A few weeks ago, #TimeToAct was just a drop in the ocean of the 140-characters messages that tweet from our mobiles daily. Over the time, the hashtag has created a virtual layer where thousands of tweets, pictures and videos are streaming. "Time to Act" has become the social network's motto of a campaign asking to tackle rape in war zones.
It culminated into the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, which took place at the ExCel Centre in London between the 10th and 13th of June. The event, co-chaired by the Foreign Secretary William Hague and United Nations Special Envoy Angelina Jolie, hosted governments' representatives, international organisations, NGOs, lawyers, doctors, celebrities, survivors and children born of rape, all asking for global action to stop such horrendous crimes.
In conflict areas sexual violence is a deliberate tactic of war, a weapon to control and used humiliate the enemy - it is an extension of the battlefield. The victims are often very young children and women whose bodies and minds are irrevocably damaged. The data released by the United Nations gives an idea of the scale of the problem.
- Democratic Republic of Congo: about 40% of women are believed to have been subjected to some form of sexual violence at some point in their lives;
- Rwanda: during the 1994 genocide between 250,000 to 500,000 women survived rape;
- Bosnia and Herzegovina: in the early 1990s 20,000 to 50,000 women were raped during the war against Serbia.
"It is a myth that rape is an inevitable part of conflict. There's nothing inevitable about it. It is a weapon of war aimed at civilians. It has nothing to do with sex, everything to do with power", said actress Angelina Jolie in opening the biggest summit of its kind to stop the sexual violence in conflict.
Her message was echoed by Hague: "We want people around the world to understand the scale of the problem and the urgent need for action, to recognize the damage it does to international peace and security and to be mobilized and inspired to work within their societies and with us to bear down on this terrible injustice."
What are the aims of the global summit?
- A global agreement on an international protocol for investigating and punishment of sexual violence in conflict zones.
- To protect women by better training for soldiers and peacekeepers.
- To increase support for survivors.
- To work so that the problem is globally recognized.
Tweeters talk again of women's rights. #BringBackOurGirls helped to cast light on the kidnap of 270 schoolgirls in Nigeria, while the hashtag "SaveMeriam" was the beginning of a global campaign to free Meriam Ibrahim, a catholic woman sentenced to death in Sudan for refusing to convert to the Islamism. The violence on the women concern also countries like India which is heading the global race for the economic development. With #WakeUpAkhilesh, thousands of Tweeter's users asked to the government to do more to address sexual violence in the country. It came after the rape and murder of two young girls found hanged in a tree.
Besides supporting the cause through the social networks, hundreds of volunteers and NGOs work all over the world to help in healing the scar left by sexual abuses and building up a culture of respect for women and children. Medical volunteering project can provide a professional support to the victims, while teaching project provide a framework to support future protocol and declaration to end sexual violence in conflicts. The Time to Act is now, we cannot turn a blind eye to sexual violence of whatever sort.
Author Cristina Nanni is an Online Journalism Intern at Frontier. Frontier is an international, nonprofit volunteering NGO with over 300 dedicated conservation, community development and adventure projects worldwide.
This article was originally published on Frontier's blog. To find see more from projects please visit Frontier's Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Pinterest, or see photos shared by volunteers in the field by searching #frontiervolunteer on Instagram.