This report is a final follow-up of the PRIO Policy Brief entitled A Gendered Perspective on the Direct and Indirect Causes of Death in War and Armed Conflicts (October 2006) by Patrick Meier in collaboration with Helga Hernes.
When Florence Nightingale in the early 19th century went to the Crimean Peninsula to care for the wounded of that war she discovered to her horror that soldiers more frequently died from the infections gotten at the primitive army hospitals than from combat or their war inflicted wounds. The infrastructure at the hospitals as well as the hygienic conditions were abominable. She changed these, and she began collecting reliable statistics on the causes of death and chronic war inflicted damages. Contemporary wars are usually fought in regions not unlike those she encountered, with insufficient infrastructures, such as health facilities and procedures for the collection of statistics and data on the war related casualties.
The original purpose of this project was to analyze existing data collections such as the PRIO battle death data and the Uppsala data on armed conflict to see whether they could be disaggregated according to gender and age as well as to causes of death. Our point of departure was the increasing attention on the consequences of contemporary wars on women and children, including the landmark UNSCR 1325 on “Women, peace and security” which was passed in the year 2000, as well as the three following UN resolutions, 1820(2008), 1888 and 1889,(2009) which in part focused on Gender based violence in war and in part reasserted the main message of resolution 1325. That message, repeated in SCR 1889 (2009), was that the plight of women could only be ameliorated if they were given a voice in all the arenas and decision making processes that affected their lives. The causal relationship between powerlessness and violence has been repeated in the resolutions 1820(2008) and 1888(2009). Furthermore Resolution 1325 in its Preamble states “Noting the need to consolidate data on the impact of armed conflict on women and girls”, and bullet point 6 of 1889 “Request the Secretary General to ensure that relevant United Nations bodies, in cooperation with Member States and civil society, collect data on, analyze and systematically assess particular needs of women and girls in post-conflict situations, including inter-alia, information on their needs for physical security and participation in decision making and post conflict planning, in order to improve system-wide response to those needs.”
With this as background we wanted to explore both data as well as the existing research literature to find out what documentation there was about male vs female mortality in armed conflict. We discovered quickly that the existing data resources when it comes to global data could not be used for our purposes. Our first finding was that there are practically no global data available that allowed us to investigate conflict mortality disaggregated by gender. When one looks further into this a number of methodological challenges to documenting conflict mortality more generally become evident, including distinguishing between direct and indirect conflict deaths, but we discuss these only briefly in the report. A part of the problem is that data exist on different levels. Very little information is available on a global scale, whereas good information can be found about the gender differences in smaller, intensively studied conflict areas. There are particularly many surveys coming from the medical/relief agency sphere where data on gender is routinely collected. The great problem is how to aggregate these findings up on a larger scale, and this is not fully resolved. The reader may be familiar with the debates surrounding estimates of deaths in Iraq and DRC. We will touch briefly on these issues but the purpose of this report has not been to discuss all the issues involved in estimating conflict mortality; we concentrate on the availability of data.
The research we have explored uses different datasets and investigates different conflicts and time periods, so it is difficult to say whether more men or women die overall from conflict. One general conclusion can however be drawn: men are more likely to die during conflicts, whereas women die more often of indirect causes after the conflict is over. Data on violent deaths (mostly survey data) confirm that men are more often victims of violence during wartime, whereas several studies that also take into consideration the post conflict period report a high number of female deaths after the conflict is officially over. It is still unclear what it is about these post conflict situations that leads to all these female deaths and this is a research area that merits more attention.
The spirit of this study is based on the conviction that gender-specific casualty data, when properly collected, interpreted and used, provide an important empirical framework with which to assess the impact of armed conflict and to act on behalf of populations in crises. The report as it stands now is in part based on available data and in part on a literature survey of relevant articles in the field. We return to the problem of lack of available data in the Conclusion.