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8 things I learnt at #ESVC Global Summit to end Sexual Violence

Jolie and Pitt reflect on the Vision not Victim exhibit – exploring women’s empowerment and role in ending sexual violence in conflict

ActionAid UK invited me to attend the GlobalSummit to End Sexual Violence, it was timely for me, as I explained here. My experiences of travelling to Ghana and Tranzania have changed me, Team Honk has shown me that change is possible and increasingly I feel fired up to change this world. My Facebook stream tells me daily that women’s lives if anything seem to be getting worse, not better. Here is in one of my first tweets from the event:

Shocked but not surprised. Violence against women is the most prolific and tolerated human rights abuse globally. #timetoact @ActionAidUK

— Penny Alexander (@AResidence) June 12, 2014

 

1. It is #TIMETOACT and state responsibility is critical The conference brought together foreign ministers from 123 countries, delegates with direct experience of sexual violence, NGOs working to support victims of sexual violence, lawyers, artists, photographers, tech experts. It was chaired by Angelina Jolie and William Hague. It was incredibly inspiring to hear world leaders speak about their commitment to ending sexual violence in conflict. Bringing so many countries together in such high profile way is an incredible move in accountability.   2. Sexual violence must never be seen as an inevitable part of war. It is a human rights violation and a crime. Even in War there are limits. Sexual Violence goes beyond this limit. Mexican Foreign Minister #timetoact #esvc — Penny Alexander (@AResidence) June 12, 2014

2. Why if it is a crime, is it on the rise? One reason is Impunity. Lack of prosecution for perpetrators. Angelina Jolie made a moving speech in which she reminded everyone that war zone rape is never inevitable and that peace is never more important than justice. We cannot forget crimes that happen in war for the sake of peace.

Other reasons are prevention, of conflict and its escalation – there was a tech hack at the conference which brought technical experts and war zone experts together to build solutions around keeping war zones and refuge camps safe.

ActionAid believe empowering women is the means and the end, to sexual violence in conflict, so they are respected in their communities and part of decision making processes around war and peace.

 

4. Sexual violence is used routinely and systematically in many conflicts to degrade civilians.

 

5. Sexual violence leaves scars long after conflict is finished.

Women with children born out of rape. People with horrific physical injuries. Perpatrators who go unpunished and continue to live alongside their victims in peace time. Brutal violence and sexual oppression remain long after conflict.

The exhibition space was full of moving images, testimonies and stories that illustrate that reality. Kahindo was held for three years in the forest by soldiers in the Eastern Congo, both her children are the result of the repeated sexual violence she encountered (photo of a photo by Lyndsey Addario)

Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt stopped to take in the moving accounts, testimonies and photographs that document real women’s lives.

There was inevitable debate on the day about whether Brad was a distraction. Angelina Jolie has campaigned tirelessly on this issue in her role as Special Envoy for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, many of the ideas she and William Hague have explored through the summit are her own.

A strong male role model, with a high media profile, attending to support his wife at the event, sends out exactly the right message to global society. Sexual violence in conflict is an issue that must be tackled by men and women together.

The exhibition was a chance to have your own say too. The ActionAid and The Guardian booth recorded attendees messages to the government about how to end sexual violence in conflict. Here Muriel of French Yummy Mummy voices her message.

ActionAid’s moving montage by artist Julie Bennett allowed delegates from all over the world to join together their messages as a piece of art which will go on permanent display in Sydney.

There was a market place selling items that direct support organisations that help women who are victims of conflict and sexual violence. I bought my kids a bracelet each, it was a chance to talk about people who have very different lives to us.

 

I also bought some peace baskets from Rwanda

 

I was tearful buying a cushion cover made by women in refugee camps in Syria, sometimes we feel so powerless, so far removed from the atrocities in Syria. Suddenly there was a chance to help in a very small way and I felt really overwhelmed. It will be treasured hugely and I will share it in another post. It was symbolic of my desire to help more.

 

6. Cultural and religious beliefs can prevent victims of sexual violence getting support. Instead sexual violence in conflict turns victims into outcasts, rejected by communities, families, culture and at times religion.

 

 

7. Sexual violence is directly related to attitudes to women in peace time.

I talked directly to Action Aid’s Head from Burundi, in a moving 20 minute discussion she told me exactly how it is in Burundi, a country now in peacetime, that has faced three brutal civil wars. Emime recalls hiding in bushes as a toddler during violent ethnic conflict in the 1970s, where her mother threatened to abandon her if she didn’t stop crying: “Better to lose one baby than get the whole family killed,” her mother said to quieten Emime down.

French Yummy Mummy, Liz from Me and My Shadow, Me, Emime, Donna from Lexicon Lane

Emime has worked as a judge in Burundi, at the Ministry of Justice in Rwanda, as a legal consultant at the African Union Commission and at various regional and international NGOs. She now heads up ActionAid Burundi’s work as Country Director.

The scars live on, Action Aid’s work in Burundi empowers women in rural farming communities and will soon provide training to other leading charities on how to help raise women’s status in communities.

As Emime spoke of her work with victims of sexual violence I was reminded of the Tracy Chapman lyrics ‘The police, they always come late, if they come at all.’ Getting a restraining order or a case to court is even more challenging, with bureaucracy and bribes providing significant barriers to prosecution.

 

8. It isn’t someone else’s problem. As the Foreign Minister for Serbia and Herzegovina reminded everyone:

I could write and write, if I hope for one thing, it is that by sharing this post I help to change the viewpoint that sexual violence is inevitable. Many people have already told me they couldn’t have coped with the day, or changed the subject – while women, children and men continue to suffer – it is time to end sexual violence in conflict. We must empower women globally.

How can you help end sexual violence in conflict?

  • Share this post using #timetoact
  • Make a donation to the #SheCan appeal, help Action Aid empower women actionaid.org.uk/shecan the government will match donations until 25 June.
  • Lend your support on Twitter: @ActionAidUK #shecan
  • Follow #timetoact
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