Women and War

War is not just a man's business. We run training seminars for school groups about the impact of war on women and girls.

Women and War training seminars

New Zealand Red Cross runs training seminars on Women and War for school groups across the country. If you are interested in hosting one of these seminars please contact your local service centre.

The woman's war

In today’s conflicts, the impact of fighting on women and girls can be severe. In the news, we often see distressing pictures and stories of conflicts raging across the world. But often we just see one side. This is the man’s war concerned with tactics, military casualties and numbers, money, power and politics. We don't hear the other side, the stories of women keeping communities going despite the chaos surrounding them.

How women experience war

Like men, women experience war in many ways: as victims, as combatants or as promoters of peace. There is no ‘one’ way that women experience war. War is not easy for anyone. However, women and girls often face extra challenges because of their gender:

  • Across the world about 37 million people - more than the combined population of New Zealand, Australia and all the Pacific Islands - are currently displaced by war. About 70 per cent or 25 million of those displaced are women and girls. It is also common for family members to become displaced, exposing further challenges to women. In certain cultures, women cannot travel unless accompanied by husbands or male family members.
  • Women do not stop getting pregnant or having babies during times of conflict. In fact, statistics show pregnancies increase during times of armed conflict. This is because, during war, women are often cut off from usual family planning services.
  • Rape is now recognised as a crime against humanity and is prosecutable under international law. Sadly, during conflicts, the complete breakdown of law and order means many perpetrators are not punished. This also often means they cannot be stopped from committing this horrible act.

But women are not always passive victims of war. The reality is more and more are taking up arms and joining in the fighting.

Women, wars and law

Women benefit from general protection afforded by international humanitarian law. Along with others they must be able to live free from intimidation and abuse. A specific protection for women also exists, primarily in respect to their health and hygiene needs and their role as mothers. The international community has also recognised the particular impact on women during conflict. The Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security highlights the need to afford greater attention for women and girls during conflict and long-term rehabilitation processes.

However, the tremendous difficulties women continue to face in today’s conflicts do not arise because of gaps in the law. Instead, they occur because the law is not respected or enforced. In many countries, women’s rights are also not adequately respected. This is often due to cultural or religious reasons or because women aren't granted the same status as men. The global community needs to step up its investment in women.

Report by ICRC about women and war

Produced by the ICRC, this document looks into the ways war affects women. 

Women and War