Explosive violence in GazaExplosive violence in SyriaGender and violence

New report shows male civilians at particular risk of being killed by explosive weapons in Gaza and Syria


Cars and buildings destroyed in Gaza.

New research into the impact of explosive weapons in Gaza and Syria indicates that more than three times as many male civilians were killed there from explosive weapons than female civilians.

The impact of explosive violence in populated areas on men and women is not fully understood. Action on Armed Violence (AOAV) has been monitoring incidents of explosive violence on a global scale for four years, using English-language media, and has consistently found that the gender of civilian casualties is not systematically reported.

Overall, in 2013, AOAV found that civilians made up 82 percent of total casualties. When explosive weapons were used in populated areas, 93 percent of all casualties were civilians, but their gender was often unrecorded.

In an attempt to find out more about the impact of explosive weapons specifically on men and on women, AOAV selected one of last year’s worst months for civilian deaths and injuries, July 2014. We focused on violence of Syria and Gaza.

AOAV analysed data provided by the Center for Documentation of Violations in Syria (VDC) and the weekly reports of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) to find out the respective impact of explosive violence on female civilians compared to male civilians. We specifically looked at Syria and Gaza because these were amongst the two most affected areas in that month with active civil society casualty counting organisations.

Our findings for Gaza and Syria in the summer of last year were unequivocal – explosive violence there predominately killed civilian men and boys.

In both areas, about 75 percent of civilian deaths where the sex of the victim was known were reported to be male.

AOAV’s main findings are:

  • In Gaza, out of 1195 recorded civilian deaths, 615 were reported to be men and 117 boys compared to 180 women and 64 girls, meaning 61 percent of deaths were male compared to 20 percent female deaths.
  • In Syria, out of 865 deaths, 526 were reported to be men and 135 boys compared to 117 women and 87 girls, or 76 percent of male deaths compared to 24 percent female deaths.
  • In both Syria and Gaza, two out of three civilians deaths, where the sex of the victim was known, was that of a man or boy.
  • In Gaza, the sex of the victim was known in 80 percent of recorded civilian deaths, but only in 20 percent of recorded civilian injuries. The Syrian VDC does not record civilian injuries.
  • In both Syria and Gaza, the leading location of civilian casualties from explosive violence was in residential neighbourhoods, when a house or apartment was being targeted.

On 8th July 2014, Israel launched a military operation against Hamas in the Gaza strip called Operation Protective Edge, resulting in seven weeks of explosive violence and ground fighting in the area.

During that same period, Syria saw an escalation of conflict with the increasing involvement of jihadist groups, including Islamic State, in the fight between pro-government forces and insurgent groups.

AOAV’s focused analysis on the violence that followed used source materials that go into much greater detail than the ones used for global monitoring. Our worldwide data records the sex and age of the victims when it is explicitly reported in the news. In this analysis, though, we looked beyond English-language media, using data from the PCHR and VDC Syria. Both organisations collect data on civilian casualties in their respective conflict zones. As such, our findings highlight the fact that English-language media under-reports the gender of civilian casualties.


Building destroyed in Syria.

In English-language media reporting of incidents, the sex of the casualties is not systematically mentioned. Because of the higher tendency for men to be members of armed forces or armed groups, it is often assumed that women represent the majority of civilian populations and are therefore more likely to be affected by the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. Other reports have claimed women are disproportionately harmed by explosive weapons aimed at markets and residential areas. What this data shows is that these assumptions make up part of a complex reality.

The data from both organisations reported, where they could, the names and ages of civilians killed in an incident. In PCHR’s reports, the sex of over 80 percent of civilian deaths was recorded and the vast majority of them were male adults and children. This contrasts with the recording of injuries, where the sex was reported for less than 20 percent of the victims. In the case of the Center for Documentation of Violations in Syria, injuries were not recorded at all.

Within those cases of injury where the sex was mentioned, women were twice as likely to be injured by explosive violence than men. But this data should be treated with caution. It is impossible to reach real conclusions on who is more injured, men or women, because there is a major absence of data on the gender of those harmed.

More than 46 percent of the civilian deaths in Gaza and over half of the total injuries were reported to have occurred in residential neighbourhoods, where civilian homes were targeted. Within those incidents, civilian deaths were recorded as male almost twice as much than female.

The reasons why more civilian men are killed than civilian women are not clear. One reason might be that men may be assumed to be combatants in a conflict zone.

For instance, the second leading target of explosive violence causing civilian deaths in Gaza in the month examined was vehicles, cars or motorcycles. These attacks killed civilian men and boys in over 77 percent of cases – compared to 7 percent with women and girls. This disparity might attest to the fact that, in those countries, men might be more likely to drive and that, in those conflicts, both men and vehicles are targeted because they are believed to be linked to armed groups.

The fact that women and girls are killed or potentially injured in lesser proportions than men and boys does not mean, however, that they are less impacted by the serious secondary effects of explosive violence. There are many other ways explosive violence affect civilian populations.

Explosive violence impacts women and girls very differently than men and boys. As the United Nations reports: ‘’women are the first to be affected by infrastructure breakdown, as they struggle to keep families together and care for the wounded. And women may also be forced to turn to sexual exploitation in order to survive and support their families.’’

In July 2014, the UNHCR reported that one in four of all refugee households worldwide were headed by women. António Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, explained that’[women] have run out of money, face daily threats to their safety and are being treated as outcasts for no other crime than losing their men to a vicious war.’’ These may now be among the challenges that will be faced by the families who lost their lives in July 2014.

What this focused analysis shows is that there are huge gaps in the methods of reporting civilian casualties, which in some cases has led to assumptions about how male or female victims are being affected by explosive violence.

The sex of those killed or injured should be systematically reported whenever possible. AOAV believes that more data on the gender of the casualties of explosive weapons is needed so that stakeholders can more accurately assess the impact of explosive violence. There should also be targeted research into the nature of the severe secondary effects of explosive violence in populated areas to help us understand how communities are impacted in the longer term by this devastating pattern of weapon use.

Please contact Jane Hunter,, with any questions or comments.