Violence Against Women in Conflict

Violence has severe consequences for survivors that can stop them from reaching their full potential. The women we serve are extremely vulnerable to all forms of violence.

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Violence against women in conflict

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1 in 3 women worldwide have been subjected to violence in their lifetime. Those who live in conflict zones are at even greater risk.

Less than 40% of the women who experience violence seek help of any sort

Source: UN Women

1 in 3 women have been subjected to physical or sexual violence in their lifetime

Source: WHO

51% of women in the Democratic Republic of Congo face physical and/or sexual violence in the hands of their partner or husband

Source: UN Women

What is Violence Against Women?

Violence against women is a fundamental barrier to women’s empowerment

There are multiple forms of violence against women, including physical, sexual, psychological and economic violence. Economic violence is often defined as controlling, exploiting or sabotaging an individual’s access to and use of economic resources (including employment).

Experiences of violence are rarely isolated and often intertwine across and throughout women’s lives. For example, physical or emotional violence by a partner can restrict women’s freedom of movement and discourage them from working. Similarly, the physical and psychological impacts of violence can isolate women and make them more vulnerable to abuse.

Violence Against Women in Conflict

Violence Against Women is used as a weapon of war

Sexual violence in conflict is commonly associated with the phrase ‘rape as a weapon of war’. In reality, the issue is much more complex and covers a wide range of abuses. Rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy, enforced sterilisation and “any other forms of sexual violence of comparable gravity” are recognised by the International Criminal Court both as crimes against humanity and as war crimes.

Iryna, from our Conflict Response Fund partner in Ukraine. Photo:  Andreev Family Foundation
Iryna, from our Conflict Response Fund partner in Ukraine. Photo: Andreev Family Foundation

Wherever conflict erupts, sexual violence is present. But no statistics or figures will ever depict the true scale of this horrific crime. For each rape reported in connection with a conflict, the UN estimates that 10 to 20 cases go undocumented. Sexual violence is often referred to as war’s oldest, most silenced, and least-condemned crime.

In conflict-affected and fragile states, sexual violence is often employed as both a deliberate and strategic tactic of war and terrorism to instill fear and control and displace communities already under distress. Conflict-related sexual violence can include rape, forced marriage, sexual slavery, forced pregnancy, forced sterilisation, sexual exploitation or abuse, and human trafficking – all of which inflict long-lasting trauma on survivors, as well as their families and communities.

Domestic violence within conflict

Whilst less commented on, intimate partner violence is one of the most common forms of violence in conflict. All women are vulnerable to violence, but factors such as poverty and conflict, as well as other attributes such as disability, ethnicity, and sexual orientation can increase women’s vulnerability. In conflict, women’s vulnerability to all forms of violence increases. 

Conflict-related sexual violence is a growing threat, a violation of human rights, and impedes peacebuilding – it must be eliminated.

Violence against women occurs every day and people now see it as a normal thing because when it happens, nothing is being done.

Community Member, South Sudan

Our work

Supporting women survivors of war

Women for Women International was established in 1993 to help survivors of sexual violence during the 1992 - 1995 conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina, in the belief that stronger women build stronger nations. We continue to work with the most socially excluded women in countries affected by conflict across the world. Many of the women we work with are affected by gender based violence, including sexual violence. It is an obstacle in allowing them to live dignified lives, free from fear.

You would think that the world would have changed and would have understood that wars don’t work. And that the raping of women in war or at any time must stop and it’s a war crime.

Zainab Salbi, Co-Founder, Women for Women International
Couple taking part in our couple's dialogue in South Sudan. Photo: Charles Atiki Lomodong

Men's Engagement Programme

Teaching men to become better allies

To definitively end gender norms and inequalities, it’s not enough to work with only women. That’s why we work with men – so they can join as allies and advocates for women’s empowerment and gender equality. When men are brought into the conversation, the entire community supports women as they overcome social and economic barriers.

My life has really changed because before I didn't know the different forms of violence. But today I know about rape and violence. I now respect a woman.

Murhula, Men's Engagement Programme Participant, Democratic Republic of Congo
A group of Change Agents in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Photo credit: Esther Nsapu
A group of Change Agents in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Photo credit: Esther Nsapu

Change Agents Programme


Change Agents drive forward their self-identified priorities to achieve sustainable and long-term change. They often use advocacy to address violence against women issues in their communities.

At Women for Women International, our holistic approach to programming strives to reduce the incidence of violence against women (VAW) by raising awareness of women’s rights and strengthening whole-of-community action against VAW. Photo: Brian Sokol
At Women for Women International, our holistic approach to programming strives to reduce the incidence of violence against women (VAW) by raising awareness of women’s rights and strengthening whole-of-community action against VAW. Photo: Brian Sokol



Globally, one third of women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence, especially in fragile and conflict-affected states. We spoke to women around the world about their attitudes towards violence against women. Read our policy briefs, highlighting community views and amplifying the experiences of the most marginalised.

Our Recommendations

Based on our experience and expertise, we make the following recommendations for ending sexual violence in conflict:

  • Protection: We call on governments to ensure international laws are upheld and implemented to protect women in war and conflict zones.
  • Participation: We recognise that all survivors of sexual violence in conflict have a right to be heard. Their voices must influence decisions that affect their futures and they are entitled to justice for the abuse they have survived.
  • Partnership: We demand a monumental increase in resources for women’s rights groups to respond to the needs of sexual violence survivors and challenge the harmful norms that underpin violence against women.
  • Prevention: We work with men and women to break down the social norms that portray abuse as ‘normal’ or part of ‘tradition’. Preventing violence against women requires a widespread change of attitudes.

Keep reading

The women we serve are all survivors of war or conflict – but far too many have survived violence against women as well. Despite the trauma, they continue to push for change. They rebuild their lives while working towards a brighter future for their children, and many become activists to drive wider, long-lasting change for their communities. In this blog we share the stories of five women, Nabintu from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mila from Ukraine and Grace, Hadiza and Joyce from Nigeria.


After years of silent suffering, the women of South Sudan are beginning to speak out about rape and sexual violence. Read about how Change Agents are breaking the silence on Violence Against Women over the radio.


All women are vulnerable to violence – with one in three experiencing some form in their lifetime. But those in conflict-affected regions are much more exposed to it. Living in conflict zones, experiences war and suffering displacement all increase the risk.


It has been 100 days since Russia invaded Ukraine. With each day that passes, more and more women are at risk of sexual violence. Olena Behnke fled from Ukraine two months ago. She now works for Women for Women International, supporting other women refugees. Read her blog as the war continues.