Award-winning photographers Lynsey Addario, Alessandra Sanguinetti and Esther Mbabazi have travelled through some of the world’s toughest conflict zones with Save the Children this year to document the inspiring stories of young women and girls living through war and the challenges they face.
To mark International Women’s Day, the organization is releasing this powerful series of photographs entitled “The Female Experience of War” to highlight the unique experiences of girls growing up in conflict.
- War photographer Lynsey Addario returned to Afghanistan 20 years after she first reported on women living under the Taliban, meeting girls who’ve had to flee armed militants, lost loved ones and seen their schools attacked.
- Magnum photographer Alessandra Sanguinetti travelled to Gaza, home to more than one million children living under virtual siege, many of whom have seen friends and relatives killed during airstrikes.
- Documentary photographer Esther Mbabazi visited refugee settlements in Uganda to meet girls fleeing the war-torn east of the Democratic Republic of Congo, one of the most dangerous countries to be a girl with some of the highest rates of sexual violence in the world
More than 200 million girls live in conflict zones across the world and are disproportionately affected by the horrors of war. Inequalities with boys are magnified during conflict, making them more vulnerable to sexual violence, being forced into early marriage or the denial of basic rights including access to healthcare and education.
Girls are more than twice as likely as boys to be out of school if they live in conflict areas, one in five female refugees have experienced sexual violence and nine out of ten countries with the highest rates of child marriage are conflict affected states.
Crimes committed against girls and boys in conflict are at their highest since records began, a disturbing trend revealed by Save the Children’s latest report on the theme of Stop the War on Children. Children are more likely now than ever to be killed, maimed, recruited into armed groups, sexually abused or have their schools attacked.
The images capture stories of loss and sadness, but also the girls’ strength, resilience and hope for the future. Travelling across Asia, the Middle East and Africa, the photographers embedded themselves in the children’s families, capturing some of their most intimate moments as they went about their daily lives.
As part of the project each girl wrote a “sense poem” answering the question: how would you explain war to a child who has never experienced it? The powerful writings are displayed next to each child’s image, bringing their own voice into the photographs.
Fourteen-year-old Hana* in Gaza lost her mother and four young brothers in a single airstrike. Her youngest brother was just two-and-a-half years old. During the attack, she was buried by rubble for two hours and woke up over a week later in hospital, only to find she had lost five members of her family.
Hana* writes poetry to process her loss. She says, “I remember my mother and brothers, the light of my eyes….I miss a blissful life”. Despite her experience, she studies hard and is top of her class. “Education is like a weapon in a person’s hand,” she says.
In Afghanistan, 12-year-old Golmina* fled her home in Kunduz because of the fighting. Armed groups came to her school, beat the girls and threatened their families for educating them.
“One day when we went to school, militants came to our school, the boys escaped and they came and hit us and our fathers. They hit my father so much for allowing us to go to school” ,*Golmina said.
“A girl’s education is important because when she is a teacher, she can educate others and there will be more teachers…. Peace will come if we all educate ourselves”
*Lydia 16 from DRC, got home from school one day to find her mother missing. While searching for her, Lydia* ran into a group of rebels, two of whom attacked and raped her. She says she was in “pain and sorrow” and feels “bad” when she remembers what happened to her. She fell pregnant following the attack and fled to Uganda, and now has a 6-month old son, *Bintu.
“The rebels caught me and raped me. I was 15 years old. I feel so bad, remembering those things….war usually affects girls more than boys, like the way things happened to me.”
After the violent assault she experienced, Lydia* never wants to return to DRC. She says she wants to become a hairdresser and see her son go to school and be “clever” in class.
Save the Children’s Child Emergency Fund allows our teams to respond fast whenever the fighting starts, and means we are there to help children recover and rebuild once the bombs and bullets subside.
Rachel Logel-Carmichael, Head of Humanitarian Affairs, Save the Children, said
“These stories show the strength and resilience of girls growing up in conflict, even when they have suffered some of the worst crimes and child rights abuses imaginable. The horrors of war are unique for girls and young women who face sexual violence, exclusion from education and early marriage.”
“Today’s conflicts are becoming more dangerous for girls and boys, and yet the world stands by as they are targeted with impunity. Canada has seats at some of the world’s most powerful tables. Canada must use this influence to make children off limits in war. The senseless destruction of children’s lives will continue unless all governments and warring parties act now to uphold international norms and standards, and make perpetrators accountable for their crimes” added Logel-Carmichael.
For interview requests please contact Jessica Bryant on 1-647-973-1185 or firstname.lastname@example.org
About the photographers and countries
War photographer Lynsey Addario returned to Afghanistan, marking 20 years since she first reported on the challenges faced by women in the country under Taliban control. Lynsey has dedicated her life to covering conflict, and in particular its impact on women and girls.
In Afghanistan a third of all girls are married before they are 18 years old, and almost 9% of those married are under the age of 15. In 2018 girls’ schools were regularly targeted by militants and 80 were forced to close in the east of the country. Some 3.7 million children remain out of education and 60% of them are girls. 
Magnum photographer Alessandra Sanguinetti travelled to Gaza. Often described as “the world’s largest open air prison”, it is home to more than a million children, shut off from the world. A collapsing economy, restrictive cultural beliefs and poverty have a severe impact on girls’ lives, putting them at higher risk of early marriage and gender-based violence. Early marriage for females under 18 years reached 20.5 in 2016, 38% of Palestinians living in Gaza are in poverty and 69% of youths are unemployed.
Democratic Republic of Congo/Uganda
Esther Mbabazi travelled to Uganda to document the lives of refugees fleeing the war-torn eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, which is statistically one of the most dangerous countries to be a girl. Girls are excluded from school, abducted by armed groups and face some of the world’s highest rates of sexual violence, where it is regularly used as a weapon of war.
Uganda now hosts 1.4 million refugees – the third highest figure in the world – and 60 percent of them are children. Thousands of refugees continue to flee into Uganda from DRC every month and funding to provide conflict-affected refugee children with education and child protection services is critically low.
Hana* – Gaza
I am a Palestinian girl
I hear the news of our cause
I breathe in the beautiful scent of my family
I see the real suffering
I taste the flavour of freedom
I feel our forgotten pain
I imagine an amazing life
I fear a real catastrophe
I remember my mother and brothers, the light of my eyes
I miss a blissful life
I heard the sounds of bombs and bullets
I smelled bad and bitter smells
It tastes very bitter and bad
I see dead bodies and the people crying
I was feeling I may lose myself and my family
I was hoping for a better, happy life
I was afraid of bullets and conflict
I remember the wars and the death bodies
I heard in the Congo people who were dying – so many.
I smelt the good food my mama used to prepare and it was sweet.
I saw many dead people in the Congo.
I felt very many things.
I hope that God will help me in everything.
I feared when the soldiers in the Congo were shooting at people.
All I remember is seeing dead people in the Congo.
I miss my parents.
DRC/Uganda – IMAGES
Afghanistan – IMAGES
Gaza – IMAGES
 https://www.savethechildren.org.uk/content/dam/gb/reports/child-protection/stop_the_war_on_children_gender_matters.pdf 277 cases of sexual violence in 2018 all girls, the second highest in the world. 2005 to 2018, there were almost 20,000 verified cases of sexual violence against children in conflict.
 https://www.savethechildren.org.uk/content/dam/gb/reports/child-protection/stop_the_war_on_children_gender_matters.pdf – 415 million children are in conflict zones, half of which are girls.
 https://www.unocha.org/sites/unocha/files/GHO2019.pdf – Crises exacerbate gender inequalities. Girls in conflict settings are 2.5 times more likely to be out of school than boys. 1 in 5 female refugees estimated to have experience sexual violence
https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/Children/HumanitarianSituations/GirlsNotBrides.pdf – Nine of the 10 countries with the highest prevalence rate of child, early and forced marriage are classified as fragile or conflict affected
 https://www.savethechildren.org.uk/content/dam/gb/reports/child-protection/stop_the_war_on_children_gender_matters.pdf 277 cases of sexual violence in 2018 all girls, the second highest in the world.
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