Photo credit MOHAMMAD HANNON / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
When Women Live… in a warzone, they are at their most vulnerable, and their situation is the most dangerous it can be. We are seeing this now as we watch Syrian refugees fleeing for their lives. In wartime, women and children make up approximately 80% of those leaving their homes to find safety. They are also the highest casualty of innocent lives lost and injured. Most often women and young girls are separated from their families and taken as sex slaves for the military; they are sold, tortured, raped and murdered, they are also burdened by unwanted pregnancy.
Women who already live in a country where male hierarchy exists and where extreme religious ideologies are repressive of women’s rights experience even greater oppression, violence, and abuse when it becomes an active warzone. A report issued by the United Nations (2002) describes this hardship: “The economic, social, political, legal and cultural structures that perpetuate gender inequality are still in place throughout the world, and in no nation do women have complete equality within these structures to participate as fully as men.”
The inequities that women face are overwhelmingly dangerous. The conditions they must endure during initial breakouts of fighting, occupation, flight, and displacement leave them with a lifetime of intensified trauma. Women are left to fend for themselves and their families, and face greater health risks such as disease and malnutrition. The availability of food becomes limited; crops are destroyed, schools and healthcare facilities are closed and destroyed. When placed in a refugee camp, women who become pregnant as a result of rape are forced to choose between living with a high risk pregnancy in impoverished and unhygienic conditions or consider some type of unassisted, “back alley” abortion. Even though they are illegal in most countries The World Health Organization estimates that complications arising from unsafe abortions account for an estimated 25% to 50% of maternal deaths among refugees.
The 3RP (Regional, Refugee & Resilience Plan) has estimated there will be 4.27 million Syrian refugees by the end of 2015. There are 4.1 million currently registered or awaiting registration as documented by UN agencies, NGOs and the countries of Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. In a statement on 11/17/15 by UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, reminds us, “It is not the refugee outflows that cause terrorism, it is terrorism, tyranny and war that create refugees… It is clear that Daesh strategy is not only to set Europeans against refugees, but within Europe, to set citizen against citizen within communities, community against community within countries, and country against country in the Union.”
When Women Live… through war, they become survivors. They become the builders of family and community; they become the caretakers, the educators, the spiritual guides and the threads that will again weave a web of safety. As women, we have a responsibility and an obligation to do what is morally right, to take care of each other. To honor each other.
“Warfare is just an invention known to the majority of human societies by which they permit their young men either to accumulate prestige or avenge their honor or acquire loot or wives or slaves or grab lands or cattle or appease the blood lust, their gods, or the restless souls of the recently dead. It is just an invention, older and more widespread than the jury system, but nonetheless an invention of men. It has been women’s task throughout history to go on believing in life when there was almost no hope. If we are united, we may be able to produce a world in which our children and other people’s children can be safe.”
~ Margaret Mead, “Warfare is Only an Invention,” 1940
Karen Bravo lives in Scottsdale, AZ. She studied International Women's Health & Human Rights at Stanford University. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information:
Global Fund for Women
Women’s Refugee Commission
Doctors Without Borders
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