The period just after conflict is a time of turmoil when social norms are in a state of flux, donor funds are available and there is often a political will for change. A window of opportunity for reform in public sector institutions can open, offering a chance to “build back better” in health and gender equality more broadly. It is a time when countries could theoretically establish a health system underpinned by the principles of gender equality which identifies and responds to the different health needs of women as well as men, ensuring equitable access and health outcomes.

This policy brief looks at the context of gender and health, and how they are affected by conflict. It also assesses whether humanitarian assistance in the immediate post- conflict period addresses the impact of conflict on health from a gender perspective. A second sister brief examines long-term reform of the health system through a gender lens, using the World Health Organization’s health system building blocks as a framework. 

Key messages

  • Conflict exacerbates existing gender inequalities and reinforces gender disparities in health.

  • Measuring the impact of conflict on gender disparities in health is complex, and is hindered by poor data and a lack of consensus on relevant indicators.

  • Humanitarian assistance pays lip service to integrating gender in its programming and often fails to address the different impacts of conflict on men and women.

  • The humanitarian response to gender programming is dominated by a focus on sexual violence (against women) and maternal health, enabling donors and relief organisations to claim that they are addressing gender, without an understanding of how gender differences shape men and women’s health in other areas.

  • Humanitarian work is hindered by a lack of robust data. There is a need to collect information broken down by sex, and set indicators to measure gender disparities in health.

  • The reconstruction of the health system after conflict needs to be informed by a shared vision of a gender equitable future. 

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