Creative Destruction

September 8, 2006

Are 80% of war victims women and children?

Filed under: Feminist Issues,War — Daran @ 10:31 am

Over at The Goddess, Morgaine and I have been having a discussion about war victims:


80% of the casualties of war are women and children, who NEVER have the political power to prevent it.


That is simply false. The majority of victims in most wars are male. In Iraq, for example, adult men were the demographic group most likely to be victims. Adult women were the least. See my post here for details.


You are patently wrong, Daran:

Yes I am. What I should have said was “The majority of casualties in most wars are male. In Iraq, for example, adult men were the demographic group most likely to be killed. Adult women were the least.”

It was not my intention to imply that only those killed should be regarded as victims, any more than it was to suggest that only Iraqis should be regarded as victims. The reference was intended to be an example – a single data point for illustrative purposes. I’m well aware of rape as a war crime, and I most certainly do consider those targetted for this kind of brutalisation, overwhelminly female, to be casualties of war. I’m sorry if the wording I used gave a different impression.

Via Japan Times On Line (Registration required — Daran)

“According to a report prepared by the International Committee of the Red Cross, titled ‘Women and War’ and based on two years of research from 1998 to 1999, approximately 80 percent of war victims are women and children. This is mainly because military conflicts now more commonly engulf towns and cities instead of only frontline areas.

A report that reached this conclusion using even halfway-decent methodology would certainly trump my single data point, that’s for sure, but does it?

The cited report can be found here. The executive summary of the study on which it was based can be found here (Both PDF). In neither document can I find any statistic or other statement that stands for the proposition that 80% (or any other percentage) of war victims are women and children. The figure given in the news report appears to be a journalistic invention.

While rape can be used to brutalize both sexes, it is usually committed against women during wartime — males are usually killed or captured. Ongoing conflicts in many countries, including Palestine, Kashmir, Iraq, Afghanistan and Congo, have victims of war rapes running into the thousands.

My emphasis. Ironically, the executive summary does provide some statistics for those detained or “missing” (which very often means “killed”):

In some conflicts, as many as 96% of the detainee population are men and 90% of the missing are men.

Rape is a more effective weapon of war than killing. Many victims say they would prefer death over life after being raped.”

The first statement presents the two as if they were independent actions of which an aggressor could choose neither, either, or both. In reality the situation is rather more complex. Here’s what the executive summary has to say:

It is also important to recognise that the plight of civilian women in war is often linked to the fate of the menfolk in their households and communities. In other words, attacks on undefended households and women, rape as a means of attacking the “enemy” population, the displacement of women and their dependants, etc., occur in part at least because of the absence of the men.

With regard to the second point, that “Many victims say they would prefer death over life after being raped.”: I’ve no doubt that many victims do feel this way. Many others don’t. Not all get the choice, as Dr. Adam Jones observes:

It should also be pointed out that the act of rape is not always “bounded” by respect for the actual life of the victim. Reports exist of victims being executed after rape. Even for the large majority of victims that survive the experience, the fear of death is present throughout. Activist Marsha Jacobs, who visited Croatia with the Balkan Women’s Relief Committee early in 1993 to interview women refugees from the war zones (including many rape victims), argues that “The real issue of rape is people are afraid they’re going to be killed. The terror is that this other person has total control over you and can overpower you. It seems there’s no reason not to be killed. Rape itself is a terrible experience, but you can live with it. What’s really going on in terms of fear is the terror of being exterminated.”

Intriguingly, Jacobs found among the women she interviewed a general concern that the issue of rape not be stressed at the expense of the alleged Serbian campaign of slaughter and genocide against the civilian population of Bosnia-Herzegovina, male and female alike. “They didn’t want in any way to let the rape overshadow the real problem, which is the extermination and execution of thousands and thousands of men and women” (Jacobs, 1993).

The fear of being killed is certainly not confined to women, nor to those raped.

Read the whole article if you have the stomach for it.

I read it, and it certainly is stomach churning. It’s also very typical of mainstream coverage, in that extensive coverage is granted to the victimisation of women, while the genocidal cull of males usually taking place as the same time is trivialised and marginalised, if it gets a mention at all.

I’m cross-posting this every damned place I can because I’m sick of people telling me that war affects men and women equally.

I didn’t say that. I said that the majority of victims are male – Men and Boys. Also the pattern of victimisation of each group is quite different. Men and older boys are more likely to be conscripted, killed in battle, murdered, imprisoned, and tortured, or to be forced into hiding to avoid these. Women and older girls are more likely to be displaced, widowed, and raped. Young children are more likely to be displaced and orphaned, and also appear to suffer a higher risk of death than adult women, (though not as high as adult men).

And, of course, any of these people can be victimised in any of those ways.

Women are also more likely to be the focus of humanitarian concern and assistance, as the reports exemplify. To a degree that’s justified – you can’t assist the dead, after all, and it’s often much harder to reach men in need, because they’re in hiding, or under the control of hostile forces. Also helping women is very often the key to helping children.

What is not justified is the almost total disregard for adult male victims in the mainstream media and policy initiatives.

Finally, I also take issue with this statement:

[Women and children] NEVER have the political power to prevent [war].

With the implication that men do. Unfortunately the men victimised by war are no more likely to have political power than the women, so this is just victim-blaming.

(Edited for spelling)



  1. [Women and children] NEVER have the political power to prevent [war].

    With the implication that men do. Unfortunately the men victimised by war are no more likely to have political power than the women, so this is just victim-blaming.

    Not only that, it is not true. There is a long tradition of women manipulating men to go to war (altough usually these campaigns are launched by the men in power, but importantly, not all men have power or privilege. Most don’t, in fact.): White Feather, confederate women threatening the men that if they wouldn’t fight the women would (in the traditionalist, chivalric society of the South, this would mean major shame and ostracism to the men who let “women do men’s job”), and the modern “chickenhawk” argument, which curiously seems to be applied in sexist manner (only against men who support war but aren’t themselves soldiers). For example, Jill of feministe has, IIRC, supported the war in Afghanistan but hasn’t AFAIK served there. Yet she is one of the users of the chickenhawk argument.

    Comment by Tuomas — September 9, 2006 @ 12:30 am | Reply

  2. […] Unsatisfied with merely showing that the claim that “80% of war casualties are women and children” was misattributed to the ICRC. I decided to see if I could trace the statistic back to its origin. After all, the figure could still have a basis in well-founded research. After several hours of intensive Googling, I was able to trace it back to a claim in a 2002 edition of the Refugee magazine published by the UNHCR, which itself was derived, at least in part, from a UNICEF report published to 1996. The claim in the UNICEF report, however states only that women and children are 80% of displaced people. Finally I unearthed the real ICRC figure, which is that less than 26% of war casualties are women and children. […]

    Pingback by Evolution of a myth: More on that 80% figure « Creative Destruction — September 13, 2006 @ 5:01 am | Reply

  3. […] In recent posts, I’ve been debunking the myth – mistakenly attributed to the ICRC – that women and children are 80% of war casualties. Here I summarise and discuss the findings of four papers from the peer reviewed British Medical Journal, all of which which were based on patient data from Red Cross and Red Crescent Hospitals. (See also my Analaysis of the figures given in the Lancet study on the war in Iraq.) […]

    Pingback by What the ICRC really tells us about War Casualties « Creative Destruction — September 16, 2006 @ 9:18 pm | Reply

  4. Does anyone know what the percentage of CIVILIANS – women children and old/young males, “i.e. “non-soldiers? , are actually KILLED in wars?

    Of course it will vary from war to war. WW 2 saw a lot of combattant men killed but with the holocaust the ratio went a long ways to balancing out combattants VS non-combattants. Add the starving and collateral deaths of non-combattants and it might be close to equal numbers!!

    In Afganistan, the TAliban uses villages to hide in[for shame!!] and lots of non-combattans are killed from USA bombs dropped there [for SHAME!!!][Canadian troops do not do that, they go in and fight the Taliban directly, no chicken-sh*t bombing.]

    in Africa the genocidal wars see MOSTLY non-combattants killed…

    In Iraq, who is a non-combattant is hard to tell, because your son might pick up a gun and be shot just for that… but there are a lot of civilians killed in the Iraq war.

    Anyone have answers? Statistics?

    Comment by Kev Kvisle — October 17, 2007 @ 1:20 pm | Reply

  5. THis is from a post I had on crimitism website, arguing against Richie…

    “women are actually beating up men all the time, and this is somehow going undetected by everybody but them, because the law is really on the side of women despite the overwhelming majority of police officers and judges being male”

    You jerk…There are plenty of women you would NOT want to meet in a dark alley…Don’t call them weak..
    Some that would gladly GO DRUNK, and punch you (or throw a lamp at you) if married to you, or if not married to you. So, apparantly, it didn’t happen to you. You are lucky, whatever…Your mocking tone will not go unnoticed….

    By the way, Men cops and judges rule against men ALL THE TIME… YOU should know that… Male officers and judges being elcted, DOES NOT MEAN they represent an average man’s interest, idiot… OK, so does that mean that every woman politician represent every single woman, every time? NO! I’ll bet since you were NEVER beaten up by a woman, you believe it should not be logically considered… By your own logic, violence against blacks means less if a black committed it… What a tool you are… Next point….

    “Yes, there is an incredible amount of pressure on men to remain stoic and not discuss their emotional problems, and it does horrible things to them, but women didn’t come up with it, women don’t benefit from it and women can’t fix it.” Yes, women came up with it, and they DO benefit from it. Many women have demanded that their men be stoic, that they risk their lives to protect me, the princess!! Some of them demanded that their idiot macho boyfriend protect her from any other guy at the bar, risking his life in the process! Of course, If not, no relationship for you! Says the wife to the husband, “you are here to protect me. I don’t care about your “safety”! If that is not using someone, what is? EXplain this, oh wise Richie!

    “that women are routinely on the receiving end of violence from men, rather than the other way around” Oh,go to Hell. Women are the majority of child abusers. Again, explain this, Richie??!!!
    Most of those they abuse are their sons, by the way… I’ve met Most of those stupid abuse-bitches! I think they should be personally punched or slapped, as a man would be… Sorry, you disagree…And explain why with mothers as the great number of child-killers, that there is no white ribbon campaign to tell them to stop…Oh, that’s right…Women are not accountable for mistreating someone, only men are…Silly me….. By the way, “spousal murder rates?? Mary Winkler, anyone? A man in that situation would more likely have gotten the death penalty…
    “you can afford to personalise these stories because there are so few of them;”
    They are not so few of them, you Fucking liar!!
    Rebuttal, anyone?

    Comment by Screaming Bear!! — April 26, 2009 @ 9:37 pm | Reply

  6. […] with merely showing that the claim that “80% of war casualties are women and children” was misattributed to the I…. I decided to see if I could trace the statistic back to its origin. After all, the figure could […]

    Pingback by Evolution of a Myth: More on that 80% Figure | Feminist Critics — August 20, 2012 @ 5:07 pm | Reply

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