Experience in Kenya and beyond has shown that while entire communities suffer the consequences of armed conflict and terrorism, women and girls are particularly worse affected because of their status in society and their sex. It has been proven that it does not matter whether the conflict is cross-border, foreign occupation, internal civil conflict, inter-ethnic...or any other - Parties to conflict often rape women with impunity, sometimes using systematic rape as a tactic of war and terrorism.
The impact of violence against women and violation of the human rights of women in such situations is experienced by women of all ages, who suffer displacement, loss of home and property, loss or involuntary disappearance of close relatives, poverty and family separation and disintegration,
The other facts are that it is women who are victims of acts of murder, terrorism, torture, involuntary disappearance, sexual slavery, rape, sexual abuse and forced pregnancy in situations of armed conflict, especially as a result of policies of ethnic cleansing and other new and emerging forms of violence.
This is compounded by the life-long social, economic and psychologically traumatic consequences of armed conflict and foreign occupation and alien domination in conflict situations.
Veteran Editor at the African Woman and Child Features, Jane Godia says: War has always impacted men and women in different ways, but possibly never more so than in contemporary conflicts. While women remain a minority of combatants and perpetrators of war, they increasingly suffer the greatest harm.”
Ms. Godia says in contemporary conflicts, as much as 90 percent of casualties are among civilians, most of whom are women and children. Women in war-torn societies can face specific and devastating forms of sexual violence, which are sometimes deployed systematically to achieve military or political objectives.
She says Women are the first to be affected by infrastructure breakdown, as they struggle to keep families together and care for the wounded. And women may also be forced to turn to sexual exploitation in order to survive and support their families.
Although entire communities suffer the consequences of armed conflict, women and girls are particularly affected because of their status in society and their sex. Parties in conflict situations often rape women, sometimes using systematic rape as a tactic of war.
Other forms of violence against women committed in armed conflict include murder, sexual slavery, forced pregnancy and forced sterilization.
“Even after conflict has ended, the impacts of sexual violence persist, including unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections and stigmatization. Widespread sexual violence itself may continue or even increase in the aftermath of conflict, as a consequence of insecurity and impunity,” says the Editor.
She told a national media workshop that coupled with discrimination and inequitable laws, sexual violence can prevent women from accessing education, becoming financially independent and from participating in governance and peace building.
Despite this, women should not be viewed solely as victims of war/conflict. They assume the key role of ensuring family livelihood in the midst of chaos and destruction, and are particularly active in the peace movement at the grassroots level, cultivating peace within their communities.
However, Ms. Godia says that the absence of women at the peace negotiating table is undeniable. Moreover, women continue to be poorly represented in formal peace processes, although they contribute in many informal ways to conflict resolution.
In recent peace negotiations, for which such information is available, women have represented fewer than 8 percent of participants and fewer than 3 percent of signatories, and no woman has ever been appointed chief or lead mediator in UN-sponsored peace talks.
The Veteran Journalist and editor says that: “Such exclusion invariably leads to a failure to adequately address women’s concerns, such as sexual and gender-based violence, women’s rights and post-conflict accountability. “
The media workshop with representatives from all regions of the country heard that the Platform for Action, adopted by the Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing in 1995, identified the effects of armed conflict on women as one of 12 critical areas of concern requiring action by governments and the international community, and stressed the need to promote the equal participation of women in conflict resolution at decision-making levels.
It was told that gross human rights violations and policies of ethnic cleansing in war-torn and occupied areas continue to be carried out. These practices have created, inter alia, a mass flow of refugees and other displaced persons in need of international protection and internally displaced persons, the majority of whom are women, adolescent girls and children.
Speakers said that Civilian victims, mostly women and children, often outnumber casualties among combatants. In addition, women often become caregivers for injured combatants and find themselves, as a result of conflict, unexpectedly cast as sole manager of household, sole parent, and caretaker of elderly relatives.
They said that equal access and full participation of women in power structures and their full involvement in all efforts for the prevention and resolution of conflicts are essential for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security.
Although women have begun to play an important role in conflict resolution, peace-keeping and defence and foreign affairs mechanisms, they are still underrepresented in decision-making positions.
They argue that If women are to play an equal part in securing and maintaining peace, they must be empowered politically, militarily, economically and represented adequately at all levels of decision-making.
Said one of the lead speakers: “In addressing armed or other conflicts, an active and visible policy of mainstreaming a gender perspective into all policies and programmes should be promoted so that before decisions are taken an analysis is made of the effects on women and men, respectively.”
He said that this is then followed by increasing the participation of women in conflict resolution at decision-making levels and protect women living in situations of armed and other conflicts or under foreign occupation.
It is from this background that gender sensitive reporting becomes paramount. This is the journalist’s ability to find a gender angle to their stories and also tease out Gender issues they were going to address. The journalist must be able to use a gender lens by looking soberly and balanced at issues that affect both men and women.
Ms. Godia says: “Gender sensitive reporting depends on whether a journalist is gender sensitive. Most newsrooms have ghettoised gender sensitive reporting. The problem is that Gender-related stories are seen as “women’s issues” or “soft” news that only women journalists or “lady reporters” can cover.”
She says that Women journalists are not allowed to cover “hard” news — especially conflict stories. So conflict reporting loses a gender perspective. Women journalists/editors are sent to gender training programmes but men are not.
The Editor argues that Women are as effective as men in reporting hard news and violent conflict. In conservative areas where female victims feel uncomfortable talking to a male reporter, a woman reporter may be able to uncover the truth.
However, There should be no need for a special focus on gender sensitive reporting because if reporters do their jobs properly — that is, they are fair and ensure the views of those affected are reflected properly - then the gender.