Women in Armed Conflict

Context:  The recent horrifying sexual violence against Kuki-Zomi women by majority Meiteis, in Manipur’s ethnic clashes between the two communities, has yet again woken the country up to the vulnerability of women’s bodies during a conflict. History of Violence Against Women in Armed Conflict in India
  • Women have historically endured numerous unintended consequences and violence as victims during communal riots, conflicts, and wars.
    • These incidents are a reflection of the deeply ingrained patriarchal norms present in various societies, which often result in women being disproportionately affected.
Past Instances of violence towards women:
  • Partition of India (1947): Women from both sides became victims of sexual violence, abduction, and forced conversion. 
    • Estimates suggest that tens of thousands of women were raped, sexually assaulted, or brutally killed during this partition.
  • Bangladesh Liberation War (1971): During the conflict, numerous women were subjected to systematic sexual violence, including rape, abduction, and forced prostitution. 
    • It is estimated that hundreds of thousands of women were victimised, and brutality was perpetrated by soldiers from the Pakistani military.
  • Rohingya Crisis (2017-present): The Rohingya crisis in Myanmar resulted in a mass exodus of Rohingya Muslims to neighbouring countries.
    • Women were subjected to horrific sexual violence, including gang rape, as part of the military’s campaign against them.
    • These acts of violence have left deep emotional and physical scars on the victims and continue to be a severe human rights concern.
 Impact of Conflict on Women
  • Gender-Based Violence (GBV): War and GBV are undeniably interlinked, with women and children being exposed to physical, verbal, sexual, and psychological abuse in times of conflict.
    • Gender-Based Violence is used as a tool in war to assert control, weaken families, carry out ethnic cleansings and genocide, and to discourage resistance and destabilise communities. 
    • According to a 2019-Armed Conflict Location and Event Data project (Acled) report, in both 2018 and 2019, India was amongst the top countries where women are highly vulnerable against conflict related sexual violence.
    • In Afghanistan, 62% of women have experienced all three forms of gender-based violence (GBV): psychological, physical, and sexual abuse.
  • Social Chaos: Conflict enforces the objectification of women and girls, as they are often seen as weapons of war, being used by perpetrators of violence to assert control.
    • Rates of domestic violence and human trafficking commonly spike during times of conflict due to rising instability, poverty, and a weakening rule of law.
  • Displacement: In times of war, women often bear the sole responsibility and risk of getting their families and themselves out of harm’s way.
    • According to UNHCR, more than half of the planet’s 80 million displaced people are women and children.
  • Rise in child marriage: Because war disrupts economies, supply chains, and agricultural production, it often leads to widespread poverty and hunger.
    • Consequently, rates of child marriage go up as families become desperate for additional income or one less mouth to feed.
  • Limited Access to Life-Saving Health Care: As violence and war leads to the destruction of facilities and infrastructure, hospitals and clinics are often demolished and access to health care can become painfully limited.
    • In some conflicts, up to 90 % of casualties are among civilians, most of whom are women and children.
  • Gender discrimination: Armed conflict exacerbates inequalities between women and men, and discrimination against women and girls.
    • It can lead to inequitable distribution of food to women and girls, causing malnutrition and other health problems.
  • Girls’ Education: In conflict and crisis, girls are often the first to be pulled out of school, and the last to return.
    • According to the Global Partnership for Education, girls facing conflict are 2.5 times more likely to be out of school than boys, and are less likely to return following a ceasefire.
  • Lack of Participation: Despite being disproportionately affected by conflict, women are often denied participation in peace talks and conflict prevention or reconstruction.
    • In 2020, women represented only 23% of delegations in UN-supported peace processes, according to UN Women.
  • Differential Impact: Nature of a conflict determines its impact on women.
    • The current wars in the Middle East do not have the same effect on women as the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar.
  • Economic Exploitation: Post conflict, women often get engaged in labour markets that involve low-paid, low-skilled jobs, self-employment in the informal sector and family labour, which often go unnoticed.
    • Women perform 66 % of the world’s work, produce 50 % of the food, but earn 10 % of the income and own 1 % of the property.
  • Institutionalized Oppression: In India’s Northeast region, which has witnessed insurgency and armed conflict for decades, women have been affected by human rights violations, loss of family support, economic hardship, and social stigma.
    • in October 2013, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah admitted to registering more than 5000 cases of rape since 1989 armed rebellion against Indian rule began.
    • Legislations such as the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA), which gives immunity to the Indian Army from law for human rights abuses, have proved to be a major hindrance against the elimination of sexual violence in conflict in India.
International Efforts to Prevent Exploitation of Women in Armed Conflict
  • Geneva Conventions (1949): Article 27 says that “Women shall be especially protected against any attack on their honour, in particular against rape, enforced prostitution, or any form of indecent assault.”
  • UN Security Council Resolution 1325: This resolution reaffirms the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts, peace negotiations, peace-building, peacekeeping, humanitarian response and in post-conflict reconstruction.
  • Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW): This convention obliges its signatories to eliminate discrimination against women and promote gender equality.
  • Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court: This statute recognizes sexual violence as a war crime and a crime against humanity.
  • The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC): The ICRC works to ensure that women and girls are protected from sexual violence and other forms of gender-based violence during armed conflicts.
Way Forward
  • Increase the participation of women in conflict resolution at decision-making levels and peacebuilding efforts, as well as in post-conflict reconstruction and development.
  • Provide protection, assistance and training to refugee women, other displaced women in need of international protection and internally displaced women.
  • Supporting women’s economic empowerment and livelihood opportunities, especially for those who are widowed, displaced, or heads of households.
  • Improving women’s access to health care, education, water, sanitation, food, and shelter, taking into account their specific needs and vulnerabilities.
  • Providing psychosocial support and counseling to women and girls who suffer from trauma, stress, or grief due to armed conflict.
  • Promoting women’s legal rights and access to justice, especially for those who face discrimination, violence, or exploitation.
  • Respecting women’s cultural and religious practices, and ensuring their freedom of movement and expression.
  • Raise awareness about the impact of armed conflict on women and girls.
Quote: “It has probably become more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier in an armed conflict.” – PATRICK CAMMAERT, FORMER UN PEACEKEEPING COMMANDER
 News Source: The Hindu

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