Impact on Men, Women, and Children
The impact of violence and conflict differs by population: Men, women, and children are affected differently by the same phenomenon.
Men Men are more likely to experience direct acts of violence. Coghlan et al. (2006), in their survey of the impact of the conflict in Democratic Republic of the Congo, found that 71% of those who died as a result of violence were men. As noted earlier, a man may be forced to witness the rape of his wife or daughter, or be forced to commit the act himself, in order to degrade and humiliate him (Ward & Marsh, 2006). Not only may they be unable to fulfill their role of protector but also their role of provider. Economic impacts are common and widespread during wartime and unemployment is rife. Access to sufficient food and water can be very difficult. In Democratic Republic of the Congo, 75% of men in one survey reported that they were ashamed because they were unable to provide for basic needs and 78% were depressed due to unemployment (Sonke Gender Justice Network, 2012). This stress can contribute to the occurrence of domestic violence, causing further problems within the household (Giacaman, Rabaia, & Nguyen-Gillham, 2010; Suarez-Orozco, 2001).
For young men, who have traditionally had more freedom than young women, the restraints imposed by conflict can be oppressive. Tavernise (2006) reports that in Iraq, the ongoing conflict resulted in young adults being kept inside their houses. Their parents did not allow them out even for school or work for fear they would be killed. The nature of the sectarian violence caused the loss of friends, due to death as well as increased sectarian allegiances. Tavernise states that due to the lack of jobs and little faith in governmental justice, more young men joined armed gangs and militias, further increasing their risk of death as well as the death of others.
Women Women face many risks during times of conflict; as noted earlier, one of the largest is the risk of sexual assault. Another threat is the increased risk of domestic violence during times of conflict due to the higher levels of stress of their husbands, as noted earlier. Women may also experience restrictions on their movement for a variety of reasons. They may fear attack, they may not be able to go out without a male escort
(who might be missing due to combat), or they might not have the proper documents for free movement (Governance and Social Development Resource Centre, 2009).
The end of conflict does not necessarily mean the end of difficulties for women. Women may face additional burdens due to the death of their husbands. In countries where women do not have equivalent legal standing, they may be prohibited from inheriting their husband’s possessions, lowering them into further poverty. In Iraq, a man’s body is necessary to prove his death, but due to the high rate of disappearance and conflict deaths, this is often not possible and therefore women are unable to receive a widow’s pension (Oxfam International, 2009).
Women who have moved into positions of leadership or employment during the conflict due to the lack of men may lose those positions at the end of the conflict. Women who were involved in the conflict, serving as combatants or sex slaves for example, can have difficulty reintegrating into the community after the conflict. There may be a backlash against them in the community for their actions during the conflict, regardless of whether their participation was voluntary (UNICEF, 2005).
Afghanistan has one of the highest rates of widowhood due to the length of conflict within that country (“Bleak prospects,” 2008). Due to social norms, these women typically lack education and literacy skills. Two widows of the attacks in the United States on September 11, 2001, have founded an organization called “Beyond the 11th” that works to raise money to help the widows of Afghanistan (www.beyondthe11th. org). These women felt that they received a great deal of public support after their husbands’ deaths and that the widows in Afghanistan received none of that. Their organization raises money and partners with other NGOs to help these women support themselves.
Children According to the United Nations (n.d.), there are six “Grave Violations” that occur in armed conflict that negatively affect children: killing or maiming of children; recruitment or use of children as soldiers; sexual violence against children; attacks against schools or hospitals; denial of humanitarian access for children; and abduction of children. As noted earlier, many of these affect adults as well.
Landmines and cluster munitions have been identified as a special risk to the killing and maiming of children. These ordnance often remains in place long after battle due to the time, expertise, and money it takes to clear it. Children are at special risk for being landmine victims because they are less able to read warning signs and less likely to be aware of the dangers of landmines. Children in poor families are at particular risk because these children are more likely to be in mined areas when scavenging for firewood, fetching water, cultivating their crops, or herding animals (Machel, 2001). Additionally, some of the landmines are brightly colored and can appear as toys to a child. The “butterfly” mine, once common in Afghanistan, came in several colors and had a “wing,” creating an attraction to young children (Machel, 2001).
The Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines, and on their Destruction has been adopted by 161 countries. All NATO countries with the exception of the United States have signed it (International Campaign to Ban Landmines [ICBL], n.d.). Since this Convention, the global production of landmines has greatly decreased and there has been no intercountry trade of landmines since the 1990s. While the death rate remains unacceptably high, it is approximately one-third of what it was a decade ago (ICBL, 2012). An international treaty to ban cluster munitions entered into force in 2010 and currently has 111 state parties. Unfortunately, a number of the largest users, including Israel, the United States, China, and Russia, have not joined. However, the United States has put in place a moratorium on export of cluster munitions (Cluster Munition Coalition, 2012).
War and armed conflict disrupt children’s education. While the overall number of children who are out of school has decreased, the proportion of them who live in conflicted areas has increased from 42% to 50% (UNESCO, 2013). While children who are involved with armed groups or who are displaced from their homes by the violence are especially likely to be out of school, children who are not combatants or displaced due to the conflict also have their educations affected. During times of violence, parents are more apt to keep children home in order to protect them. Children can be at risk of becoming targets of violence during their journey to school. They also fear being accused of giving aid to the “other” side during their travels or being forced to help one side or the other (IBON Foundation, 2006). While schools should be a safe place for children, isolated from the conflict, this is too often not the case. The trauma the children have witnessed and the state of fear can inhibit them from concentrating and learning, and malnutrition can impact their cognitive development and thus their ability to learn (Kohli & Mather, 2003; Machel, 2001).
School buildings themselves can also be targets for attack, either for physical destruction or recruitment of child soldiers (Kilpatrick & Leitch, 2004; Machel, 1996; Risser, 2007; Shakya, 2011). Schools are often attacked both by rebel groups as well as official state forces. In countries such as Afghanistan, Colombia, Iraq, and Somalia, schools and teachers have been a repeated target of rebel groups. Schools have been bombed, burned, and forced to closed, while teachers were intimated, kidnapped, or killed (United Nations Security Council, 2012a). Teachers can be a target for armed forces, due to their high status in the community or their strong political views. Teachers in Sri Lanka who tried to protect the children from forced recruitment by armed forces were targeted by guerrillas, while in Colombia, schools are regularly attacked and/or occupied by armed factions and schoolteachers are threatened or killed (Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, 2007; Machel, 2001; United Nations Security Council, 2012a). Readers are referred to Mapp (2013) for further discussion on the impact on conflict on children.