“Wars are still being fought on and over the bodies of women and girls”. Ahead of the annual International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflicts, the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative highlighted that although the scourge of sexual violence does not spare men and boys, women and girls remain the major targets of sexual violence in conflicts worldwide.
The United Nation’s landmark Resolution 1325 (adopted in 2000) called on member states and parties to armed conflict to “take special measures to protect women and girls from gender-based violence, particularly rape and other forms of sexual abuse, and all other forms of violence in situations of armed conflict”.
But almost twenty years later, much progress is still needed to prevent and reduce cases of sexual violence in conflicts. A new resolution adopted earlier this year, Resolution 2467, introduces a new survivor-centered approach to help combat this type of violence.
The terms of the resolution include guaranteed justice for survivors and their children and the ending of impunity for perpetrators of conflict-related sexual violence. In this resolution, the UN also called for “greater attention to the physical and economic security of survivors, which includes mental, physical, and sexual health.”
However, the United States vetoed part of the draft language contained in the resolution – which had said that wartime rape victims should have access to sexual and reproductive health services – on the basis that this implied access to abortion. The resolution was ultimately adopted without this language. Amanda Klasing, acting women’s rights co-director at Human Rights Watch said that the veto can be seen as a threat to women’s rights: “The Trump administration’s extreme position on sexual and reproductive health and rights is pervading all aspects of its foreign policy in ways that escalates a global erosion of women’s human rights.”
Sexual violence against women and girls has been under the spotlight in recent years as a widespread critical issue that needs to be addressed. The awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2018 to activists Nadia Murad and Denis Mukwege, who work on ending violence against women in conflict situations, was a testament to that. More broadly, the different forms of violence against women and girls were also brought into sharp focus through the recent #MeToo campaign.
More than a third of women living today have experienced either physical or sexual violence at some point in their lives and there is evidence that conflict situations increase women’s vulnerability to violence.
It is imperative not to become complacent about these issues or to assume that things will only get better for women – the recent negotiations over the language of Resolution 2467 highlight the need to remain vigilant. International Days like this one are important tools for fostering awareness and mobilising political will. As such, it is very important that these days are marked and that we, as global citizens, stand in solidarity with victims of sexual violence everywhere.
Sign up to our newsletter to get our top stories straight to your inbox.
Image courtesy of UN Photo/Staton Winter via United Nations Photo
Zambia is not known for high rates of violence – on the contrary, it is a country that hosts many refugees from conflicts in neighbouring countries. Reports on the humanitarian situation in Zambia, therefore, frequently focus on the situation of displaced persons in the country, rather than the situation of Zambians themselves. What is overlooked even more easily is the situation of children: yet a recent report released by UNICEF reveals how prevalent violence against children is in Zambia today. Based on the 2014 Violence Against Children Survey, conducted by the Zambian government, UNICEF’s report details data involving violence faced by children, and offers potential solutions and steps going forward.
The UNICEF report investigated the exposure of children to physical, sexual and emotional violence, with half of those questioned for the survey stating that they experienced at least one type of violence before they were eighteen. According to UNICEF findings, not surprisingly sexual abuse is more likely to affect girls, with perpetrators most frequently being spouses, romantic partners or friends. Boys are somewhat more affected by physical violence, yet a total of one third of females and two fifths of males were exposed to this kind of violence as children. Perpetrators of physical violence are most commonly parents or adult relatives. Emotional violence is less prevalent, yet a fifth of females and a sixth of males were exposed to it, a number that is still highly worrying.
Primary respondents of the survey came from a random group of the ages 13 to 24 years, being questioned about their experience before their eighteenth birthday. Alarming as the numbers are by themselves, awareness of how and where to seek help, also to cope after the violence has stopped, was low among the respondents. Consequently, UNICEF calls for concerted efforts by the government as well as international partners to take action to protect children from violence and to assist survivors of abuse.
Check out this infographic by UNICEF detailing the numbers related to violence against children in Zambia.
Sign up to our newsletter to get our top stories straight to your inbox.
Image courtesy of SuSanA Secretariat via Flickr
What countries do we think of when we hear the word “war” in a modern context? Most of us could probably list Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, and for good reason. These three countries have experienced devastation and destruction as a result of wars that have ravaged their landscapes and terrorised their populations. The international media have widely covered these conflicts, and in so doing their names have become synonymous with our notion of modern warfare. But, these nations are not the only countries that face war and devastation. This article examines the current situation in Burundi, a country whose war has been overshadowed by those in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, amongst others.
Burundi has a long history of ethnic conflict between Tutsi and Hutu populations, a conflict which brew to a boil in 1993 when the Hutu president was assassinated during a failed coup led by Tutsi soldiers. This attack led to a bitter civil war between the ethnicities which saw over 300,000 people killed in less than 10 years. In an attempt to avoid such events recurring in the future, a new constitution was created which included a provision that limited the run of a president to two terms and mandated an ethnic rotation of power every 18 months.
In April 2015, the president, Pierre Nkurunziza, announced that he was running for a third term as president, in direct violation of the country’s constitution. The day after his announcement, thousands of protestors took to the streets. The police responded to these protests by shooting live ammunition into the crowds, killing six, injuring several and charging over 60 with participation in an insurrection movement. Nkurunziza subsequently made a public announcment threatening anyone who dared question the validity of his presidential candidacy.
In May 2015, the Constitutional Court ruled that Nkurunzia could run for a third term without violating the Constitution. The Vice-President of the Court fled the country the day after, having been the only member of the court to vote against the candidacy. He stated that he had received several threats and feared for his life should he remain in Burundi. Nkurunzia was re-elected in July 2015, warning that if the opposition did not put down their arms he would instruct law enforcement services to use “all possible means” to quash the opposition.
The events that followed in Burundi resulted in over 130 murders and 90 cases of torture over the course of six months, according to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. On December 11 of that year, following attacks from an armed opposition militia, around 300 young men were taken from their homes and arrested by Government forces. The following day over 150 of the detainees were found dead, their bodies scattered around their villages. The government has also shut down all of the country’s independent media and has subsequently shut down all independent media.
In 2017, Burundi became the first country to withdraw from the International Criminal Court. The Court, however, has ruled that the withdrawal of the country does not affect the jurisdiction of the court to investigate crimes that occurred while the country was still a member. Similarly, in 2017, a UN Commission of Inquiry was established by the UN Human Rights Council. The Commission found that there were reasonable grounds to believe that crimes against humanity had been committed in Burundi since April 2015, including extrajudicial executions, arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, torture and sexual violence. The majority of the violence has been attributed to government intelligence, police and youth forces although a small amount of the violence has been connected to opposition forces. Amnesty International have backed these assertions and warn that the current situation is the beginning of a countrywide genocide.
As it stands, the events in Burundi deserve our full attention. We must not allow the coverage of one war to detract from another. Violence of inhuman proportions is ravaging a nation that is still recovering from a devastating civil war. Men, women and children are facing the unthinkable: forced to choose between risking their lives or fleeing their homes. It is a situation that we must never become immune to and a news story we must never become comfortable with.
Image courtesy of Christine Vaufrey at Flickr
“Sexual violence is a brutal form of physical and psychological warfare rooted in the gender inequality extant not only in zones of conflict, but in our everyday personal lives … The prevention of sexual violence must remain one of our highest priorities.”
– United Nations secretary-general António Guterres
What is the stigma?
The stigma suffered by survivors of conflict-related sexual violence has to stop. When sexual violence occurs during war time, the victim is traumatised twice. Firstly by the violent acts of the perpetrator and then again by the reaction of their community. This reaction is the reason sexual violence during an armed conflict is used as a tactic of war or even terrorism.
The perpetrator clearly understands the perceived dishonour of war time rape. Women suffer through the stigma of lost virginity or pregnancy out of wedlock. Children conceived through rape are often considered “children of the enemy”. Through male rape there is often a loss of masculinity, homophobia, and the shame of being unable to defend oneself and loved ones.
What can be done ?
To address this stigma, the conduct of society and the state as a whole needs to change. It is of utmost importance that the underlying social norms that have encouraged victim-shaming be addressed and hopefully put to an end. In order to bring in this change, it is necessary that legal and policy approaches bridges formal and informal spheres in a society.
The UN report on Conflict Related Sexual Violence has clearly observed that there is a trend of outdated and incomplete definitions of sexual violence at the national level. The law often fails to criminalise marital rape, ignore coercive circumstances, domestic violence and exclude males from the scope of protection. This leads to permissive circumstances and attitudes in wartime regarding sexual violence in the context of sex-slavery and forced marriages.
This, in turn, is observed to be a legitimate practice in the post-conflict phase. The transitional period after conflict can provide an opportunity to transform certain inadequate laws, public perception of sexual violence and societal norms that have shamed victims.
Photo by Linus Nylund on Unsplash
Is sexual violence during war a gender or security issue? Deepthi Suresh investigates.
Feminist scholarship on sexual violence during peacetime changed the way we talk about rape, making it a matter of public concern. Instead of a side effect or armed conflict, rape was seen as an integral part of the war time power struggle. This had important implications to the way we discuss rape that occurs outside armed conflict. Sexual violence is a form of social power, characterized by the gender power relations. Under feminist scholarship, rape became a politically charged discussion.
Then how do we assess wartime sexual violence?
Sara Meger has put forward the idea that, “Security approach to sexual violence unintentionally produces its fetishisation and that this process undermines efforts to address sexual violence”.
This fetishisation has directed policy towards security and protection, rather than addressing underlying attitudes.
The securitisation of sexual violence, therefore, has placed gender-based violence within the “high politics” of international security according to Sara Meger. By accepting that gender-based violence committed in armed conflict is an inevitable consequence, it fits into traditional security paradigms. This understanding of gender-based violence somehow has lured policy makers into a fantasy of gender equity but in reality, only obscures the structures that may be the root causes of wartime sexual violence. By focusing instead on increasing security, we ignore the power structures that are vital to understanding rape
Why is feminist inquiry into sexual violence important?
Feminist inquiry certainly brought in a new mode of critical explanation that addressed issues of domestic violence and sexual violence both during wartime and peacetime. This non-conventional explanation recognised it as a political phenomenon. It also laid emphasis on gendered tropes and justifications that exist around why rapes exist.
Feminist researchers brought into the limelight evidence of brutal acts of sexual violence and strategic choices made by the perpetrators such as rape camps, genital mutilations, sexual torture, brutal accounts of soldiers who have perpetrators themselves, perpetrators who have been authority figures such as police officers and UN peacekeepers etc.
They also brought in enough empirical evidence on lack of intervention by agencies, the depiction of rape in popular media and by news agencies, the falsification of actual cases of rape in a particular place by international agencies or Non-governmental organisations etc. as well as the demand for an international collaboration to end rape.
Photo via Flickr.