Breaking the Silence. 28/3/2017

Published by MEDIUM

Ending the stigma of sexual violence in conflict

The Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative (PSVI) is now in its fifth year. When the UK Government launched the Initiative, Sexual Violence in Conflict was rarely talked about. We didn’t often hear about the hundreds of thousands of people abused and exploited in war zones and conflict affected areas across the world: the 60,000 women, men and children during the civil war in Sierra Leone; over 200,000 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo; the 60,000 in the former Yugoslavia; and another 100,000 to 250,000 in Rwanda who were silenced. Their voices went unheard.

Images captured at the #EndingStigma event at United Nations Headquarters

In 2012, Sexual Violence in Conflict was deemed a ‘part of conflict’ and accepted as normal by far too many people. No one talked about rape being used as a weapon of war; sexual violence and abuse used as a form of control to break apart families and communities. But we know that sexual violence has been, and continues to be, a systematic tool used to terrorise individuals and communities. Sexual violence and rape is a cheap weapon and inflicts damage well beyond bullets and AK-47s. It instils fear and shame and the aftermath is felt many years after the initial violence and abuse occurs.

It wasn’t until 1993 that sexual violence in conflict was labelled as a crime against humanity; 129 years after the first of the Geneva Conventions was agreed.

Too often those who spoke about sexual violence were silenced. Survivors who had suffered the most horrific abuses, often for simply being a woman or girl, were silenced to prevent shame, save dignity and were blamed for being abused.

What lay behind the silence was stigma; the stigma of being a survivor of sexual violence. It’s time we break the silence.

In 2014, at the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict we said it’s ‘Time To Act’. We have.

Journalist and sexual violence in conflict survivor, Jineth Bedoya Lima, tells her story alongside Baroness Anelay.

We have seen the international community come together to recognise that sexual violence in conflict must end. We have seen: global declarations in the UN General Assembly; resolutions in the UN Security Council; and commitments from governments across the world. The UK has trained over 17,000 military and police personnel on sexual violence issues; deployed our Team of Experts over 85 times; launched the second edition of the International Protocol on the Documentation and Investigation of Sexual Violence in Conflict; and provided over £35 million to support more than 70 projects in 26 countries. Those projects continue to enable capacity building and advocacy on the issue of sexual violence, offering protection and supporting survivors.

We have asked a great deal of the world. We have asked for a desperately needed change to the status quo and we have asked the world to right a historic wrong. All of which are big tasks.

But now it is Time To Act again. This time to tackle the stigma endured by so many survivors.

Survivors are shamed, shunned and ostracised, often by their own families and communities. They are singled out and cut off from crucial support networks. They may have to face their attacker every day in the street.

From Burma to Bosnia and from the Democratic Republic of the Congo to Colombia, I have seen the physical and psychological impact on the women, girls, men and boys who have experienced the unspeakable.

The international community must come together to work with local communities to provide an environment that enables survivors to speak out, share their stories, and receive support. We must send a firm signal that they are not alone, they are not forgotten and that we, the international community, stand with them.

The UK is tackling the stigma and negative attitudes associated with sexual violence. Over the last year we have run a series of in-country workshops in countries as diverse as Burma, Kosovo, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Somalia plus many others. These workshops have given us the blueprints to produce the Principles for Global Action.

The Principles are globally owned. We have consulted government experts, civil society, the media, and most importantly, members of the survivor community to ensure we’ve explored every possible avenue to challenge the way each society views stigma. These consultations are ongoing and over the next year we will see a second round of in-country workshops to test the Principles and identify country specific needs.

This week, I am visiting the United Nations to share the first draft of the Principles for Global Action. I will be asking the international community to join us as we work towards publishing the Principles of Global Action later this year at the UN General Assembly and encourage others to join the #EndStigma campaign.

We will only break the silence of stigma if we stand united.