The harsh reality is that while some of us are comfortably laid back on the couch thinking about what to eat at dinner or about our plans for Saturday night, millions of people are living under a war scenario , such as in Syria, South Sudan and Libya. Wars create negative intertwines of factors that put women in critical situations. Arguably, this could be considered an over simplified statement that does not account for the role of women as soldiers and combatants, but the purpose in this article is to highlight the consequences of armed conflicts to the health of the general population of women.
Often, during armed conflicts women become a weapon of war where their bodies are a battlefield. One of the reasons for this is the fact that women and children symbolize the pillar and stability of society, thus they are targeted for vengeance and to instill terror. For instance, a report from the UNFPA (2013) says that an estimate of 10.000 women and girls are at risk of experiencing sexual violence in the South Sudanese civil war. Frequently, women and girls are raped and forced to marry, seeing their lives reduced to sexual slavery.
Plus, in many cases women who have been raped are rejected by their husbands and family, as they are believed to bring shame to the household. If there is a pregnancy as a result of the rape the stigma rises exponentially, resulting in both mother and child, who represents the enemy’s offspring, being marginalized by society. Sometimes, women opt by performing abortions in unsafe conditions which can lead to serious complications and even death. Survivors of sexual assault also suffer from a wide range of health issues, such as injuries in reproductive organs and fistulas. Furthermore, the prevalence of HIV/AIDS is striking during an armed conflict, mostly due to the sexual violence that incurs of it.
The forced displacement and lack of access to basic medical care and reproductive health care services also undoubtedly have a negative effect on women’s health. These factors cause higher rates of maternal mortality, neonatal mortality, birth defects and pre-term births.
Apart from physical lesions, women victims of sexual violence have to carry a heavy psychological trauma, often associated to depression, anxiety, insomnia and fatigue. Besides, the dishonor associated to rape can prevent women from seeking help even after the end of the war.
Additionally, when there is food scarcity women tend to be more affected, mainly due to cultural reasons that dictate that men and boys should eat first, followed by women and girls. Thus making women more vulnerable to malnutrition.
Moreover, many women end up with injuries for life, which will hamper their ability to work and make a living and this will result in more poverty and vulnerability to contracting diseases with no possibility of seeking medical care.
Scenarios of war are also prone to human trafficking, being women once again a group vulnerable to this atrocious crime. This trafficking trend not only happens during war, but post-war as well. Often, the presence of international and local military in the post-war is a driving force to women trafficking as there is a high demand for sexual services. In many cases, trafficked women and girls are abused by those who were supposed to protect them. Moreover, women who suffered from sexual violence during war are more subjected to trafficking due to the social isolation in which they are forced to live in the aftermath. The high instability of national institutions is as well a factor that contributes to human trafficking, since there is an inability to enforce the law and stop criminal activities.
What is equally worrying is the fact that when the war is over, in most cases there aren’t appropriate mechanisms of assistance that are able to substantially help these women. They should receive proper counselling, medical treatment and be offered solutions to overcome the marginalization, such as income generation programs and hence avoid double victimization.
Often, these acts of savagery against women are a reflection of the gender inequality that was present before the beginning of the conflict. War simply creates a chaotic and anarchic situation that destroys morale and justifies brutality and murder. Thus, to address these problems it is not enough to simply label these occurrences as consequences of war. It is necessary to go deeper and study the issue in a cultural and sociological perspectives. Many scholars try to unravel the roots of wars and many things are said about which factors lead to wars and gender based violence. However, meanwhile millions of women are being displaced, raped and killed and theories can’t help them in the short run. Fortunately, many people dedicate their lives helping those in need by assisting women and children in the rebuilding of a life that at some point was robbed from them. For instance, the WomenForWomen organization is dedicated to the implementation of programs to empower women in post war situations. Furthermore, the International Rescue Committee offers reproductive health care, counseling and shelter to women and children victims of violence during conflicts.
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