With more than 230 million women and girls around the world who live in areas affected by conflict or disaster, all too often, women and girls in high-risk areas are even more likely to suffer gender-based violence and other serious human rights violations, including sexual violence.
These problems go beyond the physical and economic fallout of crisis, often extending into the very marrow of life for women and girls affected by conflict. An attack on a woman or girl may also provoke ongoing stigma, harassment, violence, sexual harassment, or even death.
Hear From Female Victims: Women and Girls Affected by Disasters Reunite
Women and girls from countries like Syria, Palestine, Liberia, Burundi, and Chad, to name a few, as well as people around the world, are making an unprecedented push to humanize and lift the voices of female victims of conflict. The most successful strategies for mitigating and ending abuse must entail concerted advocacy and vocal activism by men and boys, as well as women and girls.
So, how can we prevent and respond to acts of gender-based violence during and after conflict?
From sex trade to severe human rights violations, we find some common themes in the human stories behind these cases: Intimidation, violence, and harassment against women and girls before, during, and immediately after a conflict may make them more likely to be victims of abuse; gender-based violence may be linked to reconciliation and peace-building efforts. In times of crisis, entrenched conflict that continues to wage on women and girls is often compounded by hate and violence targeting communities with traditionally defined identities of gender and sexuality.
Marginalized women and girls in these situations face unique challenges that further compound and intensify their abuse. It is women and girls who, as victims of genocide, war, and natural disaster, require extra urgent attention and care. Being unable to access a workable economic or social life can lead to abuse, abuse that often presents as the only option for protection. Activists like Asia Russell are working to help marginalized and vulnerable women and girls find dignified paths to recovery in a post-conflict world.
An impressive list of advocacy organizations and agencies, actors and actors, and others offer support for international efforts to focus on the rights of victims of domestic and sexual violence in conflict and post-conflict settings. Women and Girls International, for example, works on both international and regional levels to train, empower, and develop the human rights defenders who are dedicated to gender-based violence work, while others work to ensure that these women and girls do not meet the immediate needs of food and shelter.
The United Nations and its member states have made progress in recognizing and addressing gender-based violence in conflict situations, human rights situations, and post-conflict settings, and their funding and technical assistance to these groups has increased in the past three years. Notable organizations like Women Impacting Public Policy (WIPP) and the International Conference of Assistants (ICAP) have placed special focus on gender-based violence throughout their annual conferences and symposia. Organizations like the International Women’s Foundation have launched programs to educate the general public about the broader issues of gender-based violence, refugee issues, and humanitarian issues in general.
This past December, the Inter-Parliamentary Union called on governments, regional bodies, and multilateral development institutions to continue to focus on preventing and responding to gender-based violence in post-conflict situations, and asked world leaders to convene the first ever meeting on women, peace, and security.
Beyond working to support advocacy efforts in this area, we must also understand and prioritize the needs of female survivors of sexual violence and hold ourselves accountable for the safety and freedom of these women and girls who were exploited, abused, and harassed, where they want to go and how they want to live. Good government and law enforcement cannot come fast enough.
We must not lose sight of the fact that women and girls affected by violence are not “chosen” or “chosen” as victims of harm. They are victims like everyone else. We must take action to address the ways in which these forms of abuse intersect with poverty, gender-based discrimination, politics, culture, and religion. Without a concerted and dedicated effort to fight gender-based violence, women and girls may never recover from their experiences and rejoin a harmonious and supportive society.
Jayson Benham is associate director of the U.S. Department of State�