As the first woman to head the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Mirjana Spoljaric wants to sharpen the view of the situation of women in conflicts. "It is my job to point out when women are more disadvantaged than men in a conflict situation," she told the German Press Agency and ARD radio.
She has a specific look at women. "That may not have been the case with my predecessors, also because they often had no access to the women," she said. In refugee camps, she finds it easier to approach women. Spoljaric also admitted that the ICRC's image was damaged by criticism from Ukraine.
It is about health, education and protection from violence
"The fact is: women die in childbirth in conflict zones. Women have fewer means to protect themselves when fleeing or in a conflict situation or to save themselves in safer zones. Women, especially little girls, are taken out of schools faster. Little ones Girls are married more quickly in conflict areas, and some of them are sold to save the family," said Spoljaric, who has been ICRC president of the organization founded in 1863 since October 1. "Sexual violence is a big problem in conflicts and we need to do more here too." Women are deliberately abused, mistreated and abducted in conflicts.
The federal government recently presented guidelines for a feminist foreign policy in Berlin. In the future, foreign and development policy should be geared towards realizing women's rights.
The situation in Afghanistan is particularly difficult for aid organizations. There, the militant Islamist Taliban are increasingly excluding women from social life and forbidding them from working for non-governmental organizations, for example. But the ICRC programs continued, Spoljaric said. "We maintain our confidential and bilateral dialogue with the authorities to ensure we can continue to carry out our humanitarian work to the fullest." This is only possible with the efforts of all employees, "including the women".
Violations of international law in the Ukraine war
The ICRC's confidential dialogue and strict neutrality without public criticism of those in government often bring negative headlines. The government in Kiev has long complained that the ICRC is not doing enough to visit Ukrainians held in Russian captivity. According to international humanitarian law, all countries must grant the ICRC access to all prisoners. However, Russia often does not provide the necessary security guarantees for ICRC employees. "We don't have the full access that we would like, but we are the only ones who have access at all," said Spoljaric. In 4,000 cases, contacts were made with families.
"We are unarmed. That means we demand access to all prisoners of war, but we cannot enforce it," she said. "The obligation to comply with international humanitarian law rests with States." But now it is also the case that violations of international humanitarian law are becoming known. But the ICRC works successfully every day in around 100 conflict zones. As everywhere, in Ukraine it is always closer to the front line than any other organization because of its special task. "We can do that because the parties to the conflict continue to allow us this role."
The criticism from Ukraine is troubling the ICRC, she admitted: "The damage to our image is definitely a problem for us." However, that is part of the business: "If you are there to help, you will also be criticized because you can never reach everyone."