Ending conflict-related violence against women and girls

Orange illustrated figures of men and women moving forwards. The leader is holding a sign that says push forward to end violence against women and girls and another figure in the group is holding a sign that says #16Days
Commentary

Ending conflict-related violence against women and girls

Addressing conflict-related violence against women and girls requires intersectional gender and conflict analysis to tackle harmful gender norms, patriarchal culture, and structural inequalities between women and men that predate conflict.

Addressing conflict-related violence against women and girls (CRVAWG) is critical in healing deep physical and psychological harm caused by violent conflicts and wars. It is a matter of rights and justice. It is also a necessity to build peaceful, resilient, and healthy societies which can grow and thrive. Democracy support organisations, like WFD, can contribute to the post-conflict recovery processes by helping to set up legislative, policy, and budgetary frameworks, and enabling dialogues and amplifying the voices, experience, needs, and leadership of women’s and girls, among other things. This institutional support needs to serve and complement efforts of those working directly with survivors of sexualised and gendered war-related crimes and atrocities.

Multiple studies highlight the immediate and long-term devastating costs and impact of conflict-related violence on women, girls, and their communities. Their findings include:

  • The impact of conflict-related violence exceeds war times by decades.
  • Violence has a long term and devastating impact on survivors, communities, and nations. It drives economic deprivation, destroys social fabrics, and hinders political inclusion, peace and stability.
  • Ending the fighting stops some types of violence while increasing others, especially intimate and domestic violence that continues for years.
  • Depending on the type of conflict, violence can be committed by state and non-state actors, military and para-military groups, in public and private spheres of live, by strangers and familiar individuals and groups.
  • Prevention should be part of all responses to avoid harm and violence in the first place.   

Seizing global momentum to end conflict-related sexual and gendered violence

International events, such as the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative (PSVI) Conference in London from 28 to 29 November 2022 show that the need to address conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV), such as rape, sex slavery, and forced marriages, pregnancies or sterilisation, has gained momentum and the international community is determined to end it. Shortly after the UK government-hosted conference, the report from the global study on repatriations for survivors of conflict-related sexual violence will be published. While ending and preventing sexual violence is critically important, other types of conflict-related gendered and sexualised violence, harm and harassment need to be also tackled. Although sometimes hidden and less apparent, shaming, nudity, forced separation of children from parents, control of reproductive rights, extrajudicial killing, and intimate, domestic, and community violence, are equally destructive and conflict driven.

Transforming gendered power in societies for long-term solutions

Addressing conflict-related violence against women and girls requires immediate responses and long-term solutions. It necessitates intersectional gender and conflict analysis to tackle harmful gender norms, patriarchal culture, and structural inequalities between women and men that predate conflict. These are key drivers of a wide array of gendered and sexualised crimes and atrocities, that conflicts build on and further exacerbate. As evidenced by Aisling Swaine they are used “to sustain men’s power in micro and macro scale’ and to ‘control women’s lives and bodies”. It also requires developing solutions in line with the Women, Peace and Security agenda that aims to prevent conflicts, protect those at risk, support survivors, enable women’s leadership and gender analysis, and ensure access to recovery and relief to women and girls.

To aid these efforts, WFD has developed a Framework for Engaging in Fragile and Conflict-Affected contexts to achieve transformational change through our programmes and operations in conflict and post-conflict settings. The Framework provides a set of practical approaches for navigating these  complex political spaces so our programmes are deliberately more peace and conflict-responsive. It illustrates how women’s horizontal inclusion is critical for sustaining peace and how political exclusion of women and other groups inhibits long-term stability. It also discusses how to avoid legitimising or restoring pre-war gender discriminatory practices and norms while implementing programmes related to CRVAWG.

I am looking forward to discussions during the PSVI conference on how specifically WFD can contribute to and work with others to address both immediate and long-term consequences of conflict-related violence against women and girls, and other groups, while simultaneously contributing to addressing key structural inequalities. The evidence indicates that any opportunity needs to be taken to prevent a return to the pre-war status quo in terms of gender relations as this would mean a missed opportunity to bring about equality and inclusion in the society. These are critical factors to enable sustainable peace and justice, and prevent future conflicts and violence. Concerted efforts can take us closer to ending preventable conflict-related violence. I hope the PSVI conference will take us another step forward.