Conflicts and situations of instability exacerbate pre-existing patterns of discrimination against women and girls, exposing them to heightened risks of violations of their human rights.
- Conflict can result in acceptance of higher levels of violence again women and girls, including arbitrary killings, torture and mutilation, sexual violence, and forced marriage. Women and girls are primarily and increasingly targeted by the use of sexual violence, including as a tactic of war. Violence against women and girls also spikes in post-conflict societies, due to the general break down of the rule of law, the availability of small arms, the breakdown of social and family structures and the “normalization” of gender-based violence as an additional element of pre-existing discrimination.
- Trafficking in women and girls is also exacerbated during and after conflict owing to the breakdown of political, economic and social structures, high levels of violence and increased militarism. Also conflict can create particular war-related demand for women’s sexual, economic and military exploitation.
- The lack of delivery of essential services to the population experienced during conflict and situations of strife and instability can have a disproportionate impact on women and girls. Girls can face additional obstacle in accessing education including due to fear of targeted attacks and threats against them and the additional caregiving and household responsibilities that often they are obliged to assume. Women are also forced to look for alternative sources of livelihood as family survival comes to depend heavily on them. Access to essential services such as health care, including sexual and reproductive health services, can be disrupted, with women and girls being at a greater risk of unplanned pregnancy, maternal mortality and morbidity, severe sexual and reproductive injuries and contracting sexually transmitted infections, including as a result of conflict-related sexual violence.
- Internal displacement has specific gender dimensions. Internally displaced women can be disproportionately affected by the loss of livelihoods during displacement. They may for example not be able to practise their livelihoods due to loss of land and livestock. Loss of housing and land can also affect women disproportionally, due for example to the absence of property titles. Other major human rights concerns include inequitable access to assistance, education and training. Internally displaced women often have no access to adequate reproductive health care services and responses and can experience violence and abuse, sexual and labour exploitation, trafficking in persons, forced recruitment and abduction. IDWG are also often excluded from decision-making processes.
- Women’s exclusion from conflict prevention efforts, post-conflict transition and reconstruction processes have been matters of concern for the international community.
Women and girls should not only be seen as victims of conflict and instability. They have historically had and continue to have a role as combatants, as part of organized civil society, as human rights defenders, as members of resistance movements and as active agents in both formal and informal peacebuilding and recovery processes. Post-conflict situations and reforms can be viewed as an opportunity for transformation of the societal structures and norms in place before the conflict in order to ensure greater enjoyment of women’s human rights.
In 2000, UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security recognizing the disproportionate and unique impact of armed conflict on women and girls and women’s role in peace building efforts. In 2008, the Security Council adopted resolution 1820 which recognised sexual violence as a threat to international peace and security. The subsequent follow-up resolutions, 1888 (2009), 1889 (2009), 1960(2010), 2016(2013) 2122 (2013) have focused on preventing and responding to conflict-related sexual violence, and have established a number of mechanisms to this end. They have also reiterated the key role of women in preventing conflict and in peace building, and urged the development of strategies that address the needs of women and girls during post-conflict situations. Finally they have called for specific efforts and measures to integrate gender in all aspects of peace-keeping, peace building and recovery.
In October 2013, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women has adopted general recommendation 30, which provides authoritative guidance to States Parties to the Convention on legislative, policy and other appropriate measures to protect, respect and fulfil women’s human rights in situations of conflict and instability. The Convention and other human rights treaties represent the bedrock of the implementation of the Security Council resolutions on Women, Peace and Security, as the concerns expressed therein all find correspondence in substantive articles of the Convention.