War is not just a man's business. In today's conflicts, the impact of fighting on women can be severe. Humanitarian law recognizes this in the general protection it affords to both women and men, as well as in some specific provisions providing additional protection to women.
In general, IHL requires humane treatment for the wounded and sick, prisoners and civilians caught up in a conflict, without any “adverse distinction” based on sex, race, nationality, religion, political opinions, or any similar criteria. This general protection is provided by the four Geneva Convention (1949) and their Additional Protocols (1977), as well by customary humanitarian law.
The general provisions of IHL also forbid hostage taking and the use of human shields. In recent conflicts there have been abuses, particularly the use of women and children to shield combatants from attack.
In addition, women must be “especially protected” from sexual violence. This includes rape, forced prostitution and any other form of indecent assault, all of which constitute war crimes. The threat of sexual violence against women is also prohibited. Women prisoners must be housed separately from men in particular to avoid sexual abuse.