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The Windsor Yearbook of Access to Justice

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International humanitarian law [IHL] provisions address the situation of civilian women caught in armed conflict today, but is this law enough? Feminist commentators have considered this question and have come to differing conclusions. This article considers the resulting debate as to whether female-specific IHL provisions are adequate but underenforced, or inadequate, outdated and in need of revision. One school of thought argues that the main impediment to the protection of female civilians during hostilities is lack of observance of existing IHL. A second school of thought believes that something more fundamental is needed to meet the goal of protecting civilian women during war: revision and reconceptualization of IHL to take into account systematic gender inequality. This article considers the status of this debate within three areas of IHL considered by many to be central legal aspects of the experience of female civilians caught in armed conflict: the general non-discrimination provisions, the specific protection for civilian women against sexual violence and the specific protection of pregnant women and mothers. It concludes that, while there has been a vibrant debate within feminist circles on the adequacy of existing IHL provisions, mainstream action has tended to focus on enforcement. This is unfortunate, as it means that certain insights into the impact of deep gender inequalities on conflict have largely been left unexplored.

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