By Roberta Guerrina
Over the last two years the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has been engaged in a campaign to end sexual violence in conflict. The Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict taking place in London on 10-13 June 2014 is the culmination of this campaign. It is four days of workshops, exhibitions and high level ministerial meetings exploring the impact of sexual and gender based violence on conflict and post-conflict societies. The hosts of the event are UK Foreign Secretary William Hague and UN Special Envoy Angelina Jolie. Together they are supposed to provide both political clout (Hague) and a media friendly face (Jolie) to the campaign.
Lauren Wolfe has already been asking questions as to whether the campaign needs a public advocate such as Jolie, but the reality is that this approach has ensured extensive media coverage of the issue. Political leaders across the world coming together to find a way to address what is a complex and pervasive issue represents a critical juncture. It is a welcome development, as it provides a safe space for survivors (men and women) to come forward and for civil society organisations to lobby governments. It also highlights the necessity of looking at armed conflict through gender lenses, as this brings to light key silences in war narratives. Failing to understand the human dimension of armed conflict, not only affects the conduct of war, it also shapes the post-conflict settlement. Jolie’s opening statement about the nature of the crime drew attention to the issue of power. Feminists have long argued that rape and sexual violence are acts of power aimed at the subjugation, demoralisation and disempowerment of the victims. The discussions taking place at the Summit provided delegates from civil society plenty of opportunities to establish a dialogue with high level political representatives. Sharing knowledge and experience acquired on the ground is one of he defining and most welcomed features of the Summit. The sessions I was fortunate enough to attend covered a number of issues. Particularly interesting was the session on the role of regional organisations (e.g. NATO and the AU) in promoting a new approach to security that is sensitive to civilians experiences of conflict. Equally enlightening was the panel on the challenges facing international organisations – e.g. the UN – seeking to prevent and respond to human rights violations and abuses. So far, the Summit has been incredibly good at highlighting the obstacles to implementing a human security approach, particularly one sensitive to the feminist agenda. What strikes me is that much of today’s discussion seemed to be removed from wider debates about equality. This is a necessary precondition to achieve many of the goals set out by Hague and Jolie’s opening speeches. Without consideration of issues such as economic equality and women’s representation in decision making processes we are unlikely to see kind of step change that IGOs, NGOs, and governments are calling for.