Who ever would have thought MP William Hague and American movie star Angelina Jolie would be seen on stage together. One belongs in the House of Commons. The other on the red carpet or on a film set. Yet this week saw just that. Two unlikely public figures coming together to fight for the same cause: to end sexual violence in conflict.
The summit, being held from the 10-13th June in London, is the first time this subject has been brought to light in this way. Bringing together representatives globally, this issue is finally being noted as something worthy of discussion. An issue that for too long has been side-lined or completely ignored. Around 150 countries have signed the declaration, a pledge to end this violence. It includes Nigeria and Pakistan. Two countries who themselves have recently been used as global examples of the variety of sexual violence that occurs. The summit aims to create an international protocol to deal with the crimes of sexual violence. It hopes to create guidelines in order to bring to justice those who commit such crimes. These perpetrators, as William Hague so aptly phrased, live in ‘a culture of impunity.’
…Rape is not sex. Rape is about power and control…
Sexual violence in conflict has often been noted as a common occurrence during war: something that is inevitable and therefore cannot be prevented. While it is (horrifically) a common occurrence, it is not a natural, humanistic act. Rape is not sex. Rape is about power and control: a weapon of war. An act so beyond any emotion or empathy that it leaves the victim scarred both physically and psychologically.
Worse too, the treatment of these victims, mostly whom are women and girls but can be boys and men, is paradoxical. The victims become the criminals. Young girls who fall pregnant after rape can be ostracized from their communities. The crime? Bearing a child out of wedlock. For the victim’s family, this is too shameful. It is the victim’s fault. They are the one’s who should be punished.
…unprecedented levels of sexual violence…
Such violence and examples haunt our past and ensue in the present. Countries throughout Africa, including Sierra Leone, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Sudan, all of which have seen violent clashes and civil wars, have experienced unprecedented levels of sexual violence. Africa is not the only continent affected. South America, specifically the Latin American countries such as El Salvador whose civil war ended in 1992, has thousands of victims.
The disturbing details of the crimes committed and exact figures for those victims are a guestimate. No accurate statistics can be given. Rape and sexual violence instils silence, fear and shame. Most often, there is lack of acknowledgement from the offender that any crime was ever committed. In many countries, rape is not even considered a crime within the war context. And here lies the ultimate goal of this week’s summit. To change this: to change the attitudes, laws and guidance for all those effected. To no longer allow those victims to suffer in silence or be afraid to speak out. These actions and goals are vital. But consideration and work must also be directed to the exact cause of sexual violence and how one can stop it occurring in the first instance. Once this understanding is reached and a grassroots level adopted, then we really can all come together globally and end sexual violence in conflict.