Gender-Based Violence in Conflict Zones

June 4, 2024

Gender-Based Violence in Conflict Zones

After we held this year's Equity for All event, which included a focus on maternal mortality, it's crucial to draw attention to the plight of women in the world’s conflict zones.

One in three women worldwide experience physical or sexual violence, mostly by an intimate partner. Violence against women and girls is a human rights violation, and the immediate and long-term physical, sexual, and mental consequences for women and girls can be devastating.

Conflict zones are deadly for everyone, but disproportionately so for women and girls. More than 600 million women and girls lived in conflict-affected countries in 2022, a 50 per cent increase since 2017.

Today, we are drawing your attention to two of the world’s most violent conflict zones receiving little US coverage because we believe our mission calls us to do so – those in Gaza and in Sudan.

According to a recent press release by UN Women, at least 10,000 Palestinian women in Gaza have been killed, among them an estimated 6,000 mothers, leaving 19,000 children orphaned. Every day the war in Gaza continues, at the current rate, an average of 63 women are killed. The current death toll remains hard to calculate due to the extreme danger of the live conflict, but historically women and children are disproportionately affected by war, and we expect that to continue to be the case.

From unwomen.org

More than one million Palestinian women and girls in Gaza also face catastrophic hunger, with almost no access to food, safe drinking water, functioning toilets or running water, creating life-threatening risks. Mayadah Tarazi, working with YWCA Palestine, wonders how many years, or decades, it will take to rebuild Gaza. “It will take time for reconstructing and rebuilding Gaza… This is the worst war.” Gazans are waiting to go back, but their homes, businesses, and services lie under the rubble. [1]

In another conflict that has received significantly less coverage in the US, Sudanese women are withstanding the worst of a vicious war that began in mid-April between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF).[2]

More than 6 million people have been displaced since the new war erupted, including an estimated 105,000 women who are currently pregnant, according to the United Nations. Of the 1.2 million who have fled to neighboring countries, nearly nine in 10 are women and children. The healthcare system in Sudan is crumbling– 70 to 80 percent of hospitals in conflict areas are not operational – with devastating consequences for women in need of maternal health care. [3]

Sexual and gender-based violence has also become an epidemic in Sudan. According to the World Health Organization, more than four million women and girls are at risk of sexual violence. As of January 2024, at least 15,000 people had been killed in the Sudan war and 33,000 others were injured, and by May, more than 7 million were internally displaced and more than two million others had fled the country as refugees. [4][5]

Why this Matters

As one of the largest women’s movements globally with locations in more than 100 countries, we at YWCA believe it’s our mission to speak out and remind folks of how disproportionately armed conflicts affect women and children, and how important it is for all of us to help women achieve peace, safety, dignity and empowerment.

A woman’s right to live free from violence is upheld by international agreements such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the 1993 UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women. However, without people making those agreements happen, they are just paper. We need action from regular people to reduce violence and discrimination and keep women safe.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, former president of Liberia and the first elected female head of state in Africa, wrote in November 2023 about how women’s safety and empowerment can change a country’s trajectory.

“When I was given the privilege of serving as president of Liberia, I assumed responsibility for rebuilding a nation nearly destroyed by war and plunder. I saw first-hand how essential women’s empowerment was in moving a country towards reconciliation. Let us – all of us – contribute to that effort.”

How you can help:

  • Donate to or volunteer for an aid organization working in an affected area
  • Educate your network about gender-based violence
  • Contact your local representative about gender-based violence, conflict and its effects on women and girls

  • [1] UN Women, April 2, 2024, “We need real action”—Palestinian women speak of hope and resilience
  • [2] Al-Jazeera, Do not ignore the suffering of Sudanese women, 24 Nov 2023, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
  • [3] Ibid
  • [4] DTM Sudan - Monthly Displacement Overview (March 2024)
  • [5] Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, United Nations, May 2024

By: Liz Backstrom

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