Norah* was born into war, but was raped long after it was over. In her first year of secondary school in Northern Uganda, two years after a fragile peace was brokered between The Lord's Resistance Army and the Ugandan government, a local businessman attacked her. Pregnant, she was forced to drop out of class. The man was never prosecuted and, having lost her mother and brothers in war, she was left to raise her child alone.
On Thursday Foreign Minister William Hague is leading a crucial G8 Foreign Ministers meeting, which will address sexual violence in conflict. After his well-publicised visit to Congo with Angelina Jolie to expose the horror of rape as a weapon of war, he wants leaders to agree on landmark measures to secure justice for survivors of sexual violence and deter perpetrators - including a new international protocol for investigating rape.
These are significant developments. However, post-conflict violence, and survivors like Norah, must not be forgotten. Unfortunately, sexual violence can be as devastating after war as during it. Once the shooting has stopped, millions of girls and women are forced to live with a legacy of violence. Family networks are shattered. Social services that were in place pre-wartime have gone. Men and women are living with post-traumatic stress and, often, rape and sexual violence have sadly become commonplace.
In Norah's home of Northern Uganda, a region ravaged by two decades of conflict, a third of women have experienced sexual violence. HIV prevalence is almost double the national average - estimated at 12%, compared to a national figure of 7%. Women report that men - crippled by their experiences in a brutal war - are perpetrators of rape and torture. Many are suffering at the hands of their husbands, fathers and stepfathers, from whom they have little social protection. Particularly vulnerable are girls born in wartime emergency camps but who were rehoused when they closed, without any traditional protection networks, like extended family and healthcare systems. They have no way to support themselves and may be forced into prostitution or into child marriage. They are also at high risk of abuse. Teen pregnancy stands at 40%.
In Lira district, Plan International has teamed up with Interact Worldwide to work with young people to try to tackle these problems. The starting point is to build a supportive environment that will protect girls and women. The project works with survivors, giving them counselling and referring them to services. It also focuses on strategies to prevent sexual violence, training health workers and teachers, and rebuilding trust between caregivers and children.
Norah is now involved with the project. She received training - on health, life skills and making informed decisions. Now she talks to children about her experiences and their own in an attempt to prevent girls experiencing what she went through and to challenge a culture of impunity.
The G8 Foreign Ministers meeting is an incredible opportunity for the international community to tackle sexual violence in conflict. However, we need to do this by addressing the destructive legacy left behind even after peace is agreed and responding to the needs of survivors - as well as taking preventative action. Providing a protective environment, by keeping girls safely in school, should be a pillar of the plans.
*Not her real name
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