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Conflict-related sexual violence has become a global public issue

Conflict-related sexual violence has become a highly publicised global issue in the last ten years. Even though international criminal tribunals, in particular the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, have been addressing the issue of sexual violence in conflicts since the 2000s.​

However, from a public point of view, France and Mediterranean Europe have been much slower to react than other countries. Anglo-Saxon countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States have been devoting considerable media attention to the issue of conflict-related sexual violence for decades. Numerous conferences and symposiums have also been held.

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Cover of Time magazine. Photo Lynsey Addario

Awareness on the international stage

  • At international level, it was not until 2009 that the office of the UN Secretary-General's Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict was created. The first representative, Ms Margaret Wallström, took up her post in 2010, followed by Ms Zainab Bangura in 2012 and finally, since 2017, Ms Pramila Patten.

  • In 2016, International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict was established on 19 June.

  • In 2018, the Nobel Peace Prize, awarded to Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad, confirmed this growing international awareness.

Today, the international community has taken up the issue and gathers around numerous conferences and debates.

With its establishment in 2014 and its advocacy work, WWoW has significantly contributed to increased visibility in both French and international media, as well as numerous actions.

Les Nations Unies

Our analysis

This advocacy has led to the development of numerous programs with very substantial budgets, but their impact remains relative because they are too entrenched in the traditional world of international development: theoretical training, issuing of "guidelines," and inadequate adaptation of responses to local realities. However, local actors consistently voice the same concerns, emphasizing that the needs are much more tangible than what is currently being implemented. We need a genuine revolution in approaches.

WWoW observes on the ground that women, men, and children, victims of both past and present, are numerous and remain in very precarious situations. The situation of these victims is intrinsically linked to that of the states to which they are citizens. Too much insecurity. No governance. Invisibility, and above all, little or no justice process, resulting in immense impunity.

Libya, Syria, Guinea-Conakry, the DRC, the CAR, or Burundi are excellent examples: five to ten years later, some victims have never received care, while others have never even spoken out. Yet, victims still wish to come forward to be recognized and assisted by competent services.

WWoW believes that these programs must, therefore, be much better adapted to local realities and be accompanied by concrete, targeted, and sustainable actions. Impacts that are measurable through simple indicators, both qualitative and quantitative, such as the number of personnel trained, the quality of care in different sectors, and the number of victims assisted, enabling an increase in care capacities and coordination. The structures exist on the ground, as do human resources; networks are mobilized, and some victims have already been identified. However, many more need to be identified using radically different approaches than those existing today, which have proven to be unsuccessful.

The majority of programs implemented in the field of conflict-related sexual violence have no real impact for the victims themselves. Despite genuine interest in this highly publicized issue, the question of conflict-related sexual violence still largely falls under the domain or monopoly of large international or traditional non-governmental organizations. Turning such an important issue into a media event is a positive element. It raises public awareness, integrates the issue into the agenda of priorities, and engages (inter)national donors. However, excessive media coverage also leads to a form of opportunism that it is essential to remain vigilant about.

Simultaneously, victims and local organizations are involved on the ground, but programs are often not designed for the long term and in a sustainable manner, and actions are limited or sometimes counterproductive. This can create expectations among local beneficiaries: the proliferation of testimonial submissions creating traumas necessitates the implementation of preventive measures and strict adherence to the "Do No Harm" principle. There is also a need for better training in testimonial collection.

Finally, some areas attract all international attention (e.g., the Democratic Republic of Congo or the Central African Republic), while other less visible areas nevertheless have the same needs. A better distribution of both funding and programs, coupled with stricter control of their management and impacts, would be the way forward to ensure the sustainability and viability of actions. Sexual violence in fragile areas exists in numerous regions, and the response must be comprehensive to limit the reproduction of the same social patterns and the risks of the resurgence of violence and conflicts.

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