What is the extent and impact of gender-based violence during and after war? Statistics show that the sexual violation and torture of women and girls has become rife in conflict settings. Data also show that gender-based violence (GBV) does not subside post-conflict; certain types of GBV may even increase. This briefing paper from the United Nations Population Fund argues that while international prevention and response efforts have increased in recent years, much more must be done. A multi-sectoral model which demands holistic inter-organisational and inter-agency efforts across health, social services, legal and security sectors offers the best approach for GBV prevention.
It seems that the nature of warfare is changing in ways that increasingly endanger women and girls. The prevalence of civil war and regional conflict has led to civilian casualties during recent conflicts of up to 75 percent. Although more men than women continue to die overall as a result of conflict, women and children are disproportionately targeted and constitute the majority of all victims of war.
According to a recent Consolidated Appeal Process (CAP) analysis, very little money is dedicated to addressing GBV, resulting in significant limitations in protection and response programming. From 2000 to 2006 only $8,413,560 out of a total $105,754,768 allocated to UN institutions and NGOs for increased protection of vulnerable populations and working more effectively with governments was dedicated to specific GBV programming.
GBV is a cultural challenge. Persistent problems of impunity for perpetrators both reflect and reinforce widespread cultural norms that acquiesce to the inevitability of violence against women and girls in times of peace or of war. GBV is also a political challenge, since inequality is perpetuated through institutions in social, political and economic spheres and at all levels of society. Findings on women’s experience of GBV include the following:
- The motivation for rape committed during armed conflict can be more or less random or systematic. Women and girls are also often used to supply sexual services to combatants.
- Women and girls who experience sexual violence during conflict are often the most vulnerable to further exploitation in post-conflict settings.
- In some post-conflict settings, incidents of rape may decrease, but risk of exposure to forced or coerced prostitution, as well as trafficking, may increase. During flight, women and girls remain at high risk for sexual violence.
- There may be no access to justice and no systems to ensure basic protection to survivors of sexual violence.
- Refugee camps offer limited protection from sexual violence as women often have to go outside camps to search for firewood and other provisions. In addition, overcrowded conditions, insufficient lighting, close proximity of male and female bathhouses and poor or unequal access to resources all increase the likelihood of sexual violence in camps.
A multi-sectoral approach to GBV prevention must promote participation of the constituent community, interdisciplinary and inter-organisational cooperation, and collaboration and coordination among sectors. Close cooperation with local women’s groups is needed, plus, if relevant, representatives from the ministry responsible for women’s and girls’ affairs.
- Programmes to help survivors of GBV need to be implemented to ensure attempts to reconstruct the lives of individuals, families and communities will succeed in the long-term.
- A key principle underlying the multi-sectoral approach is that the rights and needs of a woman or girl who has survived gender-based violence are preeminent.
- Interventions need to challenge normative social values that facilitate GBV, whilst respecting local culture and traditions.
- Fundamental social change which supports women’s human rights as well as equal participation in economic and social development in both conflict situations and in peacetime is essential.