Conflict | ActionAid UK


In armed conflicts, the underlying acceptance of violence against women and girls in many societies is heightened by insecurity and displacement. This means that women and girls are more at risk of forms of violence including mass rape, sexual slavery, forced pregnancy, forced “marriages” and being forced to offer sex in exchange for food or shelter.

Unaccompanied women and girls, lone female head of households, elderly women and those with physical or learning disabilities are amongst the most vulnerable. 

Women and girls also often have limited access to basic services, such as healthcare and education, during conflicts. As a result, conflict increases structural inequalities that last for many years. 

But women are not just victims of conflict — they are agents too, and play a vital role in peace movements at grassroots levels.

Sexual violence in war

Women and girls in conflict are often specifically targeted for sexual violence.

Mass rape is used as a weapon of war, to systematically torture women and girls and destroy communities through the rejection of raped women and subsequent children, and the perceived humiliation of their husbands, fathers and brothers.1 

In conflicts, women can be abducted and forced into military sexual slavery, or be forced to offer sex for survival. In addition to lasting psychological scars, many women face incapacitating physical injuries from brutal assaults and sexually transmitted infections.

ActionAid helps survivors of sexual violence through setting up women’s safe spaces where women can share their experiences and access psychosocial support, in countries from Lebanon to Bangladesh. 

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The impact of conflict on girls 

Conflict increases girls’ vulnerability to gender-based violence, unwanted pregnancy, HIV infection, maternal death and disability, early and forced marriage, rape, trafficking, and sexual exploitation and abuse.1

Child marriage rates are amongst the world’s highest in conflict countries.2 

In all humanitarian emergencies, ActionAid prioritises the protection of the most vulnerable, including girls, to ensure that they get the critical support that they need. 

  • 1. UNFPA:
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Girls’ education suffers in conflict 

Girls’ education suffers during conflict. Girls are 90% more likely to be out of secondary school than those living in areas without violence.1 

Educating girls has enormous benefits. It reduces rates of child marriage, promotes healthier and smaller families, improves wages and jobs for women, and empowers women to become leaders at community and government levels. By disrupting girls’ education, conflict has a long-lasting impact on girls’ lives, and their families and communities.

ActionAid works in the occupied Palestinian territories to support girls’ education. We provide LED lights so that girls can study in the evenings, when there is no electricity, and set up street lights so that girls can make their journeys to school in safety early in the morning. 

  • 1. GEM Report, Policy Paper 21, June 2015, p.3

Maternal mortality almost doubles in conflict

The global maternal mortality rate is 210 deaths per 100,000 live births. In conflict and post-conflict situations, this more than doubles to 531.1 

Sexual and gender based violence increases during and after emergencies, but access to reproductive health services, contraception and safe abortion is often reduced. Women are often forced to give birth in poor conditions, as existing health systems struggle to cope with lack of resources and an increased number of injuries due to the conflict. 

ActionAid supports mothers through providing safe spaces where they can breastfeed, rest and change in privacy. We provide hygiene kits, including sanitary towels, wipes and clean underwear, and help direct women to medical aid. 

  • 1. UN Women, 2013:

Rebuilding after conflict

Although women often bear the brunt of impacts of conflict, they should not be seen solely as victims. Women play key roles in peace movements in civil society and at grassroots levels, and in rebuilding communities in the aftermath of conflict.

However, women are often excluded from official roles at peace negotiations. It is vital that women are able to participate equally as decision-makers in peacekeeping, peace building, conflict resolution and conflict prevention. 

ActionAid is committed to promoting women’s leadership in emergencies, because women bring vital skills, resources and experience to humanitarian response. We provide training on women’s rights, leadership skills and disaster preparedness, and support women to rebuild their livelihoods in the aftermath. 


Page updated 13 May 2019