Washington - The announcement of $10 million in support of initiatives to prevent sexual violence and improve access to services for survivors of gender-based violence is an important step to address the too-often overlooked human rights violation of sexual violence in conflict, international relief and development organization Oxfam America said today. The US has also joined the G8’s Declaration on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict, a historic pledge to increase global cooperation and end impunity for these war crimes.
“Time and again, Oxfam has witnessed how the focus on violence directly-related to combat obscures gender-based violence. The decision to join other members of the G8 group of countries in supporting the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative will help ensure that such violence is no longer considered an after-thought in efforts to prevent and respond to conflict,” said Oxfam America Humanitarian Policy Manager Shannon Scribner. “This is part of recognizing that women and men experience violent conflicts in different ways. The types of violence that women and girls too often experience in conflict are not only a violation of their rights, but are a barrier to women’s active citizenship and a fundamental constraint to alleviating poverty.”
In Bosnia, Liberia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and elsewhere, rape has been used systematically as a weapon of war. The conflict in Syria has forced an estimated1.2 million people to flee their homes, and Oxfam is seeing an increase not only in violence against women but also in forced marriages, often of very young girls, as families struggle financially. Violence is not limited to the battlefield, however, and does not stop when wars end. In non-conflict emergencies, such as the 2004 tsunami, women were also vulnerable to gender based violence and coercion. For instance, Oxfam partners in Sri Lanka noticed high levels of domestic violence in post-tsunami camps.
“Gender-based violence occurs in all cultures, although it tends to be more pronounced during conflict, when break-downs in the social fabric and the rule of law often lead to widespread impunity for these crimes,” Scribner said. “That is why, it is key that this initiative includes training police, investigators, and prosecutors on gender-based violence and supporting effective interventions to influence the social norms that may perpetuate such violence in the first place.”
Women must be meaningfully engaged in security sector reform, as well as in peace processes. The dedication of funds by the US government to address sexual violence in conflict comes shortly after the passage of the National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security in December of 2011, which delineated a set of actions the US commits to taking to protect and promote the rights of women in all stages of conflict and peace-building. Oxfam supports the increased focus and attention to this critical issue, recognizing that we still have a long way to go to ensure that women’s rights - including but not limited to the right to be free from sexual violence - are protected in conflict or post-conflict settings.
This announcement goes against the grain of most international responses to armed conflict, which historically have prioritized military assistance and intervention rather than addressing the security needs of communities. With increasingly blurred lines between combatants and non-combatants and the home front and the front line in contemporary war, the international community must develop a better understanding of how insecurity affects men, women, boys and girls differently and plan and fund interventions to ensure that all people enjoy equal rights, safety, opportunities and dignity.
Oxfam America is an international relief and development organization that creates lasting solutions to poverty, hunger, and injustice. Together with individuals and local groups in 99 countries, Oxfam saves lives, helps people overcome poverty, and fights for social justice. Oxfam America is an affiliate of Oxfam. To join our efforts or learn more, go to www.oxfamamerica.org