International Women’s Day - 'Focus On Women Living In Conflict Zones'

Major Helen Bryan wants these women to be recognised and celebrated

A British Army reservist is calling for people to focus more on the women trying to survive life in a conflict zone than people like her as the world marks International Women’s Day.

“Celebrating these strong amazing women that work and live in ... conflict zones who are still going out trying to make ends meet, trying to hold their families together and just trying to have a fairly normal life.” 

Major Helen Bryan, presently in post in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), left her civilian role as a Police Officer to become the latest Gender and Child Protection Adviser the UK has sent on the United Nations mission there. 

Speaking to BFBS, the Forces Station broadcaster Amy Casey about her role and how the team are improving the lives of women and children in conflict zones, she said it is important to celebrate International Women’s Day because it highlights the vast amount of pressure women in war zones have on them. She said:

“Women have to look after the children, they have to feed the family, they quite often work. 

“Women here are strong women, but they have the added burden of a conflict going on of which they have no control over.” 

LISTEN: Part Two - Maj Helen Bryan talks to Amy about why International Women's Day is so important

She is keen to remind listeners that, at any given time, these women could have to “up sticks, pack their stuff in a bag and have to run away with everything they can carry - they are fantastic people.” 

From headquarters, Helen works with female engagement teams who work closely with local women and children. They prioritise the protection of women and children whose lives have been devastated by sexual exploitation, abuse and conflict-related sexual violence.

The reservist has been a Police Response Officer in Woking, Surrey, for 20 years dealing with domestic violence, child protection issues and violence against women so the role of Gender and Child Protection Adviser in the DRC is very similar. 

Major Helen Bryan Gender and Child Protection Adviser British Army Reservist Police Officer International Women's Day 2021

Working with and trying to protect women and children in conflict zones like the DRC, including those who have often been human trafficked, sexually exploited and abused, can take its toll, but Helen is passionate about supporting women who find themselves in desperate situations. She said: 

“Support other women, that’s what we have to do. We have to be that prop, that support that we can give to people. 

“Whether it’s financial, whether it’s providing materials, whether it’s by enabling them to come to the negotiating table and be a part of the peace-making process in a conflict zone.” 

The overall message Helen wishes people would take away is that International Women’s Day should be more about recognising the women who are getting on with life the best they can while living in horrendous conditions. She said: 

“Just being able to have a day that says, hello, all these people are here. 

“These people are living in a conflict, please help them and highlight that to the west.”