At the first ever Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, attended by over 900 experts, faith leaders, international organizations and survivors from more than 100 countries, sexual violence in conflict was addressed as a serious war crime.

Held in London and co-chaired by British Foreign Secretary William Hague and Special Envoy for the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees Angelina Jolie, the Summit built off the Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, which was endorsed by two-thirds of the U.N. member states in September 2013.

The Summit aimed to end the culture of impunity and address the serious ramifications of sexual violence on a population. A new International Protocol was put forward to strengthen prosecutions for those who commit acts of sexual violence during war. The protocol also creates guidelines to train peacekeepers and soldiers who work in conflict zones to be better equipped to handle populations who are at risk for sexual violence.

Secretary of State John Kerry, speaking on the final day of the Summit, drew lessons from history to encourage the possibility of ending this type of violence in conflict. Advocating for a zero-tolerance policy toward sexual violence, ending impunity and providing more support for survivors, he stated, “we can establish new norms that respect women, girls, men and boys. And we can hold those who commit these acts and those who condone them – we can hold them all accountable.”

One important factor in addressing sexual violence in conflict is poverty. Many conflict zones today where sexual violence is most rampant are in countries with high levels of poverty, which affects women in particular. Women who have to walk home alone late at night, whose only access to a bathroom is outside of their home or who must walk long distances to collect firewood are vulnerable to attacks, both during times of peace and especially during times of conflict.

Countries that lack strong justice systems and where women, girls and men do not have access to strong education systems or who are not major players in economic activity are left vulnerable to these types of acts of violence, with no or little support after the conflict ends.

The Summit was an important step in beginning to address the issue and provide resources to women and men who are affected by sexual violence in conflict. As Secretary Kerry stated: “Acts of sexual violence demean our collective humanity.”

Therefore, ending impunity, providing resources for victims and eradicating poverty are all measures that will help end the practice of sexual violence as a tactic of war. Working to achieve environments where women and men are economically empowered, are able to receive an education and are more secure in their everyday activities are important factors that will contribute to a decrease in instances of sexual violence in conflict.

— Andrea Blinkorn

Sources: 1, 2, US Embassy, The Guardian, All Africa
Photo: Reuters

Stopping Sexual Violence in Conflict
Hosted by the British government, the four-day Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict has begun in London. The event is the biggest of its kind, with representatives from more than 100 countries as well as hundreds of experts, survivors, faith leaders and staff from NGOs and international organizations.

UNICEF has reported that over 150 million young girls and 73 million boys face sexual violence every year. Those living in nations devastated by conflict are especially vulnerable. Forty percent of Congolese women have been subjected to some form of sexual violence during their lives.

In South Sudan, rape has been used as a weapon by both sides of the recent conflict. An estimated 250,000 to 500,000 women were raped during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. Approximately 20,000 to 50,000 women were raped during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina during the early 1990s. However, very few perpetrators are ever prosecuted or convicted for their actions. Around the world, there is a culture of silence and denial that contributes to continued war zone rape and allows rapists to avoid the consequences.

Hollywood star Angelina Jolie, who serves as a special envoy for the United Nations, co-chaired the summit with Foreign Secretary William Hague of the United Kingdom. Jolie urged the international community to focus on efforts to hold the perpetrators of sexual violence accountable. “They feel above the law because the law rarely touches them and society tolerates them… we must send a message around the world that there is no disgrace in being a survivor of sexual violence – that the shame is on the aggressor.”

The organizers of the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict have four major goals: ending the “culture of impunity” by developing and reaching a consensus on an international protocol for documenting and investigating sexual violence in war and conflict zones, training soldiers and peacekeepers to protect women from rape, expanding support for victims, survivors and human rights activists and reaching a “seismic shift” in the global attitude toward sexual violence so that the issue is recognized and addressed on a large scale. To inspire people around the world to recognize its damaging effects on international peace and security, Hague announced a pledge of $10 million from the government of the United Kingdom to help support rape survivors in conflict zones.

David Bull, Executive Director of UNICEF UK, has stated that the summit marks a “watershed in the global fight against the horrors of sexual violence in conflict.” Other key international leaders and activist groups have joined the effort to raise awareness of the abuse of women and children in war, but practical follow-up action is crucial to make a real difference. More nations should devise concrete plans to address the issue of sexual violence, challenge impunity and support the survivors.

As Jolie stated, “it is a myth that rape is an inevitable part of conflict. There’s nothing inevitable about it. It is a weapon of war aimed at civilians. It has nothing to do with sex, everything to do with power.”

— Kristy Liao

Sources: CNN, Lowy Institute for International Policy, United Nations, UNICEF
Photo: Stewardship Report

Protecting Women's Rights
“Enough is enough” is the sentiment of many regarding violence against women worldwide. Due to the multitude of instances in just the past few weeks, people are finally concluding that better legislation must be made for protecting women’s rights, preventing violence and serving appropriate punishments.

The World Health Organization has acknowledged the violence as an epidemic and has said that one in three women will be the victim of physical or sexual violence, most frequently from her male partner.

From the United States, to India, to Ecuador and many places in between, people are beginning to express their concerns with the way women are being treated. Protests are being held, movements are being led and events are being created to bring awareness to the problem’s severity.

“People are beginning to make the connection between the violence and how women are treated on a day-to-day basis,” Liesl Gerntholtz, Executive Director of the Women’s Rights Division of Human Rights Watch, said.

In December of 2013, a gang rape in India led to the death of a 23-year-old female student. The woman’s community and other Indian citizens have used this incident as a springboard for bringing about change in the way women are treated and how perpetrators are punished. Since the event, the Indian government has doubled prison terms for rape and criminalized voyeurism, stalking, acid attacks and the trafficking of women.

In the United States, campaigns against sexual violence in colleges and universities are aiming to increase awareness. For the first time ever, the Department of Education released a list of schools nationwide that are under investigation for their instances of sexual violence and their tactics for handling the situation.

“The violence has been happening forever – it’s not anything new,” Serra Sippel, President of the Washington-based Center for Health and Gender Equity said. “What’s new is that people in the United States and globally are coming around to say ‘enough is enough,’ and starting to hold governments and institutional leaders accountable.”

A notable upcoming event to raise awareness of the problems related to violence against women is The Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict. This event will be in London June 10 – 13. It will be hosted by Foreign Secretary William Hague and Angelina Jolie, special envoy for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

The summit aims to draw attention to four main goals that will drastically change the way women are treated. The first is to improve documentation of sexual violence in conflict. The second involves providing better support and assistance to survivors of sexual violence. The third goal is to ensure that gender-based violence and equality issues are addressed in peace and security negotiations. Lastly, the summit hopes to increase international cooperation to allow for peaceful discussions about issues regarding protecting women’s rights.

The conference will incorporate many other factors, including the launch of the new International Protocol on the Investigation and Documentation of Sexual Violence in Conflict. This procedure will ensure that all instances of sexual violence are being documented correctly.

Attendees of the event will include any government that has signed the U.N. Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict as well as various representatives from organizations, NGOs and civil societies. The summit will be the largest gathering thus far to discuss this subject.

– Hannah Cleveland


Sources: AOL, Gov. UK
Photo: Flickr