Making the Rhetoric a Reality: Ending Sexual Violence in Conflict

Yesterday the eyes of the world were trained on London, as UN Special Envoy Angelina Jolie and Foreign Secretary William Hague opened the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict. An ambitious aim to say the least. The first day of fringe events saw civil society host events highlighting particular aspects of the agenda. From the WILPF focus on Syria, WomanKind on Africa and FGM to the BRIND (Balkan Reporting) asking what lessons can be learned from Bosnia-Herezgovnia. It was clear that the scale of sexual violence (and as many of these panels pointed out, not always in conflict) is harrowing.

Today I attend the first day of ministerial events where the International Protocol on the Documentation and Investigation of Sexual Violence in Conflict will be launched. The document I have just been handed is a weighty one, but nevertheless it relies upon governments to action and commit to realising its provisions on the ground. The Global Summit is a Foreign Office initiative, yet a wide plethora of actors need to be included to realise change including the MoD, DFID and NGOs on the ground.

As the fringe events have drawn attention to, ending sexual violence in conflict requires far more than addressing the symptoms. The root causes can be found in the inequality between men and women embedded in societies. Post-war moments are an opportune moment to challenge the patriarchal nature of society by ensuring women are at the table in decision making talks and to prevent sexual violence going forward. And as the WILPF reminded us yesterday, women continue to be excluded from talks over Syria. The military must also play a role (and this is perhaps where the biggest challenge comes over the practicalities of doing so) in reporting crimes. And impunity must be challenged.

There is also a danger that the focus on conflict will distract us from the sexual violence embedded in societies not at war (including our own). This was an important message highlighted by WomanKind at their fringe panel yesterday. It is important to remember that this is an issue far more pervasive than one confined to conflict.

My hope is that delegates to the ministerial summit follow Angelina Jolie’s lead and engage with the fringe events. There they will find powerful messages, experiences and ideas learnt from experience on the ground which they need to hear in order to even hope to realise the reality of their ambition. We wait to see…