Armed conflict is responsible for disrupting families, communities, and the progress made in human societies. Despite all members of society being affected, the consequences disproportionately hinder women and girls.
In the event of armed conflict, families often leave their homes, possessions, friends, and families behind to seek refuge in host communities, with women and girls composing around 50% of any refugee, internally displaced or stateless population. Forced displacement is a driving factor that leads to a domino effect of negative consequences for women and girls, including their exposure to gender-based violence, loss of education, and lack of access to sexual and reproductive health services.
Exposure to Gender-Based Violence
Gender-based violence against women and girls is used as a weapon of war and includes torture, forced marriage, and sexual violence. It has been estimated that in conflict settings, more than 70% of women and girls have experienced gender-based violence. Women and girls are most often targeted to demonstrate unevenly gendered power dynamics. During the Syrian civil war, the use of sexual violence exploited the explicit social structures that existed in Syria which were based on stereotypical gender roles. The consequences were not just physical and mental, but the use of sexual violence also economically hindered women survivors because their political and social status was taken away from them and they were instead categorized as “victims.”
Loss of Education
The gender gap in education already hinders women and girls, with women and adolescent girls lagging behind men and boys in literacy rates around the world. It is unsurprising that this gap is widened even further during the conflict, where forced displacement means that girls’ access to education is restricted. The lack of education not only hinders their future job prospects but also makes them vulnerable to child marriages. This risk is high in the current conflict in Ukraine, whereby girls are now more likely to be forced out of school and into marriage for their families to make ends meet.
Lack of Access to Sexual and Reproductive Health Facilities
The destruction of infrastructure and health facilities as a result of conflict creates issues for everybody, in terms of access to healthcare, electricity, water, sanitation, and supplies. However, the problem for women and girls is greater due to the additional lack of sexual and reproductive health services. Alongside conflict-related gender-based violence comes a higher risk of pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. In Yemen, the loss of infrastructure meant that only 20% of the remaining hospitals were able to provide maternal and child health services. In 2019, statistics showed that every two hours in Yemen, one woman and six newborns die from pregnancy- or childbirth-related complications, which were predominantly preventable.
Support is Needed
With conflicts continuing around the globe, support for women and girls in conflict-stricken areas is a priority. Support for frontline organizations, which are dedicated to looking out for women and girls impacted by conflict, is encouraged. This includes UNICEF and Amnesty International. The ultimate goal would bring armed conflict to an absolute end. However, in the meantime, educating and spreading awareness of the disproportionate effects of conflict on women and girls, and the role that gender inequality plays in this will encourage more people to take action in fighting for women and girls to become a priority in conflict settings.
– Cheryl Li
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