Advancement of women: ICRC statement to the United Nations, 2015

13 October 2015

United Nations, General Assembly, 70th session, Third Committee, item 29 of the agenda, statement by the ICRC, New York, 13 October 2015.

As we mark the 15th anniversary of UN Security Council resolution 1325 and the 20th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration, women and girls are at the forefront of the international agenda. However, the reality on the ground is that much still remains to be done to ensure the protection and address the needs of women and girls in armed conflict. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) recognizes the acute humanitarian consequences of armed conflict on women and girls, and strives to ensure their protection under international humanitarian law (IHL).

From the ICRC's experience in the field, we see first-hand the devastating effects of conflict on women and girls. They remain particularly vulnerable to forced displacement, random and targeted acts of violence and other suffering which can constitute serious violations of IHL.

Victims are always at the centre of the ICRC's action. This approach ensures tailored, safe, participatory and equal access to humanitarian aid for women, girls, men and boys affected by conflict.

Nevertheless, women remain vulnerable to specific risks during armed conflict and have particular needs that must be addressed. For example, we see that while also affecting men and boys, it is predominantly women and girls who are exposed to sexual violence, widely acknowledged as one of the most traumatic experiences a person can ever suffer.

Rape and other forms of sexual violence constitute appalling crimes that are prohibited by IHL. States should provide safe and confidential access to medical care for the victims. Sexual violence must be duly investigated and prosecuted, while always preserving confidentiality.

In addition, women and girls are often left alone, carrying the grief of loss even as they have to assume a new role as heads of households, in charge of the protection and livelihood of their families when men are killed, wounded, detained or missing.

Yet women often struggle to exercise property rights, work or move freely, which restricts their ability to be providers.

Despite the terrible effects of conflict, women often display remarkable strength, as evidenced by the vital roles they assume in their communities, protecting and supporting their families.

Humanitarian interventions must take this into account, involving women and girls at all stages and designing targeted support to address a variety of specific individual needs. This is reflected in the ICRC's approach, which is to deliver a tailored and feasible humanitarian response. For example, while some women may need support to become self-reliant and avoid negative coping strategies, others will require assistance in assuming their caretaking role.

Developing adapted and informed responses requires a proper and systematic analysis of the different vulnerabilities related to gender, age and disability.

Finally, the "do no harm" principle should remain at the centre of any response. We must always ensure that the support provided will not fuel additional violence within the community or the household, and will not exacerbate existing discrimination.

The ICRC would like to recall that States bear the primary responsibility to respect and ensure respect for IHL. To achieve this, their domestic legislation needs to be in conformity with IHL by integrating special protection and respect for women and the absolute prohibition of all forms of sexual violence.

In 2011, the 31st International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent adopted a four-year action plan, urging States and components of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement to take specific action enhancing protection for women in armed conflict. In view of the forthcoming 32nd International Conference, the ICRC stands ready to continue supporting States in fulfilling their existing commitments to protect women and prevent violence against them, and to ensure respect for IHL and other applicable norms.