UNFPAState of World Population 2004
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HOME: STATE OF WORLD POPULATION 2004: Reproductive Health for Communities in Crisis
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Reproductive Health for Communities in Crisis

Safe Motherhood
Family Planning
Sexual and Gender-based Violence
HIV/AIDS and Other STIs
Adolescent Reproductive Health
Gains and Gaps

Sexual and Gender-based Violence

Rape has been a feature of armed conflict for centuries, often employed systematically to humiliate, dominate or disrupt social ties among the “enemy”.

In a number of conflicts since ICPD, including those in Bosnia, Rwanda and Kosovo, civilian populations have been deliberately targeted by sexual violence, drawing the attention of the human rights and women’s movements and the international press.

Less attention has been given to the women and girls who, during flight and in refugee settings, may be forced to offer sex in exchange for food, shelter or protection. Domestic violence and marital rape also rise significantly among displaced populations, as many men who have lost jobs, status and stability take out their frustrations on their partners.

The impact of violence, especially rape, can be devastating. Physical consequences may include injuries, unwanted pregnancies, sexual dysfunction and HIV/AIDS. Survivors may face exclusion from family life and social isolation. Damage to mental health may include anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and suicide. Many survivors will not report rapes and others may feel powerless to do so.

Until recently, there were few attempts to prevent sexual and gender-based violence in times of conflict or displacement. But various initiatives targeting conflict-affected populations have shown that it can be prevented, by:

  • Raising awareness about and condemning sexual violence as violations of human rights and a threat to public health;

  • Supporting education and information campaigns;

  • Promoting safety measures for women in displacement camps, including adequate lighting, security patrols, the safe location of services and facilities, and ensuring that water, fuel, fodder and other provisions can be obtained without having to venture too far;

  • Advocating for the enactment and enforcement of laws and policies against sexual and gender-based violence, and providing training for police and judges;

  • Involving men to promote behaviour change.

UNFPA supports such efforts, along with treatment and counselling that help create a feeling of safety, and provide opportunities to talk about violent experiences—all of which are vital for recovery. Counselling and education can help family members and communities to accept and support women who have been violated. Training on how to help victims of sexual violence can improve the sensitivity of health workers’ responses. Medical and psychological treatment includes emergency contraception, counselling and reproductive health services.

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