Advancement of women: ICRC statement to the United Nations, 2016

11 October 2016

Advancement of Women, United Nations General Assembly, 71st session, Third Committee, Statement by the ICRC.

Armed conflict is not just a man’s business; the impact on women can be severe. Irrespective of whether they are combatants, deprived of their liberty, migrants, internally displaced, and/or civilians, women face systematic disadvantages. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) recognizes this. Today we would like to share with you: 

  • our operational perspective on the diverse threats that women and girls face; and
  • our humanitarian approach, which recognizes the importance of engaging women as agents of their own protection.

And we intend to illustrate how – through the engagement of women – resilience in the face of the various threats generated by armed conflict can be strengthened.

 Our mission is to protect the lives and dignity of victims of armed conflict and other situations of violence and to provide them with assistance. The ICRC is often present in places where few other humanitarian organizations are operating. Our widely accepted mandate often allows us unique access, including to places of detention, thus gaining first-hand experience of people’s circumstances. We have often seen that the needs of detained women, in particular, are not met; for example, safe and separate facilities are not provided for mothers with infants.

 Women often find themselves having to cope alone as the head of the household; those who have missing husbands often have no clear status under national law – they are neither wives nor widows, which may affect their access to property or guardianship of children. We have also seen that when armed conflict exacerbates the economic situation of women, the rates of, for example, early marriage and human trafficking rise. Furthermore, the usual protection mechanisms against violence are often weakened in times of armed conflict. While this can affect men and boys, it is primarily women and girls who may then be exposed to sexual violence.

 Women and girls are experts on their own situations, so they must be actively involved in decisions concerning their needs. The ICRC recognizes that women are agents of their own protection. We consult with women and girls to understand their specific vulnerabilities and capacities. We involve them in the design and implementation of programmes that build on the positive coping strategies they have developed themselves, or that provide them with alternatives to resorting to harmful coping strategies.

 Engaging women and girls in the development of the humanitarian response to their needs helps empower them and strengthen their resilience. For example:

  • To mitigate the risk of violence during daily activities such as fetching water or working in the fields, women often organize themselves into groups. The ICRC helps them establish timetables and take other steps to ensure that they are able to move around safely in groups.
  • Culturally adapted income-generating activities can reduce the need to resort to harmful coping strategies, such as marrying off children, sending them out to work to support the family, or resorting to prostitution.
  • Informing women of the rights and services to which they are entitled can also empower them. For example, when working with the families of missing persons, the ICRC explains that they should not be required to pay for information about their loved ones, thus reducing the risk of exploitation.

While it is important to recognize women and girls as agents of their own protection and to engage them in the development of the humanitarian response to their needs, we also remind States of their primary obligation to meet the needs of the population under their control. We urge all States to ensure a safe environment for women and girls and minimize the harm to which they are exposed by respecting and ensuring respect for the relevant international norms and standards governing the protection of women and girls, in particular international humanitarian law.