The specific situation of women affected by armed conflict was one of the issues addressed by the 27th International Red Cross and Red Crescent Conference (Geneva, October 1999). The ICRC took this opportunity to pledge that it would take appropriate action to assess and address the specific protection, health and assistance needs of women and girls affected by armed conflict to alleviate the plight of the most vulnerable. It insisted on the need for all parties to a conflict to respect women and girls, and emphasized that all forms of sexual violence are prohibited.
Despite a full panoply of laws to protect women in war, including international humanitarian law, human rights law and refugee law, women continue to suffer unnecessarily in wartime, because the laws that are meant to protect them ar e all too frequently not respected and/or implemented. The ICRC is determined to increase its efforts to ensure that these laws are implemented and it will continue to strengthen, where necessary, its action in favour of women affected by armed conflict.
The title of the ICRC study on the impact of armed conflict on women, and the accompanying video, is Women facing War. For the ICRC, this title summed up the fact that women are faced with the day-to-day consequences of hostilities in trying to go about their lives, and facing the dangers, obstacles and losses in trying to hold together their lives and those of their families, as well as the fact that some women face war as members of armed forces or groups. The Women
facing War study describes the numerous initiatives that the ICRC has undertaken to try to ensure and reinforce observance of legal instruments designed to protect women and girls affected by armed conflict and is endeavoring to ensure that its conclusions and recommendations are translated into action.
Just as the situation faced by women in wartime varies from place to place and from context to context so too do the responses needed to assist and protect women who have suffered or who are suffering from their exposure to war. The situations and contexts faced by these women are often unique and each needs to be assessed in its own right; programmes therefore are often required to be tailored to the specific realities that the ICRC encounters in its assessments in the
field. In practical terms this means, for example, that a programme in one country to assist women who have survived sexual violence may not be appropriate in another country (and sometimes even within different parts of the same country).
The ICRC's commitment to Women and War is just as strong - if not stronger - today than it was in 1998 when the study was initiated. Its work for women facing war will cont inue. Yet, the fact remains that women are suffering unnecessarily in wartime. Why? For the simple reason that the laws to protect them, of which there are many, are all too frequently disregarded. The challenge is to increase respect for and implementation of these laws.
Head of Women and War Project