By Stacey Schamber

In response to the UK’s plan to host an international conference on the ten-year anniversary of their preventing sexual violence in conflict initiative (PVSI), members of the Women’s Alliance for Security Leadership (WASL) shared their reflections during our weekly community check-in call. Despite mention of conflict-related and other sexual violence (CRSV) in 8 security council resolutions since 2008, there remains substantial gap in implementation with the Secretary General’s reports indicating low levels of compliance by conflict parties.

WASL members shared the real-time descriptions of CRSV from their communities:

  • In Syria and Yemen young men are raped in detention and by soldiers
  • In Afghanistan, military and para-military local war lords use rape as a weapon of war and terror to strengthen their grip on local communities
  • The economic crisis in Lebanon precipitated an increase in sex trafficking in the airport and along the border with Syria
  • In Cameroon if a girl is raped, traditional community mechanisms impose a small fine on the perpetrator
  • In South Africa women in uniform were targeted with sexual violence

These examples illustrate the many challenges surrounding CRSV such as shame and stigma which prohibits communities from talking about this issue and often prevent survivors from accessing services. WASL member Mia Bloom described how the misconception of CRSV as a natural consequence of war has contributed to the lack of an effective mechanism to prevent it. There has been considerable growth in the study of CRSV but more research is needed, which is particularly challenging given the nature of under-reporting of incidents and ethical sensitivities in documentation.

The misconception of conflict-related sexual violence as a natural consequence of war has contributed to the lack of an effective mechanism to prevent it.

When asked about effective interventions, many WASL members recommend increasing awareness about CRSV, both to deter perpetrators from inflicting such violence as well as to encourage survivors to access the care they need including legal, livelihood, health and psychosocial support. In the Philippines women-led organizations came together, including those with more elite status, to lobby for laws to protect women from violence. While their collective efforts took years to see fruition, the national police are now required to have a women’s desk, which allows women to feel more comfortable to report crimes. Over the course of 10-20 years, more women have been recruited into the police force.

In Indonesia, WASL partner Empatiku is advocating for a state law prohibiting sexual violence. They’re also training social workers and counselors to rehabilitate perpetrators of domestic violence and take a more integrated approach to working with victims, families, and perpetrators. In Lebanon, women peacebuilders would like to train the police and airport personnel to identify the warning signs of human trafficking. They’re witnessing an increase in cases especially along the Syrian border.  

WASL members also discussed their experiences with the media and other community leaders. While journalists and religious leaders do not always address CRSV with respect, alliances with them can help to change the culture and promote awareness that violence against women is not condoned or linked to notions of honor. TV and radio programs can model a more positive response to survivors.

One of the most prominent gaps and hence recommendations for preventing and responding to CRSV is to scale up services for survivors. In countries such as Yemen, war and poverty have exacerbated cases of domestic violence and services are almost non-existent, only provided by CSOs and not even present in hospitals. Funding and support for psychological care and economic initiatives are paramount. Shelters and other services should be held to international standards. Similarly, attention and funding should be directed to monitor the conditions of, and provide services to, those detained and in prison where CRSV has been rampant.

One of the most prominent gaps and hence recommendations for preventing and responding to CRSV is to scale up services for survivors.

Another strategy to increase awareness is to engage cultural and social influencers. For instance, in the Yazidi community in the aftermath of ISIS, religious leaders protected survivors of CRSV. WASL member Nicoline Wazeh from Cameroon concurred with the need to address cultural barriers. For instance, when she gave a recent training to police, she was surprised to find that many did not know that CRSV constitutes a war crime. Her colleague, Clotilda Andiensah Waah, also agreed and advocated for integrating awareness about CRSV and its consequences in educational curricula. This institutional approach is one key strategy for shaping the cultural discourse.

Finally, WASL member Cerue Konah Garlo from Liberia raised the crucial issue of accountability. She described how in Sierra Leone perpetrators were held accountable whereas in Liberia they were rewarded with jobs including government positions. She comments, “I think the UK and other strong governments should hold government accountable- impose travel bans on government officials who refuse to protect women from violence.”

These are the key struggles:

  • how to scale up services for survivors;
  • how to reduce shame/stigma by shifting cultural narratives; and
  • how to strengthen political will and hold states accountable?

We don’t need another 15 years of resolutions and awareness months. It’s time, past time, to close the gap.

Summaries of the rest of the calls can be accessed here

For more information please contact Melinda Holmes, WASL Program Director

+1 202-355-8220

1126 16th Street NW Suite 250, Washington, DC 20036

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