Women, Armed Conflict, and International Law
The role that gender plays in determining the experience of those caught up in armed conflict has long been overlooked. Moreover, the extent to which gender influences the international legal regime designed to address the humanitarian problems arising from armed conflict has similarly been ignored. In the early 1990s, prompted by extensive media coverage of the rape of women during the conflict in Bosnia Herzegovina, the international community was forced to critically examine the capacity of international law to respond to such crimes. The prevalence of sexual violence, is, however, merely one aspect of the distinctive impact of conflict on women. Although a range of factors influence the way individual women experience armed conflict, the endemic gender discrimination that exists in all societies is a common theme: from Cambodia, where women land-mine victims are less likely to receive treatment for their injuries than are men; to South Africa, where women widowed during the Apartheid years have become outcasts in their own society. To date, the extent to which international law addresses the myriad of ways in which women are affected by armed conflict has received little attention. This work takes the experience of women of armed conflict, matches it with existing provisions of international law, and investigates reasons for the silence of the latter in relation to these events for women. It is the first broad-based critique of international humanitarian law from a gender perspective. The contribution of the United Nations, through its focus on human rights, to improving the protection of women in armed conflict is also considered. The authors underscore the need for new approaches to the issue of women and armed conflict, and canvass a range of options for moving forward.