On May 22, 2014, three members of the Women, Peace and Security Network – Canada (WPSN-C) met with three representatives from the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada’s Stabilization and Reconstruction Task Force (START) to discuss how the Canadian government intended to participate in the UK Global Summit End Sexual Violence in Conflict.
The WPSN-C members presented this open letter to the START officials with the key messages of the Campaign, emphasizing the importance of making concrete governmental commitments at the Global Summit to support survivors of sexual violence, fund sexual and reproductive health services and women’s organizations, sign the Arms Trade Treaty and implement the Canadian National Action Plan for Women, Peace and Security.
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.
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.
This week in London, from June 10 to 13, there has been the largest gathering ever on the issue of sexual violence in conflict. The Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, co-chaired by UK Foreign Secretary William Hague and Angelina Jolie, in her capacity as Special Envoy for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, aimed to build further on the current willingness to address the issue of sexual violence in conflict in a wide-ranging approach that is including Foreign Ministers, experts, multilateral organizations, NGOs, civil society and survivors.
The purpose of the Summit was to create momentum towards ending the use of rape and sexual violence in conflict through the development of practical agreements that focus the efforts of everyone (governments, NGOs, multilateral organizations and so on) towards specific actions such as better investigation and documentation when incidents of sexual violence in conflict occur, greater support for survivors, and the inclusion of women in peace processes.
But the work towards accomplishing these and related goals will not end with the conclusion of the Summit. Much work needs to be done.
The report reviews testimony heard by the Subcommittee over the last few years on conflict-related sexual violence – in general and in the DRC. It includes 12 recommendations, many of which address issues of interest to WPSN-C members. The report also requests that the Government table a “comprehensive response” to the report. This is something to watch for!
The report examines causes and consequences of sexual violence as a weapon of war, following natural disasters and in other crisis situations. The Subcommittee heard that there are various underlying factors that contribute to “shaping an environment in which sexual violence can occur, including entrenched discriminatory practices and attitudes, weak rule of law, poverty and lack of economic opportunity, and a climate of impunity for perpetrators.”
The report notes that a number of key factors contribute specifically to the prevalence of sexual violence in the DRC:
Widespread discrimination against women in Congolese law and society;
Weak rule of law and a critically under-resourced justice sector that lacks capacity, independence and impartiality, leading to pervasive impunity;
An ineffective, ill-disciplined security sector that is not subject to effective civilian control; and,
Competition among armed groups and individuals for control of natural resource revenues in a region affected by widespread poverty and lack of economic opportunity.
The Subcommittee made 12 recommendations to the Government of Canada. Some relate to Canada’s relationship with DRC and others to the issue of conflict-related sexual violence more generally.
In Zimbabwe, 1 in 3 women and girls are sexually assaulted in their lifetimes. This abuse is usually perpetrated by someone close to the victim – a current or former boyfriend or husband, a family member, a teacher. Most survivors don’t report the crime or seek help. When state institutions, including the military, police and judiciary, are better known for perpetrating and permitting sexual violence rather than preventing and prosecuting it, why would they?
This story may be changing, however.
Building on decades of women’s activism, thousands of men in Zimbabwe are calling on other men to become women’s allies and to speak out against sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) in their communities. Padare/Enkundleni/Men’s Forum on Gender is leading these efforts.
Padare is a feminist men’s organization that engages men and boys on gender issues, including SGBV. The organization sees SGBV as a manifestation of gender inequality and a social system that devalues women and girls. Its goal is to create a gender-just society in which all people have equal rights and are able to exercise those rights, which will result in a better society for men and women, girls and boys.
To accomplish this, the organization uses the historic Shona practice of the “dare” – a forum in which men come together to discuss issues of importance to their communities – as a platform to challenge men and boys to consider what it means to be a man. Having started this process of self-reflection, Padare’s facilitators then encourage men and boys to see respect for women and girls, men’s care-giving roles, and emotional vulnerability as crucial elements of masculinity.
Padare also holds community dialogues which include men, women and children, religious and traditional leaders, health workers and police, to raise awareness and build consensus on how to address gender issues on a broader scale. Additionally, the organization engages the national media, leads gender clubs in public schools, and works closely with the women’s movement. It is even an honorary member of the Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe, a network of over 70 women’s rights organizations and activists.