Hague and Jolie Prevention of Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative: High Marks for Mobilization Efforts, Lower Scores for Effectiveness and Empowerment

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January 13, 2020
Mendy Marsh, Co-founder and Executive Director

The Independent Commission for Aid Impact report into PSVI provides a moment to recognize how humanitarian and development organizations can be more effective in their efforts to address violence against women and girls.

The discussion around sexual violence in conflict often divorces it from the gender-based violence that women and girls experience in all settings, everywhere, throughout their lives. Sadly, the narrative around the Prevention of Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative has reinforced and exacerbated this trend. While the partnership of Angelina Jolie and William Hague did much to draw attention to the sexual violence perpetrated by armed actors during conflict, we know that women and girls living in situations of conflict and crisis are often at greater risk of intimate partner violence and other culturally authorized forms of abuse, such as early marriage. Characterizing sexual violence in conflict as somehow different or more appalling than other forms of violence that women and girls experience across their lifespan applies a false distinction that ignores the root cause of violence against women and girls: gender inequality.

Moving forward, Prevention of Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative’s efforts must be rooted in an understanding of the global problem of gender inequality, which in turn contributes to the global pandemic of violence against women and girls. While it is recognized that sexual violence in conflict does happen to men and boys, the Prevention of Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative should reflect on how its efforts to prevent and help seek justice for sexual violence in conflict should be accountable to women and girls in every step of the process. VOICE agrees with the Independent Commission’s report that “the UK (and all development actors) should ensure that its work on preventing sexual violence in conflict is founded on survivor-led design. Women and girls should participate in the design of these initiatives and also help review and assess the effectiveness of the programs so that they “do no harm” to survivors and those at risk. The sector needs to invest more in appropriate and meaningful consultation with women survivors who want to be involved and other women expert practitioners.

The Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative should be guided by survivors and local women who are experts in the field. These are the women who understand the real challenges facing women and girls in conflict. Violence arises from power differentials between men and women globally, and we need to create spaces for those with lived experience to shape the policies and practices that affect them and their communities.

Before moving forward with the Prevention of Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative efforts in 2020, initiatives should reflect on how they can use appropriate expertise. 14 years from one of the first summits: Brussels Symposium on Sexual Violence in Conflict and Beyond, programs need to build on lessons from the past and be designed so that, even when focusing specifically on the problem of sexual violence in conflict, they adhere to best practice standards and also contribute to broader efforts to address gender-based violence.

See below for link to Guardian article