Written on women’s bodies: conflict and women’s health
Saturday is the International Day of Action on Women’s Health. While I was thinking of the best way to explore the topic, it occurred to me that a very obvious link between health and women’s rights is the human body itself, or in this case women’s bodies.
Violence against women in war
Let me explain myself better: violence against women is written on the bodies of individual women, particularly in conflict zones. For instance, most female victims of the atrocities of the Ugandan war were raped, with some parts of their bodies mutilated. It has been widely documented that women’s bodies were used by members of the Lord’s Salvation Army to achieve military control and spread fear. The same occurred in Peru where female victims of the armed conflict were forced to undress and were raped. Again, women’s bodies were used as a trophy to claim victory, humiliate the enemy and, demonstrate prowess in the face of the opponent.
Different forms of abuse of women’s bodies such as forced sterilisation, forced pregnancy, and forced prostitution are consistent evidence that women’s bodies are the spoils of war.
Offering women access to healthcare is the smallest contribution to the relief of pain or injuries inflicted on their bodies. Health as a concept implies consideration of women’s well-being, and by that token access to justice as a means of achieving part the healing of women’s survivors of violence.
Access to health services cannot be effective without considering the different elements that are parts of women’s lives, and the link that exists between violence against women and women’s bodies. Healthcare providers need to understand that most of the time there is a silent history beneath the wounds or pain experienced in women’s bodies which needs to be explored.
Policymakers need to understand that healthcare provision cannot be just a simple equation of supply and demand, and that private sector involvement is not a recipe for the improvement of the quality of health services. There are complexities that need to be acknowledged and realities that cannot be ignored in the making of a health policy.
Womankind have worked on different projects worldwide aiming both to support female survivors of violence in claiming their rights to access comprehensive and sensitive health services, and changing policy and practices on health. This is what we have learned:
- Sensitisation of service providers on violence against women is not enough.
- Advocacy for the implementation of health protocols recognising the reality of female survivors of violence is imperative in order to establish good practices for women survivors of abuse.
- Access to justice for women survivors of armed conflict is a fundamental part of their healing process.
- Post conflict plans needs to include access to health and specialised services provision for women victims of rape and sexual abuse.
- We have also learned that peace building processes and post conflict processes should include: voices, concerns and priorities of women survivors of sexual violence as a way to informed quality health plans that offer women’s survivors of abuse full recovery.
- Approaches to women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights which focus solely on health provisioning, and do not account for the role that unequal power relations between women and men play, will only have limited success.
Post by our Head of Programmes, Reineira Arguello. Please consider making a donation to support our work fighting violence against women in Africa, Asia and Latin America.