Women still first victims of sexual violence in conflicts

Women still first victims of sexual violence in conflicts

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.




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Image courtesy of UN Photo/Staton Winter via United Nations Photo

The growing movement calling for the rights of intersex people

The growing movement calling for the rights of intersex people


Intersex is a term that refers to a range of medical conditions whereby the genetic makeup of an individual is different from their sex organs. For example, a person who is genetically female may have testes instead of ovaries or a genetic male may not have a penis. These medical conditions affect around 1.7% of the world’s population, an almost equal amount of people across the world as there are redheads, and yet it is a fairly hidden condition, unknown to most.


Intersex Surgery on Children
In 2017 Belgian model, Hanne Gaby Odiele, made headlines with a public announcement that she was intersex. In the video, she called for an end to “traumatising” surgeries which are performed on young children and infants in order to conform them to the binary conception of gender. She describes the traumatic process of countless surgeries that she underwent as a child in an attempt to “normalise” her, resulting in recurring physical ailments as well as psychological distress. Since the mid-60s doctors across the world have been routinely performing such “normalising” surgeries on children, long before they are capable of deciding for themselves whether they want these procedures.


The idea behind these surgeries is based on the work of Dr. John Money, an American doctor who specialised in gender identity and advocated that gender was a socially malleable construct. He was made famous by the tragic case of David Reimer. David Reimer underwent a botched circumcision as a child, destroying his penis. Dr. Money advised that the child undergo surgery to change his genitalia from male to female, his name be changed to Brenda, and he be raised as female. Brenda had many mental health issues as a child and was eventually told of her gender reassignment at 14. She transitioned back to her original gender and became known as David, once again. David continued to suffer from mental illnesses and eventually took his own life at age 38. Despite this tragic outcome, the surgery was hailed by Dr. Money as proof that gender could be socially constructed, a sort-of nurture triumphs nature viewpoint.


In May 2018, California became the first US state to condemn unnecessary surgery on intersex children. The state recognised that while certain surgeries on intersex children can sometimes be necessary from a medical point of view, cosmetic surgery can be “unnecessary, irreversible, often traumatising and carries a risk of lifelong harm” according to Human Rights Watch. Such surgeries have been condemned by the WHO, Physicians for Human Rights, Amnesty International, the UN, the FRA and the Council of Europe, Malta, Australia and many other countries and organisations. The practice is often likened to Female Genital Mutilation and there is a growing body of medical research which shows that such early, unnecessary surgeries can lead to physical and psychological harm or trauma for intersex people, including the risk of assigning the wrong sex. There also exists insufficient evidence demonstrating that a failure to have such surgeries leads to the individual struggling in society.


In Ireland, births and sex must be registered within three months. In exceptional cases, consent may be obtained by the Registrar for a period up to a year. Ireland is one of 21 European countries where “normalising” surgeries continue to be performed, although their frequency is decreasing. Consent is required once the individual is of a certain age with adequate cognitive abilities and the ability to decide, usually around 15, but this does not apply in the case of young children. There lacks any formal medical protocol when dealing with intersex children in Ireland.


What needs to change?
The Council of Europe and the Fundamental Rights Agency, alongside several other NGOs and lobby groups, have called for an end to “normalising” surgeries without the informed consent of the intersex individual. They also call for the establishment of international medical protocols for surgeons and medical staff when dealing with intersex patients. From a legal perspective, rights groups have called for the prohibition of such surgeries and, in Ireland, are currently lobbying for legal recognition of a third, non-binary gender under the Gender Recognition Act 2015.




Image courtesy of Claire Anderson at Unsplash