Conflict, Gender, and Poverty in War-torn Sub-Saharan African Countries

In addition to sharing the burdens of warfare faced by men, women are affected in significantly different ways:

-Sexual violence against women (not necessarily ‘enemy" women) is pervasive in many conflicts. In Sierra Leone, rebel "recruits" have been forced to rape and/or mutilate their mothers and sisters to break their family ties and reinforce their attachment to the rebel forces. In some parts of Africa, rape results in the ostracism of the victim. In the horn of Africa, sexual violence has been used to destroy social capital by humiliating not just the victims but also their husbands and relatives.

-Women are ‘enslaved" to provide services to combatant groups. In Sierra Leone, thousands of captive women provided sexual services, head-carried supplies on bush trails, and produced and prepared food for troops in rebel-held areas.

-Among young women displaced by conflict, prostitution has become a key means of earning a living.

-Conflict has changed the roles of women in society. In Eritrea, following independence, women who had played non-traditional roles in the independence movement faced pressure to return to more traditional roles, sometimes willingly, sometimes not.

-Violent conflict can radically change the roles and situation of women in society. Following the genocide of Rwanda, 68 percent of the population is now female; 50 percent of women are widows, and 50 percent of all households are headed either by women or children.

-Women often play a significant role in promoting conflict resolution and peace building. Grassroots activism by women has significantly contributed to post-conflict transition in Liberia, Mali, Mozambique, Sierra Leone, and Uganda.

-While violent conflict impoverishes women (as it does men, but not always in the same ways); it may also provide opportunities to improve their lot. In destroying social capital, conflict opens possibilities for reconstruction in qualitatively different ways. Post-conflict transition provides opportunities for new, non-traditional leaders and community groups to emerge.

Sources: Bradbury 1995; Richards 1996; Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children 1997; World Bank 1997, 1998.