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More dangerous to be a woman than a soldier

· For Joyce Anelay, Minister of State for the Commonwealth and the United Nations Affairs at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office it is essential to break the silence behind which the tragedy of mass rape hides ·

“From analysis of the wars throughout the world over the past 30 years, there is one fact which emerges clearly: it is more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier, so it is necessary to make the effort to understand the forms of sexual violence against women, because the first barrier to cross is precisely that of silence”, and to break this silence “is already a political act”. This is the opinion of Baroness Joyce Anelay, Minister of State for the Commonwealth and the United Nations.

Ayak, a woman from South Sudan, photographed by Lynsey Addario (2015). This image, an emblem of rape as a war weapon, was published on the first page of “Time Magazine” in March this year

“Indeed the data speak of the situation as if giving a war bulletin. According to the United Nations [UN] agencies more than 60,000 women were raped during the civil war in Sierra Leone (1991-2002), more than 40,000 in Liberia (1989-2003), even as many as 60,000 in the former Yugoslavia (1992-1995) and at least 200,000 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the last 12 years of war. In South Sudan, again according to the latest report of the UN Agency for Human Rights, more than 1,300 cases of rape occurred between April and September of 2015 in Unity State alone, and more than 50 cases from September to October. But this is not all. In ten missions of the Blue Helmets out of their 16 operations in 2014, 52 cases of the rape of children were reported, as well as other forms of sexual violence committed by soldiers, members of the police and volunteers. In 2015 the number rose to 69 (and these are only the cases which came to light). One of the Blue Helmets’ missions, under investigation for months, is MINUSCA, in which there were almost 12,000 rapes by soldiers, policemen and civil personnel who had been charged with restoring order in the Central African Republic, a country at war since the end of 2012. After the rape last August of a little girl who was only 12 years old, during an operation entrusted to peacekeepers sent from Rwanda and from Cameroon, other cases of violence perpetrated on street children were discovered”.

In today's borderless wars, where paramilitary are in conflict with ambiguous and volatile alliances, the female body has become a battle field and mass rape has become a strategy. What must be done in order to fight these tragedies?

No person should have to suffer from sexual violence and abuse. Rape must not be used as a weapon of war and women, girls, men and boys should not have to suffer these horrific abuses. It’s because of these tragedies that preventing sexual violence in conflict remains a priority for the UK government. We continue to work towards preventing sexual violence by challenging harmful and negative attitudes, ensuring equality between men and women, and providing training to military and police personnel to stop these abuses.

But we cannot fight this scourge alone. We work with international partners, NGOs, religious groups and others to ensure a comprehensive approach so that the right help and support is given at the right time. Religious leaders and their communities have a key role to play in ending sexual violence in conflict by ensuring gender equality, challenging harmful attitudes and providing support to survivors as they rebuild the lives.

a little girl in a refugee camp in South Sudan (AP)

By working with communities and civil society they really can make a difference to tackling the stigma associated with sexual violence which survivors face, particularly in education, access to justice, psychosocial support and preventing exclusion of survivors by their own families and communities.

Since 2003 the war in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo has given way to bloody and unrestrained guerilla warfare. Two hundred thousand women are estimated to have been savagely raped. How can these women be protected?

We work closely with the Congolese government and civil society on sexual violence issues in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Small steps have been made, but there is still a long way to go. The Government of the DRC is making progress through the launch of an action plan for the Congolese Army on sexual violence. President Kabila has also appointed a Special Representative on Sexual Violence and Child Recruitment, Jeanine Mabunda, who is leading the way in addressing sexual violence in the DRC. As part of our Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative (PSVI) we fund a number of projects and programmes in the DRC. One of those projects has seen over 200 survivors receive support and counselling. We have also trained more than 70 faith leaders in responding to sexual violence and understanding the needs of survivors and the associated challenges they may face. We have also supported survivors in accessing legal advice and helped to strengthen investigations to increase prosecutions.

Where are the "hot" zones in the world? Can you describe the areas of the world where women are most at risk?

History has shown that sexual violence can occur anywhere, in any conflict. That is why we are working around the world to prevent this from happening. A number of our projects focus on education and training which will help prevent sexual violence by changing cultural norms and attitudes. We are also training military and police personnel in sexual violence issues. They are often the first person a survivor sees, and so their response needs to take into account the needs of women, men, girls and boys.

Rape and murder spread terror among civilians, tear families apart, destroy communities and, in some cases, change the ethnic composition of the next generation. What are nations doing to definitively stop a culture of impunity for these crimes?

We all need to work better to ensure that provisions are in place to bring perpetrators to account. We also need to work harder on ensuring education and training is gender inclusive and includes steps to prevent these atrocities from happening. The UK launched the first ever International Protocol on the Documentation and Investigation of Sexual Violence in Conflict in 2014. This Protocol is used to help those on the ground collect evidence, investigate sexual violence crimes and support survivors.

Governments around the world are taking steps to ensure those responsible for these crimes are brought to account. For example in Croatia and Kosovo, the Governments have revised their laws in order to allow survivors of sexual violence to access compensation, state support and benefits. In Côte d’Ivoire, the government has embarked upon a process of legal reform which includes expanding the definition of sexual violence, harmonising its criminal and civil codes and drafted a law on the protection of victims and witnesses.

Progress has been made in Africa in the criminalization of rape to women?

Sexual violence in conflict affects countries around the world. It is a global issue that requires a global response. I am pleased that as a result of the 2014 Global Summit to end sexual violence, Governments in many countries have made progress in tackling sexual violence. In the DRC, President Kabila has appointed a Special Representative and launched an action plan for the Congolese Army on sexual violence. In Côte d’Ivoire the Government have embarked upon a process of legal reform, drafted a law on the protection of victims and witnesses and over 40 Ivoirian Commanders have signed a commitment to fight against sexual violence. In Colombia the Government has trained over 800 members of the armed forces on gender based violence prevention. In Iraq, we have seen the mapping of legislation to identify barriers that prevent perpetrators from being held to account. And in Croatian and Kosovo the Government has revised their laws in order to allow victims of sexual violence from the conflict to access compensation, state support and benefits.

It’s important that all members of the international community continue to support these efforts and to encourage other countries around the world to make similar progress.

Sometimes mass violence is used to deliberately infect women with HIV or to make them unable to procreate. The effects of sexual violence continue even after the war has officially ended. Women have unwanted pregnancies, suffer from sexually transmitted infections and are marginalized as victims. How can we prevent these situations?

Sexual violence in conflict causes extreme physical and psychological trauma. I have met survivors who have shared their story with me and have explained the deep emotional pain they live through every day. Our job is to make sure that they, and the children born of rape, get the medical, psychosocial and other support that they need to help them rebuild their lives.

Over the coming years, the UK will focus on ending the stigma suffered by survivors and support their reintegration into their families and communities. At the same time, it is vital to stop the culture of impunity for these crimes. We need to ensure that the perpetrators are brought to account and that others know that sexual violence crimes will not go unpunished. The International Protocol on the Documentation and Investigation of Sexual Violence in conflict will help with this.

You believe that using mass rape in wars destroys the whole of humanity and all moral boundaries. It is a bloody path which often makes post-war reconciliation impossible. Can you explain why rape has become such a large obstacle in the task of building peace?

Sexual violence destroys families and communities and leaves long lasting effects. We know that survivors can be ostracised from society, treated differently by family members, cut off from support networks and denied justice. This can have long-lasting effects on community reconciliation and stabilisation.

Tackling sexual violence is central to conflict prevention and peace-building worldwide which is why we all need to be involved in ending sexual violence in conflict.

Survivors need to know that we, the international community, will do all we can to bring those responsible to account. They also need to know that we will support them as they reintegrate back into their families and communities. That we will help them get the support they need, whether that be medical, psychological, working to reintegrate into society or to help them with education and training.

Community and religious leaders can play a key role in this transition period by supporting survivors and educating communities to ensure survivors are not ostracised from their families and communities. Ultimately the shame of sexual violence lies with the perpetrators, not the survivors.

Silvina Pérez

                     Joyce Anne Anelay

The Rt Hon Baroness Joyce Anne Anelay of St Johns DBE was born on 17 July 1947. She has been Minister of State for the Commonwealth and the United Nations at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Prime Minister’s Special Representative on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict

Baroness Anelay has been Minister of State at the Foreign and Common wealth Office since 6 August 2014. As one of the principal protagonists of the UN Peacekeeping Defence Ministerial in London, she strongly denounced the phenomenon of violence and the sexual abuse committed by the Blue Helmets on mission. She is the Prime Minister’s special representative for the prevention of violence.




St. Peter’s Square

Nov. 12, 2019