It's been quite a week. Foreign Secretary William Hague has described the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict as an "important moment in history" and that he challenges anyone to hear the testimonies of survivors and not take up the cause to end sexual violence. Hollywood star and UN Special Envoy Angelina Jolie has expressed her horror at sexual violence and said it is not acceptable and that the international community will come after perpetrators. Hundreds of ministers, civil society organisations and activists from across the globe have come together to debate, share, learn and pledge action to reduce sexual violence in conflict. Everyone has agreed - now is the time to act.
What's to not agree with, now is the time to act. The UK government's leadership and the current global attention on the abhorrent use of rape as a weapon of war is to be applauded. Yet long before it became the issue du jour, violence against women (in conflict and beyond) has long been at the heart of the work of an often forgotten, and overlooked, group of visionaries, experts and activists - women's rights organisations.
Across the world, for decades women have recognised the power of coming together to address the issues that affect them. Working together, for both safety and to ensure a louder voice, women have won the right to vote, advocated for laws to protect them from violence, fought for abortion and reproductive health rights, and demanded their rightful place in decision-making. These women's rights organisations, led by women - and active at all levels from the village to the global stage - are the unstoppable momentum in ending violence. Yet the vast majority are doing their work on a shoestring.
At Womankind, we have been lucky to host 12 of our partner organisations at the Global Summit, all experienced in tackling violence against women, and increasing women's participation in decision-making, across Africa, Asia and Latin America. They let us know early on, that this Summit will only result in tangible outcomes for women if women's rights organisations are at the heart of any commitments and frameworks to come from the Summit.
Violence against women and girls is one of the most pervasive violations of human rights - recent statistics estimate that 35% of all women will experience some form of violence.
The escalation of conflict typically coincides with an increase of gender-based and sexual violence, targeted mainly at women and girls. This violence includes rape and other forms of sexual violence by soldiers, early and forced marriage, increased domestic violence and sexual violence by civilians, sexual exploitation and trafficking. Women and girls are targeted simply because they are women and for reasons inherently linked to conflict - for instance forcing communities to flee.
Evidence suggests that violence against women and girls can be prevented by addressing the multiple and intersecting factors that are conducive to the perpetration of violence against women and girls. This involves changing social norms that devalue women and reinforce men's greater power, transforming rigid gender stereotypes, challenging attitudes in local communities to tackle peer approval of violence and abuse - and empowering women and girls. United Nations Security Council Resolution 2106 affirms that women's political, social and economic empowerment and gender equality are central to long-term efforts to prevent sexual violence.
We are calling for the Global Summit's outcomes to include a strong focus on prevention, including tackling harmful views and beliefs (social norms) and empowering women and girls.
Recent research has reaffirmed the catalytic role that women's rights organisations play in ending violence against women and girls. The four-decade research effort in 70 countries found that the mobilisation of women's rights organisations and movements is more important for combating violence against women than the wealth of nations, left-wing political parties, or the number of women politicians. These organisations not only provide services for survivors of violence, but also tirelessly campaign and advocate for changes in laws and policies to support survivors and tackle the root causes of violence. However, women's rights organisations remain critically underfunded.
We are calling for the Global Summit's outcomes to include tangible and measureable support for women's rights organisations, including embedding a commitment to actively supporting women's rights organisations in any framework and commitment to come from the Global Summit. Women's rights organisations are the unstoppable momentum in ending all forms of violence against women and girls.
Time for Accountability: Deeds not Words
Finally, for the Global Summit's aspiration to end sexual violence to be met it is critical that the Summit outcomes include a robust accountability framework.
We agree that it is time to act; and believe it is time to ensure that strong commitments lead to tangible improvements in the lives of women and girls in conflict-affected countries.