Armed conflicts have ravaged the world for centuries at an end. During the two world wars, women played a pivotal role in keeping the supply chains and economies standing; however, they remained the worst sufferers when the battle ended on the field. Even though men take up guns to fight for the nation in most cases, the women suffer the aftermath of all the bloodshed. Women and children are amongst the most vulnerable groups during an armed conflict. For instance, during the Rwandan genocide in 1994, thousands of women and children were raped and killed.
On the other hand, women who survive the massive atrocities often live their lives with a horrific memory of abuse, violation, bloodshed and death of their families. Since women and young girls are most often used as sex slaves by military personnel of the winning army, they incur sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), have to live with stigmatization from society, and, in some cases, become victims of unwanted pregnancies. Despite all the mental trauma and physical abuse, women are then expected to undertake the daunting task of keeping their families together and safe after displacement, providing food, clothing and shelter in what is, in most instances, destroyed infrastructure for their children and their families.
Over 630 Million Women And Children Affected Globally
According to Medical News Today, armed conflicts affected 630 million women and children globally in 2017. Researchers also stated that in the last 20 years, warfare has resulted in the deaths of more than 10 million children under five years of age, including between 6.7 and 7.5 million infants. Until 2019, more than 50 state-based conflicts worldwide lasted for over two decades in more than 35 countries. There is the frequent deployment of chemical and explosive weapons in urban areas in modern warfare, and there is pervasive sexual violence. Combatants also engage in hybrid forms of war, including cyberattacks, that disrupt local life.
Until 2017, one in ten women lived within 50 kilometres of an armed conflict, which had displaced them from their homes. The danger goes beyond mere violence for people living in areas close to a warzone. Several studies have proved how the risk of dying from non-violent causes substantially increases with chronic conflicts. Women of childbearing age are three times more likely to die than women residing in peaceful settlements. Moreover, infants are also 25 per cent more likely to die young.
Aside from the need to avoid fighting, shortages of skilled healthcare workers and funding and the politicization of warfare hamper humanitarian efforts. Military conflicts disproportionately affect women and children. The increased risk of injury, both physical and mental, is at a time when public health services are either destroyed or massively reduced. A woman is more affected by the war than men because of the indirect economic changes during and after the war.
Women And Children Account For 80% Of Displaced Population
According to a report published by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), women and children accounted for more than 80 per cent of the displaced population due to armed conflicts. Young girls and women constitute the majority of refugee camps that lack proper sanitation and healthcare facilities. Those displaced during the war and conflict end up residing in refugee camps for years, thus putting them at risk of increased sexual and physical assault. Temporary settlements often do not distribute food, water and emergency medicines in times of need. Traffickers usually demand a sum of money for safe passage from the place people are fleeing to their destinations. When refugees cannot pay or pay enough, women and girls are often sexually abused and trafficked.
During wars, the economic activity increases to make up for adequate resources for those fighting on the forefront. An increase in the women workforce is a slight positive that uplifts women; however, lesser salaries and remuneration puts them further at risk of discrimination. Since women take up low-skilled or lower-paid jobs while providing care to children and the elderly, their efforts often go unnoticed. Even though many economic opportunities open up for women in the face of war, women-led households end up vulnerable and prone to poverty compared to male-led homes. Unfortunately, the vast economic situations of families have carried down the generations.
Increased Political Space For Women
However, conflicts provide women with increased space on the political stage. Moreover, war often challenges the pre-existing governing systems and leads to a situation where women have a more significant role in parliamentary representation. However, women cannot formalize these political gains to benefit in a post-conflict situation. Only one-third of the democracies that have faced recent military conflicts have women representation of 30 per cent or more in their political spheres, a report published by the United Nations Security Council in 2012 mentioned.
Briefing the Council, Jean-Marie Guéhenno said that, over the past year, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations had taken concrete steps to implement resolution 1325 (2000), working on such issues as increasing the number of women in peacekeeping operations; integrating a gender perspective in peacekeeping operations; training in gender awareness and HIV/AIDS issues; preventing and responding to serious misconduct by peacekeeping personnel; and trafficking. Currently, women made up 4 per cent of the total police personnel in peacekeeping missions, and figures were equally low for the military, he said, urging the Member States to continue their efforts to provide more women for service in those areas.
After the second world war, military conflicts that have had a massively disproportionate effect on women and children have significantly reduced. However, war affects women and children more than it affects men cannot be countered. In the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict, Ukraine has forbidden men aged 18 to 60 years from leaving the country; however, women and children have been displaced to safehouses and shelter homes. While the move has a noble intention, the fact that women would now have to step forward to fend for their families while providing care once again highlights the vulnerability of the gender.