The impact of wars on women has been the subject of concern for the international community since the end of World War I, and the evolution of international humanitarian law through the four Geneva Convention and the Additional Protocols to the Conventions bear testimony to this. However, the framework of humanitarian law approached the topic from the point of view of ‘protection’ and in particular of ‘protection of women’s honour’, reaffirming the traditional role of women as instruments of biological and social reproduction.

As wars and internal conflicts dominated by the use of arms began to proliferate throughout the world in the second half of the 20th century, greater attention was drawn to the situation of women in conflict situations largely because of the increasing numbers of women affected by conflict and because of the horrific violations suffered by women living in conflict situations. By 1995, the issue was in the mainstream of critical concerns relating to women. The Beijing Platform of Action that was the outcome of the Fourth World Conference on Women dedicated a specific section to the consideration of women in armed conflict. During this period there was also an expansion in the recognition of woman-specific concerns within the humanitarian arena, with organizations such as the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) developing Guidelines for the Protection of Refugee Women.

The conflicts in the former Yugoslavia and in Rwanda in the 1990s brought the brutality of the violence and violations suffered by women during these conflicts. As a result, the network of women’s organizations known as the Women’s Caucus for Gender Justice at the ICC became an integral part of the debates and discussions around the creation of an International Criminal Court. The adoption of the Rome Statute for the establishment of the ICC in 1998 saw definitions of sexual and other forms of violence against women being integrated into the broader definitions of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. In 2000 women’s groups working on the issue of the situation of women living in post-conflict societies and in countries in a process of transition successfully lobbied for Security Council Resolution 1325 which focused on the integration of women into all processes of peace building and conflict transformation. In 2008 the Security Council created Resolution 1820 which focused specifically on the issue of sexual violence in situations of armed conflict.

Much remains to be done, however, in the area of protection and promotion of women’s human rights in conflict situations, in post-conflict societies and in societies in transition, moving away from a framework focusing on the ‘protection’ of women to one that is centered on the ‘protection of women’s human rights’.

It is in this context the IWRAW Asia Pacific seeks to focus the attention of the CEDAW Committee on the issue of women in conflict situations with a view to supporting the creation of a General Comment on the advancement of women’s human rights in conflict situations and in particular the guarantees of non-discrimination and equality that must be an integral part of all programmes designed and developed for the advancement and empowerment of women in conflict situations.    

At the 43rd session of the CEDAW Committee, countries in diverse stages and phases of conflict will present their reports for review by the Committee, and women from women’s organizations in those countries will be present to lobby for the issues they have identified as being critical to the realization of their rights at the national and local level.

By organizing a panel with women representatives from civil society in Haiti, Rwanda, Guatemala and Armenia, we hope to present their experiences and concerns to the Committee we hope to heighten the attention of the Committee to this issue.

The aims of the Panel will be:

  • to present to the Committee the experiences of women who are living/have lived through the experience of conflict;
  • to highlight the key experiences which have been most difficult to address (such as sexual violence and exploitation) due to social constraints and deep-rooted forms of discrimination and inequality in each situation;
  • to point to a few key areas in which intervention is most desired by the women of the country concerned.

The goal of the exercise of organizing the panel are:

  • To ensure that the Committee is informed about women’s concerns regarding the conflict and conflict-related issues so that they may asks crucial questions from the representatives of the government;
  • To initiate a process of discussion with the Committee regarding the creation of a General Comment on the impact of discrimination and inequality on the situation of women living in conflict situations