Women overwhelmingly bear the brunt of conflict. Many have to assume sole responsibility for caring and providing for their families, but they are increasingly targeted for abuse as a specific strategy designed to tear apart communities through women's bodies.
As the former UN Peacekeeping Commander Major General Patrick Cammaert said
It is now more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier in modern conflict.
Throughout history, the abuse of women has been seen as an inevitable by-product of conflict and it wasn't until the late 90s when the international community recognised the use of sexual violence as a crime of war and against humanity. Since then, we've seen seven binding international resolutions passed at the UN Security Council that make it clear that the abuse of women in conflict is a security issue. Abuse takes many forms, including exclusion from participating in peace processes as well as violence. My sister Sian was part of a group of women who managed to get a UN resolution passed to have violence against women in conflict zones recognised as an official war crime and her passion and achievement is a constant source of inspiration for me.
We've all seen the reports of women across the world being targeted for violence as a part of conflict in countries including Syria, the Central African Republic, the abduction of hundreds of girls in Nigeria by Boko Haram and ISIS in Iraq and the ongoing attacks in the eastern area of the Democratic Republic of Congo where an estimated two million women are survivors of conflict-related rape.
It is clear that there is much more to do; there are things that we can all be doing to support women survivors of war.
Women for Women International is a charity particularly close to my heart, which my sister Sian campaigned for and introduced me to before she died. They support women survivors of war to move from crisis and poverty to stability and self-sufficiency. Women take part in a one-year programme, which includes training in vocational and business skills, as well as life-skills, rights-awareness and leadership. Her passion for the cause inspired me to become an ambassador for the charity. You can read more about their work at womenforwomen.org.uk - I hope you will find it as inspirational as I do.
By making a gift of £22 each month, you can give a woman (your 'sister') the opportunity to enroll in the Women for Women International programme. Sponsors are connected with their sisters for the length of the programme and can send electronic messages of support, which gives a very special one-to-one personal connection. To know that someone on the other side of the world knows your name and cares about you is very powerful - an emotional life-line which inspires hope for a better future.
As an ambassador, I have recently taken part in two challenges to raise money for Women for Women International - the Great River Race and a 10k run. Earlier this year I spoke at Sydenham High School - the girls there raised enough money to sponsor two women to take part in the programme. Perhaps you know a school, who would be willing to pledge their support...
I would ask you to join me and support Women for Women International - for just £22 a month you can sponsor a sister and send her a powerful message that she is not alone."
We should not keep silent. I ask all women all over the world to be courageous and speak out about whatever happens to them. If we do that, we will contribute to the ongoing mission of ending violence against women. To stay silent is itself a form of violence against women.
WfWI DRC graduate