Today the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict came to an end. It was the largest event of its kind ever, with over 140 nations in attendance, and was hosted in a cavernous conference hall in London. In many ways it was a show of power from the UK Government, to use a military term, who demonstrated their seriousness in stopping rape being used as a weapon of war. But instead of flying jets or watching marching armies, they talked.
Angelina Jolie and William Hague certainly created some pulling power for the Summit, and while overall it was a positive event, certain things grated. It wasn’t as survivor centric as it should have been. When Angelina Jolie was speaking on a public panel, survivors were given comparatively little attention by those watching. The public audience was not fully engaged, and had stopped paying attention before survivors even said a word.
A nameless government official, on the journey home from the Summit one day, asked AOAV if the Summit was organised by NGOs. She thought that, because of the format of the Summit, it probably was. There were so many exhibits and fringe events, and it was so populated by civil society. It was not the ‘usual diplomatic event,’ she said with a sort of disdain. As if the fact that it was ‘NGO-y’ made it less impactful and meaningful.
She might have had a point. The really important talks, about really important issues that are truly to be resolved are usually not so filled with media and side events. They aren’t packed with jargon-filled speeches by dignitaries from across the globe. The real discussions, which result in real governmental action, happen behind closed doors, not in front of the world’s media.
So, what can we really say about this event?
Well it certainly was big. But it was run by the ‘separate but equal’ principle, with civil society presenting their noble work downstairs on the way in, and the ‘real talk’ taking place upstairs on the third floor.
But perhaps most of all, the Summit suffered from an over ambitious agenda. As a result it seemed a bit scattered and without a true focus. While there was a great sense that we all need to work together on this issue, a greater sense of united momentum towards a concrete goal was missing.
As Edina, a Bosnian survivor of sexual violence in war, said to AOAV: “I’ve been listening to this ‘we should do this, we should do that’ for 20 years now. I hope we can eliminate the ‘should’ from our vocabularies when we talk about working on this issue.”
The Delegates’ Handbook says the conference was to be ‘a Summit like no other.’ But, as the final speeches were given, it was clear that this goal was not really met. Yes, things were said that were expected to be said. But to be frank, it was very much same old, same old. The few unique phrases and ideas which were spoken of were said by people on the fringes. Those in the limelight did not come up with anything truly ground-breaking.
However, it should not be forgotten that this Summit has the potential to be a real turning point in the fight to end sexual violence in conflict and non-conflict situations. The momentum cannot be lost. All this rhetoric, and all this talking, must turn into action.
As one of the Nobel Women’s Peace Initiative members said: “Let the world know. Survivors are here to stay and ready to fight for theirs and their peers’ dignity.”
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