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8 March 2005 – International Women’s Day: working with women affected by war

04-03-2005 News Release 05/14

Geneva (ICRC) – Musu is on her own with five children to feed in a country that lies in ruins; her husband was killed during the conflict in Liberia.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) endeavours to help women like Musu meet their family’s needs and, through them, rebuild lives and communities devastated by armed conflicts.

Hundreds of thousands of women worldwide suffer the effects of armed conflicts. They end up as refugees or displaced persons, are taken captive, are wounded or disabled, fall victim to aggression and sexual violence. More often than not they are alone to look after their families, in unstable and deprived conditions. In such circumstances, women are not passive victims; they must and can find lasting and unifying solutions.

The Commission on the Status of Women has convened at United Nations headquarters in New York to assess the progress made in implementing the Platform for Action drawn up at the Fourth World Conference on Women, held in Beijing in 1995. The ICRC views this as an opportunity to measure the steps taken in the past ten years for more effective management of the effects of armed conflicts on women. By studying, coming to grips with and acknowledging women’s specific needs in armed conflicts and the role they play in meeting those needs, the ICRC has been able to attune its programmes even more finely to such situations and to put women in a better position to take charge of their lives.

Some progress has been made, in particular where women have been actively involved in the decision-making process and have shouldered responsibilities. All too often, however, women are still the most secluded members of communities affected by armed conflict. They do not know their rights; they are invisible in the public domain, afraid to express their concerns or confronted by s tructures of authority from which they are excluded.

The challenge of Beijing therefore remains to be met, and a sustained effort needs to be made to eliminate all forms of violence and discrimination against women and girls. In the context of armed conflicts, international humanitarian law must be respected, in particular so that women are protected and can play an active part in the survival and reconstruction of their communities.

Today, Musu is able to meet her children’s needs thanks to a market-garden project set up by the ICRC for widows and women heads of household. The energy she has put into her work has instilled a sense of pride and freedom. Many women can be given similar responsibilities and thus alleviate the suffering caused around them by armed conflicts, if they receive tangible support from their communities.

Information for the media: on 7 March, Ms Gabrielle Nanchen, member of the International Committee of the Red Cross, will address the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations in New York, on behalf of the ICRC.

 For further information, please contact:  

 Antonella Notari, tel.: + 41 22 730 22 82 or + 41 79 217 32 80