Sexual violence survivors cannot be forgotten. The voices of survivors cannot be silenced
On the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict, the UN and the EU join their voices to call on the international community to accelerate its action to eliminate sexual and gender-based violence: “We re-commit to working together to prevent conflict-related sexual violence, to protect its victims, to end impunity for its perpetrators and to guarantee access to justice, reparations and redress for survivors,” EU High Representative Josep Borrell and UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Pramila Patten said in a joint statement.
In situations of conflict, civil societies are highly affected, particularly the most vulnerable groups. Women and girls are often targeted by war and terrorism: they become victims of rape or of genital mutilation, as a way to demonstrate the submission to occupying forces. Women are also forced to engage in sexual activity for their survival or in exchange for food or shelter for their families. Girls are exposed to this behaviour as well, many of them forced to marry or to integrate prostitution chains.
Survivors often face the stigma of their societies, as seen as collaborators with occupying forces or without being recognised as victims. This is why it is important to listen to their story, to identify patterns and to commit different parties to recognise this issue and put a stop to it.
In 2008, the EU has published the Guidelines on violence against women and girls and combating all forms of discrimination against them. It prioritises women’s rights within the EU human rights policy towards third countries and sets out a strategy for dealing with individual cases of human rights violations.
The EU also works to promote women’s rights within multilateral organisations such as the United Nations. It participates in the UN Commission on the Status of Women(link is external) and, among other actions, is an active partner in the SPOTLIGHT initiative(link is external), which aims to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls by 2030.
The voices of survivors cannot be silenced
Figures are not easy to gather, as social contexts leave little room for victims to speak, in addition to emotional and physical trauma. However, we are capable of asserting that more than 35 per cent of women and girls in Mali experience sexual and/or intimate partner violence in their lifetime. Fifty per cent of women are married while they are still children.
Djénéba*, mother of 6 year-old survivor of sexual assault in Mali says “I ask everyone, especially during this time of coronavirus, not to leave your children unsupervised”.
Djénéba*’s concern has a reason for it. The implications of the COVID19 pandemic increase the risks of violence, particularly against women and girls in fragile and conflict-affected contexts. The EU, together with the United Nations, calls for the need to ensure a pandemic response and recovery, based on the full respect of human rights for all, that pays particular attention to their needs and concerns.
Quarantines and restrictions on movement are disrupting the work of United Nations entities in gathering information, verifying violations and enhancing compliance by both state and non-state parties with international obligations. Therefore, the United Nations, together with the EU, are committing to further strengthen the work to help vulnerable groups rebuilding their lives and livelihoods.
This also includes male victims of sexual violence. On the eve of the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict, Ugandan Aimé Moninga won the Human Rights Defenders Award due to his work in support of male survivors of conflict-related sexual violence and his leadership of Men of Hope, a survivors’ association.
“This prize is for me and all the survivors of sexual violence, a consideration and a recognition of our struggle against impunity,” said Aimé Moninga upon winning the award. Despite the progress made and the recognition through this award, “the struggle remains long and difficult,” he concluded.
Voices of survivors like Djénéba*’s daughter or Aimé’s cannot be silenced or forgotten and it is now that joint efforts need to be put in place to assist victims and prevent more cases from happening.