Violence against women and girls is endemic in conflict areas, and its consequences are both devastating and lasting – not only for the individual, but for the entire community. Sexual violence is not just a by-product of war; it is also often a strategy of combat, used systematically to terrorise and humiliate.
The consequences of violence against women are debilitating and many: the 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 International Rescue Committee 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 centres. In the aftermath of war, 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.
Working at the grassroots level, the IRC helps women to make themselves heard in speaking about their experiences. We work with partners to help influence men and boys and to change the 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.
The crisis within a crisis – protecting women and girls in humanitarian emergencies
On October 16th 2012 IRC-UK held a high level policy roundtable at Ditchley Park which focused on responding to and preventing violence against women and girls in the immediate aftermath of a humanitarian emergency. Read more about the conference and access reading materials here.