"Women and Peace, Women Managing Conflict", Statement for International Women's Day

08 March 2001

Around the world, wars between and within nations continue to wreak havoc on the lives of millions of civilians caught up in the conflicts. Recent years have seen an alarming increase in ethnic strife in which civilians are actually singled out for attack. Women, who, along with children, make up the vast majority of those affected, are especially vulnerable; they are entitled to better protection and support. Women also have an essential role to play in preventing and ending conflicts.

Throughout history, women and girls have been routinely assaulted and raped during armed conflicts and as refugees, often as part of a systematic campaign of “ethnic cleansing” or political domination. Shamefully, such offences are still all too common in today’s world, and the perpetrators are rarely apprehended or punished.

There has been progress on one level, however: the international community now acknowledges that these atrocities are war crimes and crimes against humanity. In a landmark decision last month, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia convicted three individuals of rape and enslavement of women as a crime against humanity, the first such convictions in cases that did not result in murder.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reports that some 22 million people are refugees, asylum seekers or internally displaced, as a result of war, famine, persecution or natural disaster. One in four are women of reproductive age; most lack access to the most basic reproductive health care, including contraceptive services or counselling. Their vulnerability to sexual violence puts them at high risk of contracting HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections. Those who are pregnant—about one woman in five—face a heightened risk of malnourishment and infectious diseases, and are subject to hazardous conditions when giving birth.

The International Conference on Population and Development (Cairo, 1994) recognized the need to ensure women’s reproductive rights and provide reproductive health care in crisis situations. Since then, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), in partnership with the World Health Organization, United Nations Children’s Fund, UNHCR, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and others, has worked actively to meet reproductive health needs and address sexual violence in conflicts.

With support from international donors, the UNFPA has supported emergency reproductive health projects in more than 30 countries. These projects provide:

  • Family planning including contraception;
  • Antenatal care, safe delivery and post-natal care;
  • Management of sexual violence and rape, including emergency contraception;
  • Treatment and prevention of sexually transmitted diseases including HIV/AIDS.

In addition to protecting women and girls from violence and safeguarding their health, the international community has increasingly recognized that the absence of women from decision-making councils cripples efforts to forestall conflict, and also impedes peacemaking, peacekeeping and post-conflict reconciliation. Last October, the United Nations Security Council held a special meeting that affirmed women’s potential contribution to peace and security.

“For generations,” Secretary-General Kofi Annan told the Council, “women have served as peace educators, both in their families and in their societies. They have proved instrumental in building bridges rather than walls. They have been crucial in preserving social order when communities have collapsed.” And yet, he noted, “Women are still grossly under-represented at the decision-making level, from conflict prevention to conflict resolution to post-conflict reconciliation.”

The Secretary-General pledged that the United Nations would make “special efforts to recruit more women for our own peacekeeping and peacemaking missions, and make all our operations more aware of gender issues.”

On this International Women’s Day 2001, the UNFPA hails these efforts, and welcomes the international community’s growing attention to issues related to women and war. As the Secretary-General observed, “Women, who know the price of conflict so well, are also often better equipped than men to prevent or resolve it.”

We use cookies and other identifiers to help improve your online experience. By using our website you agree to this. To learn more, including how to change your settings, see our cookie policy