The recent Ending Sexual Violence in Conflict summit in London was billed as the largest gathering of its kind with 1,700 participants. 129 countries of the over 150 that signed the UN Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict were represented, and almost 80 of these by a government ministers. This indeed is a laudable achievement but does this represent success? Significant high level engagement is critical but only a start. As a participant in the summit and invited “expert day” speaker, here are 5 areas where I believe the summit was less successful:
1. Insufficient acknowledgement of root causes
During the official summit sessions, there was very little acknowledgment or focus on the need to work on root causes for prevention of sexual violence in conflict including prevention of conflict and ending militarization. This perhaps not surprising. Though there was some mention of it, the focus was not on addressing the gender inequality that is the basis for much of sexual violence before, during, and after conflict.
- Lack of attention to the most prevalent form of violence against women
While sexual violence committed as a tactic of conflict is indeed horrific and requires concerted global action including by global security and legal institutions, most of the violence against women even in conflict settings is committed by intimate partners. Such violence happens in the home and is beyond the reach or care of the International Criminal Court or Security Council. It is essential to address it before, during, and after conflict and not create false hierarchies of sexual violence.
- Missing Voices
Three groups whose voices were notably absent from the mainstream discussions in the summit were grass roots activists working in conflict settings, including Nobel Prize winners, survivors of sexual violence in conflict, and invited youth delegates from around the world. While there was a whole day dedicated to the youth, most of their public interactions and those of survivors and grass roots activists were either limited to “fringe” events which were held in a cavernous hall one level below the official meetings, or to heavily edited and scripted presentations or videos at the summit’s close. A new network of sexual violence survivors launched on the margins of the summit aims to end such sidelining of survivor’s voices.
- Where is the (new) money?
Increased support for survivors was one of the stated aims of the summit. Various governments –very few compared to the numbers in attendance- announced new money for sexual violence in conflict prevention and response including a doubling of funds from the USA, about $5 million from Australia, 6 million GBP from the UK, 2 million Euro from Finland and 1 million Euro from Germany. The amounts pledged are minuscule when compared to the scope of issue and the needs of the survivors and those who work to support them. 5 million dollars or 6 million GBP seems a lot of money, but rebuilding the health, legal and other systems in war affected countries takes much more money and decades of investment. The costs of caring for the needs of survivors through stop-gap humanitarian action are also significant.
- Elephants in the summit
In addition to conflict countries, Governments of donor countries that are documented violators of human rights including countries with legacies of using sexual violence in conflict and mistreating those escaping such abuses participated in the Summit. They were praised for their financial and political commitments to end sexual violence in conflict without any acknowledgement by the governments or the Summit hosts of the hypocrisy.
As Foreign Secretary William Hague noted in his closing remarks, the summit may in future be seen as the tipping point for ending sexual violence in conflict. That won’t happen without concrete commitments with targets and timelines. It also won’t happen unless those most affected by sexual violence in conflict – the survivors- are recognized as a key part of the response to sexual violence in conflict and more generally as contributors to ending conflict. This has already been articulated in UN Security Council Resolutions relating to Women Peace & Security starting with UNSCR 1325 in 2000 as well as in the new CEDAW General Recommendation 30 on women, peace and security. Vague conclusions such as those included in the official summit summary or the summit’s Statement of Action will not lead to change. Follow-up by the UK Government and by those of us who care about the issue is essential.
The official Summit hashtag was #TimeToAct. For most countries in attendance that time has apparently not yet come. We must hold our countries and those that participated in this historic summit or signed the Declaration of Commitment accountable and tell them words are not enough,