On this year’s International Women’s Day, let’s remind ourselves once again that humanitarian and human rights law are adequate safeguards for the specific needs and rights of women with reference to all types of violence; but for these laws to work, they need to be respected; they must be applied.
Head of the Regional Delegation