The Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict took place in June 2014 in London. The three-day conference was co-hosted by UK Foreign Secretary William Hague, and Special Envoy for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie. With 113 countries, over 100 NGOs and international partners, and as many as 48 foreign ministers, it was the largest gathering ever on the subject – all with the aim of bringing people together in the fight against sexual violence in conflict.
One of the impacts of the summit was to highlight the breadth of the subject of sexual violence in conflict. Rape is not simply a woman’s issue, nor can it be reduced to only a humanitarian issue. In reality, it is a global issue that requires a global effort. And that’s what the summit was all about – representatives from around the world meeting to discuss a common issue.
In post-conflict Liberia, 87% of children have experienced some form of sexual violation; in the Democratic Republic of Congo, an average of 36 women and girls are raped every day; and as many as one in five refugees or displaced women in humanitarian crises have experienced sexual violence. It’s sickening to think how long this has gone on for, unpunished.
But now the #TimeToAct has begun. Over the course of the three days, global support grew and grew. Pope Francis, UK Labour Party leader Ed Miliband, and former-US President Jimmy Carter – among many others – all voiced their support. Even ordinary citizens around the world expressed their willingness to join the fight. And you can too.
The summit provided a host of public-accessible activities as part of the Global Summit Fringe, including film screenings and galleries, as well as discussion panels and interactive exhibitions. Visitors were also able to experience the busy Market Place, where they could purchase products made by the survivors of conflict themselves. This all took place at the ExCel Centre in London.
Back in September last year, Willian Hague and UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Zainab Bangura, launched the Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict. It has now been endorsed by more than two-thirds of UN members. A link to the document can be found here.
Then on the 11th June (the second-day of the summit), the International Protocol was launched. This aims to set an international standard for how to investigate and document sexual violence, as a way of increasing the number of prosecutions for these crimes worldwide and ensuring that victims are cared for. Now there’s no excuse for sitting back and letting these horrifying crimes continue to unfold all over the world. There’s a quote from Albert Einstein which couldn't be more appropriate:
It’s true. The problem is already gargantuan, and it’s up to us to stop it before it gets worse; you might be thinking, ‘surely it can’t get any worse?’ It absolutely can. We can no longer give the excuse that we simply ‘aren't aware’ of the problem, or of its’ scale; because EVERYONE knows. The summit has proven that. The same goes for the myth that rape in war is somehow inevitable. As Angelina Jolie said at the summit, ‘there is nothing inevitable about it. It is a weapon of war, aimed at civilians.’
But perhaps the most important thing we can take from the summit was that it gave a public voice - at a global level - to victims of sexual violence in conflict. Victims were given the freedom to speak out about their horrifying experiences. We've begun to break the silence that often shrouds sexual violence, and that's pleasing. However, according to the International Rescue Committee, 83% of women surveyed in Jordan said they wouldn't know where to get help if they were physically or sexually abused.
But where do we go from here? The summit was just the start. At least you’d hope anyway. Constant action – mitigation - is the requirement. At the closing of the summit, the Foreign Secretary said:
"Never in my time as Foreign Secretary so far, on any foreign policy issue, have I seen such an extraordinary and inspiring gathering as we have had over the last few days. So many people have worked so hard for so many years on this issue and it has always seemed that the odds were totally against them. But it turns out from this summit that we can bring together a whole army from around the globe, all united with the common vision of ending warzone rape and sexual violence and now it has been put together this army is not going to be disbanded."
But first our attitudes must change. It’s all well and good introducing laws and international agreements, but not if our attitude towards the matter remains the same.
There will no doubt be struggles in terms of agreements between nations – the world is far from perfect – but we cannot afford to allow sexual violence in conflict to become one of those disagreements. Commitments have been made - promises have been made - and it’s now up to us as an international community to fulfil these promises. The ball is in YOUR court.
For more images, videos and tweets from the summit, click here.