Women, armed conflict and international law
30-09-2002 Article, International Review of the Red Cross, No. 847, by Helen Durham
“IHL takes a particular male perspective on armed conflict, as a norm against which to measure equality. In a world where women are not equals of men, and armed conflict impacts upon men and women in a fundamentally different way, a general category of rules that is not inclusive of the reality for women cannot respond to their situation.”
A number of feminist academics increasingly maintain that international humanitarian law (IHL) continues to fail women. The authors of an excellent new book entitled Women, Armed Conflict and International Law, from which the above quotation is taken, have argued this point in an articulate and aggressive manner for many years. The crux of the debate is the “all victims” approach taken by international humanitarian law and the ICRC, versus a specific gender-based analysis of social norms. These two ways of grappling with the horrors faced by women in times of armed conflict do not sit easily together. Dialogue between their respective proponents (feminist academic and operational) can at times tend to be disjointed, as the starting points differ. However, it must never be forgotten that the general aim of reducing suffering is exactly the same for both sides, and that each side has something valuable to learn from their divergence of views.