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Advancement of women: Implementation of the outcome of the Fourth World Conference on Women

11-10-2002 Statement

Implementation of the outcome of the Fourth World Conference on Women and of the special session of the General Assembly, entitled "Women 2000: gender equality, development and peace for the twenty-first century". United Nations, General Assembly, 57th session. Statement by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), New York, 11 October 2002

Mr. Chairman,

The plight of women affected by armed conflict has been the focus of significant attention in recent years, as manifested by numerous debates, resolutions and studies, both within the United Nations and beyond. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) welcomes the increased attention paid to this issue, and has accordingly sought to contribute to the reflection.

To increase understanding of the impact of armed conflict on women, and in order to improve its response to their needs, the ICRC has carried out a study entitled Women facing War, which was published in 2001. The study examines a number of specific issues such as personal safety, displacement, access to health care and hygiene, maintenance of family links, as well as detention and internment. For each of these, the study provides an outline of the problem, a review of international law and of ICRC's operational response, and a set of recommendations.

Some of its conclusions can be highlighted today.

First, while so many women share a common fate of deprivation, separation and violence, their experience of war is as diverse as their roles in war-torn societies. Some women take part in hostilities, whether directly or not. Others participate as active members of social or political groupings, and almost all assume essential responsibilities for their household and communities. Often, war forces them into unfamiliar roles where they develop remarkable coping skills. This clearly demonstrates that women cannot be merely considered as passive recipients incapable of taking charge of their own destiny.

The study therefore recommends th at women be involved in the planning, implementation and evaluation of programmes carried out in their favour. This would help ensure that their specific problems and needs are taken into account throughout the programme life cycle, and that they are not being exploited or abused in exchange for assistance.

Another important conclusion is that, on the whole, the protection provided by the combined regimes of international humanitarian law, human rights and refugee law, is adequate. The main challenge lies in implementation and respect of existing norms.

This is well illustrated by the issue of sexual violence. Such acts are already prohibited by international humanitarian law. What often lacks is effective national repression, which requires not only domestic laws but also proper investigation and punishment when crimes have been committed. Other measures such as adequate training, clear military orders and directives for arms bearers are also essential.

Mr. Chairman,

In order to help raise awareness and make the findings of the study more generally available, the ICRC has produced a variety of related material including films, fact sheets, and posters. We have learned that these tools are helping governments, organisations and individuals to better understand the needs of women in wartime, and that they have found their way into such diverse fora as military classrooms and universities where international humanitarian law is being taught. It is hoped this will contribute to a better protection of women in the future.

For its part, the ICRC has developed a plan of action to implement the key findings of its study. The plan contains a series of short- and long-term objectives which aim to improve, where necessary, our programmes. The Committee is also in the process of formulating guidelines on the protection and assistance of women in situations of armed conflict, which should be made public at the end of 2003.

Mr. Chairman,

It is incumbent upon us to better support women through the hardships of armed conflict and to prevent violations of their rights. To this end, constant efforts must be made to promote knowledge of and compliance with the obligations of international humanitarian law. The protection accorded to women and girls must become reality.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.