Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

Women and War: Trauma and Healing

A guide of search strategies for and selected resources on the topic of Women and War.

Trauma and Healing

According to UN Women, "War, violent conflict, terrorism and violent extremism have differential and devastating consequences for women and girls. In the face of this, women are all over the world are leading movements for peace and to rebuild communities, and there is strong evidence suggesting that women’s participation in peace processes contributes to longer, more resilient peace after conflict."

  • Between 1992 and 2019, women constituted, on average, 13 per cent of negotiators, 6 per cent of mediators, and 6 per cent of signatories in major peace processes worldwide. About seven out of every ten peace processes did not include women mediators or women signatories (Council on Foreign Relations, 2020)

  • The International Rescue Committee "estimates that 14 million refugees and displaced women and girls were subjected to sexual violence in 2019" (International Rescue Committee, 2019)

Organizations

Finding Organizations and Reports

Web searches are a good way to find organizations working in the field of international human rights. Oftentimes, there will be an international organization coordinating efforts and funding grants, and their reporting will share grant recipients working on the ground in particular communities. Both the larger and smaller organizations will publish reports on best practices in their field, or share impact stories about a specific community.

There are also a few databases that search this type of material, often referred to as gray literature.

Reference

Bhattacharyya, A. (2017). Women as victims of war. In P. Joseph (Ed.), The SAGE encyclopedia of war: Social science perspectives (pp. 1868-1870). SAGE Publications, Inc. https://doi.org/10.4135/9781483359878.n741

This encyclopedia entry addresses how structural gender inequalities affect women in war time. It provides an overview of the different types of violence women endure and strategies international organizations employ to support recovery, reconstruction, and reconciliation. .

Reports

Numerous organizations working to support women negotiating the trauma or war and healing report their efforts in a number of mediums such as impact stories, frameworks, and site- or region-specific reports. Here is a small sample of different communications sharing these stories.

 UNIFEM, United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations, & UN Action against Sexual Violence in Conflict. (2010). Addressing conflict-related sexual violence: An analytical inventory of peacekeeping practice. https://www.unwomen.org/-/media/headquarters/media/publications/unifem/analyticalinventoryofpeacekeepingpracticeonli.pdf?la=en&vs=1006

Abstract: This report captures best practices and emerging elements for a more effective response by peacekeepers to women's security concerns. From initiating firewood patrols in Darfur to establishing market escorts, night patrols and early-warning systems in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the document catalogues direct and indirect efforts to combat sexual violence during and in the wake of war.

International Committee of the Red Cross. (2014). Sexual violence in armed conflict. International Review of the Red Cross: Humanitarian Debate: Law, Policy, Action, 96(894). https://international-review.icrc.org/sites/default/files/irrc-894-sexual-violence-in-armed-conflict.pdf

This special issue of the International Review of the Red Cross includes journal articles focused entirely on sexual violence in conflict, including policy issues and humanitarian law, response, and recovery.

International Rescue Committee. (2019). Safety first: Time to deliver on commitments to women and girls in crisis. International Rescue Committee. https://www.rescue.org/sites/default/files/document/4263/ircgbvpolicyreportint2.pdf

This report highlights some of the links between GBV [gender-based violence] and key SDGs [Sustainable Development Goals] to show where GBV prevention and response needs to be integrated across sectors to address the double disadvantage faced by women and girls in crisis....Conflict and crises also lead to shrinking freedoms for women and girls and GBV increasing within communities.

Scholarship

Fobear, K. & Baines, E. (2020). Pushing the conversation forward: The intersections of sexuality and gender identity in transitional justice. The International Journal of Human Rights, 24(4), 307-312, https://doi.org/10.1080/13642987.2019.1673980

This special issue of The International Journal of Human Rights focuses on gender, sexuality and transitional justice. This introduction states, "Global attention around sexual and gender minority rights has risen significantly within the past decade, in large part thanks to the tireless efforts of transnational lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and intersex persons (LGBTI) activists. Yet, while global discourse and research on sexual and gender minorities builds, there remains a reluctance and resistance to systematically incorporate sexuality and gender identity in development and human rights policy and practice." Check out the table of contents for the entire special issue here.

Baines, E. (2019). Complex victimhood and social reconstruction after war and displacement. In M. Bradley, J. Milner, & B Peruniak (Eds.), Refugees, peacebuilding and resolving displacement: Shaping the struggles of their times (pp. 97-114). Georgetown University Press. https://muse.jhu.edu/chapter/2292931/pdf

This book chapter demonstrates the resolution of displacement can be understood as a struggle to overcome social exile as much as physical exile by reclaiming membership in humanity and in particular communities.

Berry, M. E. (2017). Barriers to women’s progress after atrocity: Evidence from Rwanda and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Gender & Society, 31(6), 830–853. https://doi.org/10.1177/0891243217737060

Researchers have recently documented the unexpected opportunities war can present for women. While acknowledging the devastating effects of mass violence, this burgeoning field highlights war’s potential to catalyze grassroots mobilization and build more gender sensitive institutions and legal frameworks. Rwanda and Bosnia-Herzegovina serve as important examples of this phenomenon, yet a closer examination of both cases reveals the limits on women’s capacity to take part in and benefit from these postwar shifts. This article makes two key contributions. First, it demonstrates how the postwar political settlement created hierarchies of victimhood that facilitated new social divisions and fractured women’s collective organizing. Second, it argues that while war creates certain opportunities for women, a revitalization of patriarchy in the aftermath can undermine these gains. Drawing on more than 250 interviews with women in both countries, this article ultimately questions the extent to which postwar mobilization can be maintained or harnessed for genuine gender emancipation.

Berry, M. E., & Rana, T. R. (2019). What prevents peace? Women and peacebuilding in Bosnia and Nepal. Peace & Change, 44(3), 321–349. https://doi.org/10.1111/pech.12351

Abstract: There is an emerging consensus that women must play a more substantial role in transformations from violence to stability. The UN Women, Peace, and Security framework recognizes the unique challenges women face during war and affirms the important role they play in the prevention and resolution of conflicts. Despite this framework and other related efforts, peace remains elusive for many who have lived through armed conflict. What prevents formal, internationally led peacebuilding efforts from fostering sustainable peace in ordinary citizens' lives? Put differently, despite the variety of peacebuilding mechanisms offered, what prevents peace from taking hold, for women in particular? In this paper, we focus on two postwar cases: Bosnia and Nepal. Drawing on interviews with more than seventy women in both countries, we identify five barriers that prevent women from feeling at peace in their daily lives: economic insecurity, competing truths, hierarchies of victimhood, continuums of violence, and spatial and temporal dislocation. We conclude by outlining ways that women in both countries work to overcome those barriers by pioneering innovations in peacebuilding, which may reveal possibilities for future interventions.

Erdener, E. (2017). The ways of coping with post-war trauma of Yezidi refugee women in Turkey. Women’s Studies International Forum, 65, 60–70. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.wsif.2017.10.003

Abstract: This study shows the strategies for coping with the post-war trauma of Yezidi refugee women who escaped from the Sinjar genocide by ISIS in August 2014. The interviews that became the basis of this research were done only for the psychological support of the women staying at the Diyarbakir Refugee Camp in Turkey between January and March 2015. This research was shaped with aim of understanding the women, sharing their experiences, and being these women's voices, therefore the interviews given by Yezidi women were evaluated with grounded theory methodology. Coping strategies included gratitude for surviving, finding meaning for massacres, politization, being self-enclosed, mourning rituals and worship, strengthening women's solidarity, and showing solidarity with sexually attacked women through silence. War trauma reactions included mental unpreparedness, the sense of being betrayed, verbalization about the genocide (but not the sexual attacks), re-experiencing the trauma and mood changes.

Haeri, M., & Puechguirbal, N. (2010). From helplessness to agency: Examining the plurality of women’s experiences in armed conflict. International Review of the Red Cross, 92(877), 103–122. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1816383110000044

Abstract: Although women routinely display remarkable resilience and fortitude by adopting new roles and taking on new responsibilities when confronted by the ravages of war, they continue to be depicted by many humanitarian actors as being intrinsically weak and vulnerable - a depiction that results in the perceptible absence of women from decision-making bodies both during and in the wake of conflict. This article argues for the need to consider the plurality of women's experiences in war, including as female heads of households, as victims (and survivors) of sexual violence, as community leaders, and as armed combatants.

Mlodoch, K. (2012). "We want to be remembered as strong women, not as shepherds”: Women Anfal survivors in Kurdistan-Iraq struggling for agency and acknowledgement. Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies, 8(1), 63–91. https://doi.org/10.2979/jmiddeastwomstud.8.1.63

Abstract: This article focuses on Kurdish women in Iraq who survived the Iraqi army's Anfal operations against the Kurdish areas in 1988. It investigates Iraqi Kurdish women's psychosocial situation and strategies for coping with violence and loss in the aftermath of the Anfal operations. These strategies are largely shaped by social and economic factors and gender relations and in the traditional patriarchal context of rural Kurdish society. The article further explores the transformation of the women's situation and narratives through the recent political changes in Iraq and shows the conflict between their memories, narratives, and agency, on one hand, and the hegemonic discourse on victimhood in Kurdistan-Iraq today, on the other, as well as the interweaving of their individual coping strategies and the institutional processes for dealing with the past in Kurdistan and Iraq. Thus the paper contributes to socially and politically contextualized and gender-sensitive trauma research, as well as to the larger political and sociological debate on reconciliation processes after war and conflict.

Personal Stories

Other Mediums

Reis, C., & Berry, M. E. (2019, May 22). How do you reduce sexual and gender violence in conflict? Consider these five key issues. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2019/05/21/how-do-you-reduce-sexual-gender-violence-conflict-consider-these-five-key-issues/

Sutton, T. (2017, August 1). Insult to injury: How Trump's 'global gag' will hit women traumatised by war. The Guardianhttps://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2017/aug/01/insult-to-injury-trump-global-gag-will-hit-women-traumatised-by-war

Subheading: From Syria to Nigeria and Colombia, women rescued from the horror of war face losing the services that in many cases have saved their lives.