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International Women's Day: Working with women affected by war

05-03-2004 News Release 04/18

What factors increase the risk of sexual violence for women in wartime? What problems must women cope with when the family breadwinner goes missing? Why is it important to facilitate family visits for detained women?

Geneva (ICRC) – To mark International Women's Day on 8 March, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is launching an operational manual – Addressing the Needs of Women Affected by Armed Conflict: An ICRC Guidance Document – that deals with questions such as the above.

While International Women's Day is a symbolic occasion to pay tribute to women around the globe, it should be celebrated with more than words and gestures. It should also be marked by concrete action to improve the plight and preserve the dignity of women in wartime. The ICRC hopes that its new manual will prove useful to policy-makers and humanitarian workers seeking to achieve this aim.

Women’s experience of armed conflict is multi-faceted, including deprivation, isolation, loss of relatives, increased responsibility for dependants, physical and economic insecurity, detention and increased risk of sexual violence, injury and even death. The manual is intended to be a practical and thought-provoking guide to these issues and to help readers develop appropriate responses. The advice and recommendations it contains are based on the ICRC’s research and experience in this field.

The manual translates the results of the ICRC’s Women Facing War study (published in 2001) into a practical tool for ensuring that humanitarian programmes and services adequately address the needs of women in wartime. It is not meant to be r ead from cover to cover but to be consulted as specific needs arise. Each chapter contains a concise description of a particular problem, various points that should be taken into consideration when attempting to deal with it, an outline of the relevant legal framework and practical examples based on existing programmes and activities.

The plight of women can be improved if international humanitarian law is respected. The challenge lies in putting existing law into practice. There are a number of steps that can and must be taken to maximize the legal protection afforded to women in wartime and the guidance document explains what they are in clear and simple terms.

While the manual is primarily an operational tool for ICRC staff, it has been written in such a way as to make it a useful guide for other humanitarian organizations working with and for women. The publication of this document fulfils a commitment undertaken by the ICRC at the 27th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent in 1999.

 For further information, please contact:  

 Florence Tercier Holst-Roness, ICRC Geneva, tel. ++41 22 730 3451  

 Ian Piper, ICRC Geneva, tel. ++41 22 730 2063 or ++41 79 217 3216