The UK government hosts the International Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative (PSVI) Conference in London this week. CARE is bringing together 7 women activists from 7 conflict-affected regions to attend the conference and ensure their voices are heard by leaders and decision-makers.
Throughout conflicts in history and today, sexual violence has been used as a tactic of war and a form of repression. Often this type of violence has been stigmatising for survivors – leading to them remaining silent about their experience, and perpetrators escaping justice.
That’s why it’s so important the voices of women affected by sexual violence in conflict are heard. Local women’s organisations must be supported to lead gender-based violence prevention and response efforts, even in times of conflict – so they can participate meaningfully in decision-making and their priorities can be recognised and funded to the scale of the problem.
Wesal Abdullah, Gender-Based Violence programme manager, Arab Women Organization of Jordan, is one of the 7 women attending. She says:
I hope this conference paves the way for a closer relationship between states, donors and the international community and changemakers at the local level, especially women-led organisations. Because it is the women-led organisations who have the know-how to prevent sexual violence in conflict, and protect women from sexual and gender based violence.”
Suzan Aref, human rights and civil society activist, founder and director of Women Empowerment Organisation, Iraq, says:
I want this conference to increase the political will of governments and donors, to influence our government in Iraq, on how to make women a priority on their agenda. Also it must build the trust between donors and the international community, and women’s rights organisations – how to involve them in all processes, not just consultation but also designing programmes, implementation and monitoring of work to prevent sexual violence. For me, it’s very important to build this trust, because there is a big gap between donors and women’s rights organisation. We need to hear more women’s voices.”
Razia, Rohingya human rights lawyer, says:
From this conference, I want to see women given the respect they deserve. Their problems are always ignored. The name of the conference is very promising – but support for women has been very mixed, the international community isn’t making enough progress. The quote is always ‘Never again’ but I’ve been hearing this since 2010 and violence against women is still going on.”
Jeannette Frangieh, Founder and Director of Himaya Daeem Aataa (HDA) NGO, Lebanon, says:
I look forward to seeing more government engagement in preventing sexual violence and providing more support and prioritize justice for victims of sexual violence. It’s time to work more and talk less.”
We know that sexual violence in conflict is preventable, not inevitable. The conference is a crucial chance to make desperately-needed progress. If world leaders are serious about tackling sexual violence in conflict, then they need to listen to Wesal, Suzan, Razia and the voices of the women survivors, activists and organisations who understand what needs to be done to prevent it.