International Women’s Day, 8 March 2002, and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)
Geneva, 8 March 2002. To commemorate International Women’s Day the ICRC takes this opportunity to give an update on some of the recent initiatives and programmes for women in its operations throughout the world.
WOMEN FACING WAR
Women in war face physical attack, including sexual violence, detention, displacement, the loss of relatives gone missing, and difficulty in receiving medical care and assistance.
The ICRC study Women Facing War examines the impact of armed conflict on women. It was launched in October 2001 in Geneva and Pretoria, with additional events held in Washington, London and Melbourne. Follow-up events have been organized in Ottawa and Damascus, and more are to follow this year after the release of the French, Spanish, Arabic and Russian versions of the study.
The publication is accompanied by a series of Women and War posters and fact sheets as well as two films. The first, Women Facing War , is a series of 11 three-minute films in which women describe in their own words how war has affected their lives. Shot in many parts of the world, these films show the courage of women and girls caught up in armed conflict. The second film, Working with Women in War , shows some of the work of the ICRC to benefit the women affected. They explain how the ICRC’s protection, tracing, health and relief activities help them and the impact this has had upon their lives.
The study Women Facing War was published further to requests from a number of external contacts. For the ICRC, however, the study was always intended to be part of its overall commitment to improving the protection and assistance of women affected. However, while the ICRC comes to the aid of victims of armed conflict around the world, the obligation to ensure this protection and assistance rests with parties to armed conflict.
ICRC OPERATIONAL ACTIVITIES FOR WOMEN
The ICRC is committed to ensuring that its programmes for conflict victims throughout the world appropriately meet the needs of women and duly take into account their specific vulnerability. The ICRC can best do this by providing a comprehensive response to all populations affected by armed conflict. This means not designing programmes to cater for the needs of one specific group, but ensuring that in all programmes the needs and vulnerabilities of those affected - be they men or women, girls or boys - are fully taken into consideration. While ICRC objectives and activities target civilians in general and thus benefit women as well, the ICRC has objectives specifically aimed at women in some 30 operational contexts. Below are some of the programmes and activities carried out in selected contexts.
In cooperation with the Sierra Leone Red Cross Society (SLRCS) and the Ministry of Agriculture, the ICRC has just concluded a programme targeting 60,000 vulnerable women such as war widows, displaced persons, or returnees, providing them with local and imported vegetable seeds , farming tools, and training in vegetable cultivation. The project was designed to improve the standard of living of these women by helping them to become self-sufficient in terms of food and invest in their future.
To assess the impact of ongoing programmes in Afghanistan on women, the ICRC’s Women and War Project sent a team to Afghanistan for four weeks. The ICRC has throughout its long presence in Afghanistan carried out activities for women, and the aim of this visit was to look at how the programmes have been changed since the fall of the Taliban. A variety of new initiatives are being introduced for female beneficiaries, such as a mine-awareness project specifically designed for women or the issuing of an information leaflet to show women how to avoid injury resulting from incorrect use of pressure cookers. Another example is a physiotherapy outpatient clinic for women and children with mine injuries and other physical disabilities. At the same time, this clinic will serve as a training centre for female physiotherapy students.
Many of the ICRC’s female staff are back working in its delegation in Kabul and its various sub-delegations throughout the country. Within days of the fall of the Taliban, three female water and sanitation engineers, for example, resumed their former posts with the ICRC in Mazar-i-Sharif.
In December, the ICRC hosted round-table talks on women and war in Pristina with representatives from NGOs and civil society in Kosovo. The aim of this meeting was to present the Women Facing War study and to bring together members of the different communities in order to exchange views on the importance of the role of women in preventing violence in post-conf lict Kosovo. The participants, primarily women, were able to present their experiences of the war in Kosovo and their impact on their lives.
With the aim of making national and international contacts and civil society aware of the problems of women facing war, the ICRC delegation in Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH) has organized a series of events for International Women’s Day. The ICRC has tried to link the problems for women during the war to the post-war difficulties faced by those women who are now alone because of the loss of one or more family member. The occasion of International Women’s Day is being seized to highlight the ongoing problem of relatives missing because of the conflict in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
The ICRC co-hosted five days of events, with the University of Damascus and the Embassy of the Netherlands, on Women and War. This included a presentation on the protection accorded to women in wartime by international humanitarian law by a guest speaker from the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Two speakers from the ICRC presented the key messages of the ICRC’s study, Women Facing War , and the situation of women detained and interned in wartime. Several well known authors from the region also presented their perspectives on women and war. Large audiences attended these events, and several articles were featured in newspapers and television programmes.
The ICRC is continuing its support for the National Society’s psychological rehabilitation programmes for women and children affected by the violence. Financial and technical support is given by the ICRC so that centres for women victims of violence can be set up and supported throughout the country, where women can have access to psycho-social services and professional training in sewing, weaving and embroidery.
And, more briefly, in other contexts:
In Sri Lanka, Burundi, Dakar, and Somalia , ICRC delegations are working to ensure better understanding among community leaders and the general public of the basic elements of international humanitarian law by addressing, among others, professional women’s associations. In Chad , Dakar , and Nigeria , the ICRC is also raising awareness among civil society of the specific protection afforded to women by IHL and the particular impact of war on women.
With regard to women in detention, the ICRC’s delegations in Yemen and Jordan have specific objectives to raise with the authorities and NGO’s to try to improve conditions of detention. In Yemen , the ICRC is piloting a project which aims, in collaboration with the Red Crescent, to ensure that female detainees can maintain contact with their relatives. A similar programme in Armenia has been initiated to increase family visits to women. In Myanmar and Nepal , the ICRC has focused on assessing the particular needs of women in detention. In Colombia, a particularly noteworthy programme is for early breast-cancer detection in prisons.
In Namibia, the DRC, Zimbabwe and Burundi , the delegations are focusing particular attention on protection problems faced by women as members of the civilian population. In Mexico, the delegation continued it training programme for traditional midwives in camps for displaced persons. In Ethiopia , particular attention is paid to the situation of women in relation to programmes in water and habitation, health and assistance activities.
These are just some of the ICRC’s programmes and activities for women; there are many more. The ICRC is providing assistance and protection for women affected by armed conflict or internal disturbances in countries throughout the world. Displaced women, detained women, women heading households made particularly vulnerable by the hostilities, women in need of protection from threats or violence, those searching for their missing relatives and those in need of medical, food and material assistance are seeking out - or being sought out by - the ICRC.
As the ICRC’s study Women Facing War exemplified, it is not easy to separate the impact of armed conflict on women from the impact of armed conflict on men, as they are members of the same families and communities, and the effects on the two groups are closely linked. In reaching this conclusion the ICRC is not backing away from a commitment to the needs of women in wartime. It recognizes that women face terrible hardships in armed conflict and have their own specific needs and vulnerabilities. Moreover, it emphasizes that the lives of women facing war can be improved if huma nitarian law is fully implemented and respected.
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