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Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict
The U.K. hosted the International Ministerial Conference on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict on November 28, 2022, and November 29, 2022. This meeting is a follow-up to the Global Summit of 2004 and also marks 10 years since the establishment of the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative. About 10 years ago, more than 150 nations made commitments to bring an end to sexual violence in conflict-affected countries. Despite these promises, sufficient actions to address these issues on a global level are lacking.

Angelina Jolie Highlights Barriers

Actress Angelina Jolie, who actually co-hosted the Global Summit of 2004 and is one of the co-founders of the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative, recently called attention to the lack of action to address the issue of sexual violence in conflict.

Jolie has called out funding gaps and what she describes as a “lack of political will,” according to an opinion piece that the Guardian published in November 2022. She also cites abuses of power, declaring that one of the issues is “security council members abusing their veto power, such as in the case of Syria.” Jolie is referring to how Russia “used its security council veto powers 11 times to block action targeting its ally Syria,” the Guardian reports.

Syria is responsible for a variety of war crimes from the use of chemical weapons to the use of sexual violence in conflict as an act of terror. The U.N.’s Commission of Inquiry found that “the Syrian Government and associated militias used rape and other forms of sexual violence as part of a widespread and systematic attack against the civilian population of Syria.”

In her opinion piece for the Guardian, Jolie advocates for the “creation of a permanent international body that can help fill the accountability gap” as well as a “new, permanent, international commission to document and investigate sexual violence in conflict.”

Jolie highlights that these solutions have been a point of discussion for years but no progress is visible. “The conference should not be another moment when survivors have to come forward to explain their pain and suffering again, and to show their willingness to work with governments, only for countries to be unwilling to act on their commitments over the long term,” Jolie said.

Effects on Global Development

Gender-based violence has a harmful effect on global development. Elevated rates of domestic and sexual violence reduce staff output and cause reductions in productivity to the scale of 10 work days annually per employee. The Council on Foreign Relations reports that “In some countries, even pre-pandemic, gender-based violence was estimated to cost up to 3.7[%]of gross domestic product (GDP)— more than double what most governments spend on education.” Lockdowns at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic heightened cases of gender-based violence across the world.

US Actions and Commitments

Despite these criticisms and the exacerbating effect of the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. is taking action to address these issues. Acknowledging the gravity of the issue, in November 2022, the State Department announced that in response to this crisis, the U.S. will increase aid and encourage accountability by “Committing an additional $400,000 to the United State’s annual contribution of $1.75 million to the Office of the U.N. Special Representative to the Secretary General (SRSG) on Sexual Violence in Conflict.”

The U.S. will also expand the Safe from the Start initiative, which prioritizes gender-based violence responses in humanitarian efforts. The U.S. will establish a Presidential Memorandum against sexual violence in conflict, “which will commit the U.S. government to fully exercising existing authorities to promote justice and accountability for acts of conflict-related sexual violence.” Lastly, the U.S. will allocate $10 million to “civil society efforts” for investigations and reporting and $2 million for “survivor-centered, trauma-informed approaches to fostering survivor resilience during and after conflict.”

Positives

While international initiatives to end sexual violence in conflict are facing issues such as funding gaps, security council abuses and a lack of institutional capability, the U.S. is stepping up to address many of these issues in response to the International Ministerial Conference. Jolie calls on the international community to stay true to their commitments long-term to help establish an effective response to conflict-related sexual violence throughout the world.

– Braden Hampton
Photo: Flickr