International Rescue Committee (IRC)

Women’s Empowerment and Protection

Ruth Famah, 20, used a loan to set up a vegetable stand in a local market. Under a special project designed to help vulnerable and impoverished girls and women learn a trade and start up their own businesses, the IRC is training some 350 girls in business development, as well as life skills, such as conflict management, health awareness and decision making.
Photo: Peter Biro/IRC

Violence against women is one of the most widespread of human rights abuses. One out of every three women worldwide will be physically, sexually or otherwise abused during her lifetime. During times of war and conflict, sexual violence is used to terrorize and humiliate women and girls. Survivors often suffer further victimization by family and society. The International Rescue Committee works to break this cycle of violence by helping survivors to heal, delivering care to victims of sexual assault, and by bringing women together for mutual support. Through innovative skills programs, we help women gain economic independence. In all of our programs, the IRC is committed to the full empowerment and participation of women and girls.

The IRC's work at a glance

  • The IRC provides health care, counseling and safe spaces to survivors of sexual violence in more than 17 countries.
  • Every year we train and educate some 2.5 million men and women in ways to prevent sexual violence.
  • Our economic empowerment programs increase women’s income and ability to provide for oneself and their family.
  • The IRC works to strengthen national and international laws against sexual violence and the exploitation of women.

Vision Not Victim

A 16-year-old girl tries on a future as Congo's minister of defense and human rights

The IRC's Vision Not Victim Project enabled adolescent girls in the Democratic Republic of Congo to envision a positive future for themselves, and by sharing their ambitions, create change in their lives and communities. Watch the Video»

Learn more about the IRC's women's empowerment and protection programs

The bodies and spirits of women and girls are the forgotten frontline in conflicts throughout the world. Sexual violence is not just a by-product of war; it is a strategy of combat systematically used to terrorize and humiliate.

The consequences of violence against women are debilitating and many: risk of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, damage to reproductive organs, and broken bones. The psychological and social consequences are equally as devastating, as the prevailing stigma associated with sexual violence often leaves women isolated and increasingly vulnerable. The trauma a survivor experiences goes beyond her own suffering, also rendering great costs to her family and community.

The threat of assault follows women and girls as they flee conflict. And it lingers long after fighting ends. In war-torn regions where destruction, displacement and lawlessness breed yet more violence, women increasingly face abuse in their homes and may be forced to exchange sex for survival.

Around the world, the IRC helps survivors heal and works with communities and institutions to break the cycle of violence. As first-responders in emergencies, the IRC works hands-on to deliver urgent care and referrals for victims of assault. In longstanding crises, we provide safe spaces for women to come together for support and to build skills at our women’s centers. And in the aftermath of war, such as in West Africa, the IRC addresses the root causes of violence against women by helping them gain greater economic independence and play a more meaningful role in decision-making.

Through grassroots campaigns that channel women’s voices about their experiences, we work with partners to reach out to men and boys to change attitudes that foster violence against women. We also advocate with government officials to advance laws preventing violence against women, and enforce policies ensuring survivors’ access to care and legal justice.

The recovery of communities devastated by war relies heavily on the participation of women and girls. The IRC works to foster conditions in which women and girls not only survive the effects of conflict, but ultimately thrive.

Turning oppression into opportunity

The IRC helps survivors of sexual violence heal and educates and empowers vulnerable women and girls. Learn more about our work featured in "Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into 
Opportunity for Women Worldwide" on PBS. Learn more. »


In Focus: Domestic violence

An IRC report on post-war West Africa shows women continue to suffer violence at alarming levels and with shocking frequency. The primary threat to their safety is not strangers or men with guns; it’s their husbands.  Read the report. »