After the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict — Now what?

Global Summit

This Summit is just the beginning. We must apply the lessons we have learned and move from condemnation to concrete action. We must all live up to the commitments we have made. Having come together we must move forward with a collective responsibility, showing leadership at all levels on ending sexual violence in conflict.

Chair’s Summary – Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict


The cameras have been turned off. The microphones are silent. Foreign Ministers have moved on to the next hotspot. Posters, reports and informatics have been boxed up.

And the activists have returned to what they were doing before the Summit – working for change, for peace and for justice.

Positives and yet questions

The UK’s Foreign Secretary Hague said that he wanted a summit like no other. And it looks like he got it. The Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict was held in London last week. It brought thousands of activists, government officials, journalists, experts, academics, and celebrities together and certainly raised the profile of the issue.

On the positive side, the Summit saw the launch of International Protocol on the documentation and investigation of sexual violence in conflict, a tool outlining best practices. Leaders signed a Statement of Action. A global network of survivors of sexual violence was launched: Survivors United For Action.

The Summit was also an opportunity for activists and experts to exchange ideas, meet and learn.

However, there were also questions and more critical voices. The International Campaign released a statement expressing disappointment that the Summit ended with few tangible results. Nobel Laureate Jodie Williams lamented the exclusion of civil society organizations from the ‘official’ discussions. Our own WPSN-C blog included reflections from Carleton University professor Doris Buss on prevention, gender and limiting the focus to ‘rape as a weapon of war.’

Even though money doesn’t solve all problems, it is clear that resources are needed. On this front, there were surprisingly few announcements.

Nothing new from Canada

And what of Canada? Calls for the Government of Canada to take strong positions and meaningful steps were met with a half-hearted response. Yes, Minister Baird did chair a session and yes, he signed the Statement of Action. Yes, various Canadian officials, including the Canadian Ambassador to Afghanistan, spoke.

However, there were no new announcements, no new commitments, no new initiatives.

There were no indications that Canada would reverse its current position of refusing to fund the full range of reproductive health services to survivors of violence, as called for in United Nations Security Council Resolution 2122.

Unlike other countries, Canada did not make the links between the availability of small arms and light weapons, signing the Arms Trade Treaty and violence against women in conflict.

There were 2 DFATD media releases on Minister Baird’s participation in the Summit. The first release (June 11th) did not bode well for new Canadian initiatives, as Canada’s contribution appeared to be limited to previously announced priorities:

“The time is now for the world to take action against sexual violence in conflict,” said Baird. “I look forward to bringing to the table Canada’s approach to eliminating child, early and forced marriage and advancing women’s political and economic empowerment.”

The second release quoted the Minister: “At the summit, I met with foreign ministers, representatives of international organizations and experts in the fight against sexual violence,” said Baird. “We all agree that commitments must be turned into action to end sexual violence in conflict. It is time to act.” Not exactly a ground-breaking observation.

This same release noted that Canada is providing $537 million to support security, development and humanitarian projects in West Africa. Interestingly there was no information on if or how these initiatives support gender equality more generally or ending sexual violence in conflict more specifically.

Moving Forward

As the dust settles on the Summit, there will be more and more analysis of what it achieved and where it fell short.

Of course, major questions remains: Has there been a change in how the world responds to sexual violence in conflict? Are the links between gender inequality in peacetime and sexual violence during armed conflicts better understood? Are we prepared to look to demilitarization and peaceful solutions to conflicts?

As before the Summit, the most consistent drivers of change are the hard-working, under-resourced and often-threatened activists and advocates. Will they now have more space, more security and more resources to carry out their work? Will their voices be heard after the cameras are shut down and the microphones turned off?

Beth Woroniuk is a member of the Steering Committee of the Women, Peace and Security Network – Canada. You can follow her on Twitter at @bethottawa.

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