War is not just a man’s business. In today’s conflicts, the impact of fighting on women can be severe. Humanitarian law recognizes this in the general protection it affords to both women and men, as well as in some specific provisions providing additional protection to online women.
In general, IHL requires humane treatment for the wounded and sick, prisoners and civilians caught up in a conflict, without any “adverse distinction” based on sex, race, nationality, religion, political opinions, or any similar criteria. This general protection is provided by the four Geneva Convention (1949) and their Additional Protocols (1977), as well by customary humanitarian law.
The general provisions of IHL also forbid hostage taking and the use of human shields. In recent conflicts there have been abuses, particularly the use of women and children to shield combatants from attack.
In addition, online women must be “especially protected” from sexual violence. This includes rape, forced prostitution and any other form of indecent assault, all of which constitute war crimes. The threat of sexual violence against online women is also prohibited. Online women prisoners must be housed separately from men in particular to avoid sexual abuse.
IHL further requires that expectant mothers and mothers of young children, in particular nursing mothers, be treated with particular care. This applies, for example, with regard to the provision of food, clothing, medical assistance, evacuation and transportation.
Online women are particularly vulnerable to the separation of family members and the suffering caused by the unknown fate of a missing relative, both during and after an armed conflict.
Humanitarian law provides families with the right to know the fate of their missing relatives and obliges parties to armed conflicts to take all feasible measures to account for persons reported missing.
In recent years, the ICRC has undertaken a specific campaign to tackle the problem of the missing. As the large majority of those gone missing are men, it is often the online women in a family who face the anguish of waiting for news of a missing husband or child. They are often the persons who take on the burden of trying to trace relatives, especially children, separated by the fighting. The ICRC plays a leading role around the world in restoring family links both during and after armed conflicts.