UK summit on sexualized violence: ‘A time warp in the wrong direction’

By — June 15, 2014

I've spent this past week in London at the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict hosted by UK Foreign Secretary William Hague and UNHCR Special Envoy Angelina Jolie. As the hosts noted, it was an historic gathering of ministers and other government representatives, UN officials, the ICRC, and civil society—including our Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict.

On the positive side, it was the first such global meeting focused on rape in conflict and we can use it to push governments to take meaningful action to address the complexities of taking action to stop rape and gender violence (in conflict).

On the negative side, the segregation of NGO activities to the “Fringe,” literally a floor below the panels and ministerial discussions, was in the view of many, including me, a deliberate decision on the part of the UK Foreign Office to put to one side and diminish the reality of the critical role that civil society always plays in pressuring governments to do what they should do anyway. For many of us who have been involved in various global campaigns involving civil society, governments, and UN agencies over the past couple of decades, being at this summit was like a time warp in totally the wrong direction.

Despite intense and continued discussions with the Foreign Office in the weeks and months leading up to the summit about the exclusion of civil society from any meaningful inclusion in the panels and discussions held on the floor above us, the Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict and other NGOs were consistently met with “no” when we made even small suggestions of ways to include NGOs in the discussions. The request by the Nobel Women’s Initiative for a meeting between Mr. Hague and the four Nobel Women at the summit—Leymah Gbowee, Shirin Ebadi, Tawakkol Karman, and myself—was met with deafening silence.

SOFEPADI President and prominent DRC activist Julienne Lusenge, seen here at the Fringe with UNHCR Special Envoy Angelina Jolie. (Andrew Parsons/i-Images/Crown Copyright)

On the positive side, there was extensive media coverage of people at the summit—including grassroots activists on the frontlines of the fight against violence against women and survivors of sexual violence in conflict. People streamed through the various events, exhibits, films, and activities held in the Fringe and saw what civil society has been doing for decades to fight against sexual violence in conflict. Events by the campaign, including the opening of the fabulous photographic exhibit “Beauty in the Middle” and the launch of “Survivors United for Action” were absolutely packed with people spilling outside the exhibit/launch areas in the Fringe just trying to get a peek or hear a word. They were outstanding events as were others by fantastic NGO members of the campaign, such as WILPF, Sonke Gender Justice, Physicians for Human Rights, Human Rights Watch—and too many others to name.

On the positive side, 123 governments participated, including 60-70 at the ministerial level. On the negative side, only a small handful of that number made any concrete commitment toward addressing the issue while most spoke in vague generalities about what they’ve done in the past, which isn’t much, to be honest, and nothing about what they intended to do from the summit forward.

On the positive side, my sister Nobel Laureate Leymah Gbowee, who spoke in the opening plenary on behalf of the campaign, made the links between gender inequality and violence against women, between militarism and violence against women, and noted the decades-long work on the frontlines. And in the closing plenary, our colleague and member of the campaign, Dr. Denis Mukwege of Panzi Hospital, also spoke to the realities of dealing with ending sexual violence in conflict. (Yes, the organizers did let these two members of the campaign/civil society speak—and that was it.)

On the negative side, the summit in general was kept narrowly focused on “rape in conflict” and did not address its roots in the continuum of violence against women, in the lack of equality for women in all walks of life, in the staggering inability/unwillingness of governments to even comply with 14-year-old UN Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security, which recognizes the need for women to be fundamentally involved in peace and security issues and requires governments to formulate action plans for its implementation. To date, only 46 of the more than 190 countries in the UN have even drawn up an action plan and almost none of those 46 have carried out the implementation of their own plans of action.

On the positive side, members of the campaign’s advisory committee met for the entire day Saturday—the summit ended midday on Friday—to chart out a course of action for members over the next 18 months. The summit proclaimed that it is “time to act”; we’ve been acting for years and decades. We hope they—the governments—take meaningful action, including putting up the resources necessary to really tackle the various aspects of the violence, i.e., billions of dollars, not the millions pledged.

It is indeed time for governments to act—actually, it is way, way, way beyond time for them to act. Let’s hope they make up for all that lost time with bold action for change. We will certainly be there to push them forward.

WMC’s Women Under Siege is on the advisory committee of the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict.

 

For more stories about the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, see:

"How to seize the huge opportunity created by the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict," by Susannah Sirkin

"Siege talks to BBC about the UK summit: ‘Listen to the grassroots organizers,'" by WMC's Women Under Siege

"Ignoring the evidence at the End Sexual Violence in Conflict summit," by Amelia Hoover Green

"Do we really need Angelina Jolie?" by Lauren Wolfe