The Forgotten Frontline: The Effects of War on Women
For women, the dangers of war go far beyond the violence of combat. In situations of armed conflict, women suffer some of the greatest health and social inequities in the world. They risk human rights violations, suffering and death that can and should be prevented.
A war-gutted health system can be a death sentence for both mother and child in countries where even the peace-time risk of dying from pregnancy is staggeringly high. In wealthy nations, like the US, death due to childbirth is so rare that when it happens it makes headlines. In poor nations, there’s a common saying: “a woman who is pregnant has one foot in the grave.” In war zones this risk worsens.
When rape is used as a weapon of war and lawlessness prevails, women become targets from all sides in a conflict. Sexual violence is systematically employed to harm and demoralize individuals, break apart families and terrorize communities. For women and girls, the threat of violence remains long after fighting ends. Once having escaped the conflict, they still may be forced to exchange sex for survival and protection of their children. During displacement, they also face a growing threat of domestic violence.
The recovery of families, communities and nations devastated by war relies heavily on the health capacity and empowerment of women and girls. Remarkably, in the face of such adverse circumstances, women demonstrate extraordinary strength, courage and spirit in keeping themselves and their families going. The International Rescue Committee helps foster an environment in which women and girls not only survive the effects of conflict, but ultimately thrive.
The IRC is especially committed to the protection of women and girls, providing them with life-saving care, helping them heal, and reconnecting them with safe, healthy and supportive communities. In some 21 war-affected countries around the world, from emergency to post-conflict settings, the IRC works in partnership with local and international organizations to make a difference in the lives of women and girls.
The IRC saves women’s lives by providing emergency obstetric care and treatment. We train local health workers and traditional birth attendants to make delivery safe. By providing women with access to family planning, we help prevent the multiple pregnancies that increase the risk for complications in childbirth.
The IRC also focuses on providing services and programs to meet the needs of women and girls who have suffered violence, instituting measures to protect their rights and taking action when those rights are violated or endangered. We work with women and girls to help them gain the skills, self-assurance and opportunity to speak on their on behalf and strengthen their economic, social and decision-making power.