International Women’s Day: Helping women take matters into their own hands – ICRC

March 9, 2012 12:43 pm 

By Ben Cal

MANILA, March 8 – In armed conflict, men bore the brunt of casualties, nevertheless, women also suffer tremendously.

On the occasion of International Women's Day, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is calling for more action to help women caught in the cobweb in the armed conflict to “meet their specific needs and regain dignity and hope, while emphasizing the responsibility of parties to a conflict to search for the missing and provide information for the families.”

"Women all over the world have shown an extraordinary capacity to overcome hardship and take their fate into their own hands," said Maria-Teresa Garrido Otoya, the ICRC's adviser on issues relating to women and war.

"Given half a chance, they find novel and effective ways of providing for themselves and their families."

Beyond the anguish of not knowing what happened to their husbands, sons or other relatives, women in these situations face daunting difficulties.

In many cases they have lost a breadwinner, they struggle to provide such basic necessities as food for their families and education for their children.

"They also face legal and administrative challenges when it comes to such things as claiming their husband's property or their eligibility for public assistance to ease their families' economic hardship," said Ms Garrido Otoya.

"In addition, they are often stigmatized in their communities. For example, not knowing whether their spouses are alive or dead, many do not dress or behave like widows. Their communities are unable to understand their behaviour, leaving them with no one to turn to for support," she said.

The ICRC endeavors to provide a whole range of support to address the specific needs of women with missing loved ones.

In Libya, families are still approaching the organization on a daily basis in the hope that it can help find out what became of their loved ones. In Iraq, the ICRC helps women whose husbands have gone missing by helping them set up small income-generating activities, like running a shop or working as a hairdresser.

In Nepal, the ICRC makes counseling available and helps set up support groups to relieve some of the distress and difficulty that the wives and mothers of missing persons experience. In the support groups, women come together and are able to share their suffering, sometimes even when they and their families were formerly on opposite sides in the conflict.

Under international humanitarian law, everyone has the right to know what happened to missing relatives. ICRC said it is the responsibility of parties to a conflict to search for the missing and to provide the families with information on their fate, and this obligation continues after the end of the armed conflict.

Authorities must see to it that the needs of the families of missing persons are met, ICRC added.

The most effective and appropriate way of doing so is to provide women heading households with the tools to fend for themselves without outside help. (PNA) RSV/RBC/mmg


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