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Women and War

Women experience conflict very differently from men. Women are increasingly playing an active role as combatants during conflict and must be treated with due respect in this capacity - for example, international humanitarian law (IHL) requires that women prisoners of war must be housed separately from men.

Female civilians caught up in conflict also experience particular issues. Women are particularly vulnerable to the separation of family, both during and after an armed conflict. Women in the civilian population also take on major responsibility in families and communties for coping with other consequences of armed conflict, especially when the health and security of civilian populations is not respected. After an armed conflict, women often play a key role in rebuilding communities and peace and security.

International humanitarian law seeks to prevent and alleviate suffering during times of war without discrimination based on sex. However, IHL recognises that women must often confront particular issues during war, such as sexual violence and risks to their health. Indeed, in today's conflicts, the impact of fighting on women can be severe.

This online conversation will seek to explore key issues relating to the way women experience war, the various ways in which women are protected during armed conflict and the ways in which protections for women have developed under IHL.

Dr Helen Durham

Dr Helen Durham is Head of International Law and Principles for Australian Red Cross and a Senior Fellow at Melbourne Law School. Helen has a PhD in international humanitarian law and is admitted as a Barrister and Solicitor of the Supreme Court of Victoria. Helen has a long history with the Red Cross, having worked as Head of Office, International Committee of the Red Cross in Sydney, Australia, and National Manager of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) for Australian Red Cross.

Helen has been involved in a range of international negotiations in New York, Rome and Geneva and has done short missions with the ICRC in Burma, Aceh and the Philippines. She is widely published in academic journals and teaches in the Masters of Law program at Melbourne University. Dr Durham was recently invited to join the editorial board of the world's preeminent journal on IHL, The International Review of the Red Cross, and is also currently one of only a handful of IHL lawyers in the world to assist the ICRC in an update of the commentaries to the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols, in particular, provisions relating to special protections for women.