Today is the first day of the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict in London, organized by the UK government. It is the first ever global summit on this topic, bringing together activists, civil society, experts, governments, and intergovernmental organizations.
Some are hopeful that new commitments will be made by governments and the international community, others fear that this Summit will be like so many conferences before; words but no action. Many forms of action is needed, among other things we need to address the root causes of armed conflicts, empower women and support civil society, change attitudes and build equal societies, and hold the perpetrators accountable. Nevertheless, what is also needed is proper introspection and a realization that we have to start with ourselves first.
Sexual Violence in the UN and Member States
How will the international community end sexual violence in conflict when it is unable to end sexual violence committed by UN peacekeepers in conflict areas? Despite this being a known reality, no mechanism is yet in place to prosecute perpetrators who are deployed in UN missions. The UN keeps repeating that there is zero tolerance for sexual violence in its missions, but the reality on the ground is another story. One example of this is the Democratic Republic of Congo were sexual exploitation and abuse by UN peacekeepers have been a reoccurring problem. In 2005, this led then Secretary General Kofi Annan to describe it as “an ugly stain” on the entire UN.
How will the international community end sexual violence in conflict when its members are unable and sometimes unwilling to end sexual violence in their own counties in times of peace and when sexual violence is common in many armed forces? In the United States for example 1 in 3 women serving in the armed forces have been subjected to sexual violence. According to a calculation by Huffington Post in 2012, a woman in the US army was nearly 180 times more likely to have been sexually assaulted in a year than to have died while deployed during 11 years of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Empowering Women in the International Community
Empowering women and civil society is a fundamental part of the solution to ending sexual violence in conflict. But how will the international community succeed with this when so much remains to be done in its own structures to empower women. It has been 14 years since the adoption of UNSCR 1325 on Women, Peace, and Security and no woman has still been appointed as chief mediator of an UN-managed peace process. How can this be I wonder?
The Summit in London by the UK government is a welcomed initiative and could set the agenda for continued efforts and action to end sexual violence in conflict. However, until those among the international community who are determined to end sexual violence in conflict are willing to see the whole picture and their own role in it, nothing major is likely to change. It is only when we are able to address sexual violence and empower women in our own backyards that we will have the insight necessary to end sexual violence in conflict once and for all.
That being said, I agree with the UK governments slogan:# TIMETOACT
Executive Director – 1325 Policy Group
(Picture: the Foreign and Commonwealth Office)