Reproductive Health for Communities in Crisis
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
- 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.