Sexual Violence Is Not "Collateral Damage"
By Matthew O.Berger
Inter Press Service,
viewed Nov 9, 2010
WASHINGTON, Nov 4, 2010 (IPS) - On the tenth anniversary of a
groundbreaking U.N. resolution, a conference on "Women and
War" opened here Wednesday to discuss the disproportionate
impact violent conflict has on women and possible ways to
prevent these atrocities.
"I'm often told sexual violence in war and conflict is
unavoidable, that it should be considered collateral damage,"
Margot Wallström, the U.N.'s Special Representative on Sexual
Violence in Conflict, said at an event held in World Bank
People say it is nothing new and point to anecdotes from the
Iliad, the Bible and all the way up to the countless examples
among the conflicts of the past several decades, she said,
"But I want to say we cannot and should not accept this.
Sexual violence in conflict is neither cultural nor sexual,
actually; it is criminal. No other human rights violation is
routinely dismissed as inevitable."
Over the past 10 years, international organisations have
gradually woken up to both the magnitude of this problem and
the fact that they have historically not paid it enough
Wallström herself is evidence of this slow but steady
awakening. In April, she became the first person to hold her
sexual violence-focused position at the U.N. Ten years
earlier, she had helped urge the U.N. Security Council to
adopt resolution 1325, a landmark resolution that reaffirmed
the critical role of women in peace-building and
reconstruction and urged parties to protect women and girls
from gender-based violence.
That resolution is seen as the first time the Security
Council recognised that war affects women and men
In June 2008, the Security Council went a step further and
adopted resolution 1820, focusing on sexual violence in armed
conflict and recognising for the first time that sexual
violence is a tactic used in war and a force impacting
international peace and security - and thus within the
Security Council's purview.
This week's conference commemorates the 10 years since the
unique challenges posed to women by war and conflict were
first acknowledged. Its organisers, including the United
States Institute of Peace, the World Bank, several
universities and the U.S. State Department, hope it will help
deliver concrete actions that can be taken to achieve the
principles behind resolution 1325.
Toward that goal, it is focusing on the experiences of
victims and many different ways in which other women and
girls might avoid their nightmares.
In August, details emerged of a mass rape in villages in the
eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, known as the "rape
capital of the world" due to the widespread practice of using
rape as a weapon. There, not even 80-year-old women or young
children were safe from the rebel assailants. Congolese
troops are also known to be perpetrators.
"Sexual violence in conflict has become the weapon of choice.
The reason is as simple as it is wicked - because it is
cheap, silent and effective," says Wallström.
All told, over 200,000 rapes have been reported in the DRC,
but, as Wallström points out, for each rape reported, 10 to
20 go unreported.
And the ongoing conflict in the DRC is only the most widely-
known example. Speakers at the conference Wednesday also
mentioned the fighting in Kosovo last decade and the camps
that have been set up in Haiti following January's earthquake
as places where conflict and disruption have given rise to a
terrifying rate of sexual violence.
Lisa Davis, human rights advocacy director for the group
MADRE, says rape in the Haitian camps is "pervasive,
consistent and egregious". Every time she goes to Haiti, she
says, she hears of a victim who was attacked yesterday or the
One victim, Davis says, was gang-raped in a car and choked so
hard that her tongue came out and the perpetrators bit it
She says solving these egregious crimes is not too difficult,
but requires working together to improve security, lighting
and medical care in the camps. In order to do that correctly,
though, she says grassroots groups must be involved in
determining the tactics that will make a difference, such as
distributing whistles with directions explaining how to use
them or solar torches rather than battery-powered ones that
will be useless once the batteries run out.
Gary Baker, director of gender, violence and rights at the
International Center for Research on Women, says that group
education sessions run by well-trained men and women have
been shown to be effective but are slow and expensive.
He also points to campaigns that do not just say gender-
based violence is against the law but try to deconstruct what
it means to be a man or woman - thus promoting the idea of
being a more virtuous man - and models where men and women
from a community are able to hold each other accountable for
violence, "so that the justice is coming from within the
Other measures discussed included community liaison offices
to work with local populations, foot patrols to accompany
women when they might be vulnerable to attack, and training
peacekeepers on how to report and react to sexual violence.
For now, though, "primary prevention of sexual violence has
been marginalised in favour of providing services to
victims," says Marya Buvinic, who works on gender and
development at the World Bank.
Wallström says she will use her mandate at the U.N. to end
impunity for perpetrators of sexual violence and make sure
amnesty is not an option, to give women more of a voice
especially in post-conflict reconstruction, and to better
coordinate the U.N. system with regard to its response to
"Much more must yet be done to promote actions that have real
impact as we move from recognition to action and from best
intentions to best practice," she says.
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