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International Women's Day: giving a say to displaced women

04-03-2010 News Release 10/30

Geneva (ICRC) – Women displaced by war should be given a greater voice in decisions directly affecting their future, especially those taken by humanitarian organizations and others helping internally displaced people (IDPs), the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said today.

In the run-up to International Women's Day on 8 March, the ICRC is drawing attention to the extraordinary strength and resilience of millions of women displaced by armed conflicts worldwide.

In situations of war and displacement, women's voices often go unheard and their specific needs are overlooked. " The stereotype of women as passive beneficiaries can result in their being excluded from decisions that affect them directly, " explained Nadine Puechguirbal, the ICRC's adviser on issues relating to women and war. " Failure to consult women about their needs and how best to address them diminishes the quality and efficiency of the aid provided. "

The ICRC has been increasingly involving women in planning, implementing and evaluating aid programmes. For example, since women are often responsible for their families'food supplies, the ICRC consults them before deciding what type and quantity of food aid to distribute and to ensure that locations for food distributions are safe and accessible.

Women displaced by armed conflict – often living alone with their children – are frequently exposed to sexual violence, discrimination and intimidation. Many face poverty and social exclusion as well. International humanitarian law therefore includes specific provisions protecting women, for example when they are pregnant or as mothers of young children.

Iraq, where an estimated 2.8 million people have had to flee their homes in recent years (1), is a case in point. Deprived of traditional sources of income, many displaced women are forced to defy social expectations, and adopt a new role as the family breadwi nner, in order to earn money and put food on the table – through whatever means possible, including manual labour.

The situation is especially serious in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where displaced women such as Marie (2), a 22-year-old rape victim, fight to overcome hardship and despair. In addition to the trauma she suffered, Marie was rejected by her community. Nevertheless, with help from the ICRC, she managed to start her own small business and take care of her three children independently.

" Far too often, women are victims of horrific violence and cruelty in times of war, " said Ms Puechguirbal. " But this is not the whole story. Many women also show remarkable grit and determination in coping with their problems, and build new lives for themselves and their families. "

(1) According to the 2009 report of the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre ( ).

(2) Not her real name.

See also interview with Nadine PuechguirbalFacing up to hardship , ICRC adviser on women and war, and photo gallery: .   For further information or to set up interviews with Ms Puechguirbal, please contact:
  Nicole Engelbrecht, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 22 730 22 71 or +41 79 217 32 17