The Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict took place earlier this month between 10th and 13th June 2014 in London, and was co-chaired by the Foreign Secretary and Angelina Jolie, Special Envoy for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. It aimed to draw attention to, and spark action against, sexual violence in conflict.
In modern day conflict, 90% of casualties are civilians. Of this, 75% are women and children. War has moved from the battlefields to households and communities, meaning that women are disproportionately affected by violence and suffer an added dimension of conflict.
“It is now more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier in modern conflict” (Major General Patrick Cammaert, former UN Peacekeeping Commander, 2008)
Sexual violence and the use of rape as a weapon of war remain the most destructive effects of conflict and are the most widespread violations of human rights in the world. Despite this, the issue is often omitted from high-level political agendas. By attracting global political involvement and extensive media attention, the Global Summit has, however, broken the silence and created irreversible momentum against sexual violence in conflict. It has successfully placed the issue at the forefront of political agendas.
This historical gathering was the largest ever on the subject of sexual violence in conflict, uniting hundreds of NGOs, government delegates and foreign ministers from around the world. The public flocked to the event in support of the cause in order to learn more about the atrocities of sexual violence in conflict. Summit attendees engaged with NGOs, listened to panel presentations, participated in discussions and debates, watched artistic performances and purchased products made by survivors of conflict.
The summit drew attention to a range of issues surrounding sexual violence in conflict. Conciliation Resources’ expert panel discussed the role of women in peace negotiations, emphasising the importance of female presence in peace talks in order to provide gender perspective and to change dynamics across negotiation tables. Women for Women International discussed the lessons that were learnt from conflict in Bosnia, explaining both the extent of the use of wartime rape and the NGO’s remedial work in the country. Promundo talked about the importance of engaging men and boys in the fight to end sexual violence in conflict. William Hague and Angelina Jolie emphasised action for change. Many more topics were discussed over the three days in attempts to tackle the complexities of sexual violence in conflict.
Three key messages from the summit
There is the need to not just include women in society, but to change society.
Putting an end to sexual violence in conflict requires more than achieving gender equality. Wartime rape is accepted, by many, both men and women, as a weapon of war – it has been normalised. Attitudes and behaviour towards women need to change in order to reverse the normalisation of sexual violence.
There is a need to re-empower the women who have been disempowered by sexual violence.
Sexual violence in conflict is a dehumanizing and traumatising abuse. Victims of sexual violence must be equipped with the knowledge, confidence and means to obtain legal justice. This may be achieved through legal clinics, training and building women’s leadership and participation. There is a need to bring more perpetrators to justice to act as a deterrent to sexual violence in conflict.
There is a need for men to support the cause.
If male attitudes and behaviour towards women are to be modified, men must also become advocates and act as role models for the cause. Whilst there may be certain gender perspectives and certain circumstances that only women can represent as only women have experienced them, male support is imperative in order to change the situation. Support can be given by being on the agendas of male politicians, or by ensuring male support filters down to all levels of all societies and communities.