Date: 5 April 2022.
Note: though the term “women” is used throughout, this report is inclusive of gender identities such as non-binary and intersex individuals.
Women are uniquely impacted by humanitarian crises and conflict. This document provides a summary of the findings and recommendations by the UN and other international institutions on incorporating women’s rights into humanitarian responses. Women play a key role in peacebuilding and conflict responses, and, as the UN Secretary-General states, “No effective response can be gender-blind.” Recent humanitarian emergencies, including in Sri Lanka, Northern Ireland, the Congo, and Bosnia and Herzegovina demonstrate the disparate impacts of conflict on women.
Conflict and humanitarian emergencies can place women and girls at heightened risk of sexual violence, interpersonal violence, forced marriage, forced pregnancies, forced abortions, and health-related concerns. Gender-based violence in humanitarian emergencies can take place in several forms, including sexual violence perpetrated by opposing forces in conflict, increased vulnerability to sexual and domestic violence, and survival sex (in exchange for food, shelter, and/or protection). Conflict and humanitarian emergencies disrupt the availability of resources traditionally available for survivors of gender-based violence such as law enforcement assistance and social services such as women’s shelters, as well as broader social networks of friends and family that can provide assistance to survivors. Humanitarian emergencies also place women and girls at risk for trafficking. The UN Office of Drugs and Crime states that “international actors active in settings affected by conflict have a crucial role to play in preventing and countering trafficking in persons.”
Women’s access to essential healthcare services, including acute and preventative healthcare services, is often disrupted by humanitarian emergencies. This can result in a greater risk of unplanned pregnancy, maternal morbidity and mortality, severe sexual and reproductive injuries, and long-term impacts from untreated STIs, such as infertility. Additionally, lack of access to screening services, including mammograms and cervical cancer screenings, can result in poor long-term health outcomes for women whose access to healthcare is disrupted. Finally, traditionally gendered necessities can be overlooked in humanitarian responses. Examples of these necessities include menstrual products, prenatal vitamins, prescription medications (including birth control and gender-affirming hormones for transgender and intersex individuals). Given the societal taboos that can accompany reproductive health and menstruation, these essential items can be overlooked in humanitarian responses.
Certain groups of women and girls are particularly vulnerable to gender-based violence in conflict settings. Targeted ethnic groups, unaccompanied women and children, children in foster care arrangements, the lone female heads of households, elderly women, women with physical or mental disabilities, members of the LGBTQIA+ community, and women held in detention or detention-like settings are particularly vulnerable.
Conflict and humanitarian emergencies affect women and girls in unique ways, from increased risks of gender-based violence to exposure to human trafficking to limited access to healthcare services. As humanitarian responses continue, inclusion of women’s unique experiences should be included in the response.