Women In War


The Harvard Humanitarian Initiative's (HHI) Women in War program seeks to investigate and address women's needs in today's most troubled settings. HHI's network of diverse faculty, fellows, and researchers examines pressing issues that impact women's security throughout the world. Our projects emphasize the unique vulnerabilities women face in humanitarian settings, including gender-based violence, other forms of exploitation and abuse, and economic insecurity. Our research identifies some of the consequences of social instability and violence on women's livelihoods as well as the key role women can play as agents of social change. Our work highlights the ways in which women are vital actors in their communities - advocates for change, businesspeople, service providers, and leaders. HHI's research attempts to capture the complexities and nuances of these roles and to explore how women interact with other actors.

HHI's investigations inform approaches to reduce the vulnerability of women in conflict and support community-level resilience strategies. The Women in War program employs a participatory research approach grounded in collaborations with international and local non-governmental organizations and community-based associations. This approach helps us bring the voices of the experts – the women affected by violence and instability – to practitioners and policy makers to catalyze the development of more effective programming. The program's goal is to translate the knowledge gained from working with affected communities into timely and impactful programming and policy.



The Women in War program, in collaboration with the Eastern Congo Initiative, released its new report, 'We Came Back with Empty Hands': Understanding the Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration of Children Formerly Associated with Armed Groups in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which examines the experiences of former child soldiers and their host communities during the demobilization and reintegration process in eastern DRC.

This project was grounded in participatory action research (PAR), which involves working closely with local community partners to design, carry out and analyze research. Two art based methodologies - Photovoice and Body mapping - were employed to enable individuals and communities to self-identify the issues most important to them. All of the photographs and drawings, as well as the full report, can be viewed at wecameback.org





The Women in War program understands the multifaceted nature of issues related to women in conflict and works to pursue multiple avenues of research and intervention at once. Learn more about the research projects here.



The Women in War program works closely with local organizations in research and clinical partnerships to address the needs of those in crisis. Read more about our strategic partnerships here.



Our research is conducted with the goal of generating results that can be translated into programming and policy on the ground in a timely way. Working with grass-roots and international organizations ensures that findings from research have impact at multiple levels. Read more about our impact in programming and policy here.



HHI faculty, fellows, and researchers are seen, heard, and read in numerous media outlets that cover sexual violence in conflict situations. They have recently appeared in and on BBC News, The Economist, The New York Times, Al Jazeera, PRI's "The World," and PBS "Wide Angle," among others. For the full list of the Women in War program's presence in the media, go here. For a multimedia feature on the Women in War program's work in the DRC, go here.



Below are the most recently published reports from the Women in War program. For the full list of the program's publications, go here.

"We Came Back with Empty Hands": Understanding the Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration of Children Formerly Associated with Armed Groups in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

This report documents the experiences and attitudes of former underage combatants in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) who went through the reintegration process, the families and communities who received them and the organizations that funded and implemented reintegration programming. Despite increasing attention to the scope and importance of child soldiering globally, there is still limited systematic research on the successes and challenges of reintegration programming for former underage combatants. This project, a collaboration between the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative and Eastern Congo Initiative, used DRC as a case study to examine the community experiences and attitudes around Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) programming to generate lessons learned for improving future programming for former underage combatants and at-risk youth.


"We Suffer From War and More War": An Assessment of the Impact of the Lord's Resistance Army on Formerly Abducted Children and their Communities in northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo

By Lindsay Branham and Jocelyn Kelly

This study highlights the voices of individuals currently affected by the Lord’s Resistance Army to detail the extensive and systematic devastation felt specifically by formerly abducted children and their communities in northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. Respondents stressed that the international community must assist with providing essential services through long-term engagement, including life-saving health services; improving water and sanitation access; and providing psychosocial and educational interventions to formerly abducted children and adults. While these communities are facing emergency-level challenges now, the need for solutions that will last into the future.



Jocelyn Kelly, MS
Director of the Women in War Program, Harvard Humanitarian Initiative

Susan Bartels, MD, MPH
Department of Emergency Medicine, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Harvard University

Sadia Hader, MD, MPH
Division Director of Family Planning, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center

Jen Scott, MD, MBA
Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center

Julia VanRooyen, MD
Visiting Scientist, Harvard Humanitarian Initiative

Michael VanRooyen, MD, MPH, FACEP
Director of Harvard Humanitarian Initiative