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Sexual violence in conflict: ignoring the bigger picture

Women and girls living in a transit home

Next week, over 140 governments, as well as NGOs, international organisations and members of the public, will commit to the eradication of the practice of sexual violence in conflict. The Summit will consider all aspects of rape and sexual violence in conflict and aims to “create irreversible momentum against sexual violence in conflict and practical action that impacts those on the ground.” It is the largest gathering ever on the subject.

While the Summit is incredibly important, it must be remembered that sexual violence also impacts hundreds of thousands of people in non-conflict situations. Statistics show that 90% of deaths caused by armed violence occur in countries not officially classified as conflict.  The situation appears to be similar when it comes to sexual violence. For example, UK statistics show that 85,000 women in England and Wales reported being raped in 2013.

The international community should ensure that global attention and resources are not addressed too narrowly, and that action is taken which will actually have an impact on the ground.

The Summit is undeniably a great initiative, but greater investment should be put into addressing the causes and consequences of such violence in situations both of conflict and non-conflict. Better data is needed, accurately demonstrating the extent of the problem. Such data would better inform future interventions to help stem the violence, and help survivors deal with the traumatic consequences. Data collection processes should be driven by survivors themselves. The information gathered should be disaggregated in a way that helps determine the types of intervention needed for support, and should focus on the needs and aspirations of victims and survivors. Only by asking survivors themselves how they envision their future, can we begin to influence a problem that is a deep, significant cultural obstacle to reducing sexual violence and violence against women: gender inequality.

Additionally, a stronger focus should be put on programming. Ad hoc, limited, short-term projects are often insufficient and can, unfortunately, negatively affect a situation. Investing in long-term programming, especially programmes which utilize local organizations as primary implementers of the intervention should be the priority. Capable local staff is key to sustainability of any project and ensures that the project has a concrete impact. Such interventions will be more context-appropriate and effective, and will allow the skills, knowledge and capacity built throughout the project to remain in the country.

Thirdly, survivors need to be moblised. Around the world, survivors’ voices must be loud and clear. They must demand end to the practice, and demand that their rights are respected and access to services they need given. It is those who have been traumatized that are most invested in ensuring that such violence does not occur again. Local survivor-led organizations should work together, building their capacity to claim their rights and help others do the same. This will leave the maximum impact on the community and on those victimized themselves. And, building a movement of survivors, be it women, men or children, will ensure that efforts to ban rape remain focused on the victims and survivors who live with their trauma every day.

The victims and survivors must be our priority. Rape is a crime under international human rights law, humanitarian law and under the laws of most countries in the world. It should hold the same stigma as weapons such as landmines: completely unacceptable.

It is time that the spotlight fell onto survivors, ensuring that they can reclaim their rightful place in their communities.

AOAV will be joining the global community at the upcoming Summit. Please follow us at twitter or facebook for updates from the event itself.  For more information about our work on supporting victims, click here.

For more on the Summit, and to see what public events are planned, click here.


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