Rape is used in conflict as a deliberate military strategy and is feared by women and girls as soon as the shots ring out.
They are right to worry. On World Humanitarian Day, 19 August, it is important to highlight how rampant rape and other forms of sexual and gender-based violence have become in crisis contexts humanitarian all over the world.
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Cases of conflict-related sexual violence are on the rise. In 2022, the United Nations Security Council reported that 49 groups are routinely suspected or responsible for rape or other forms of sexual violence in areas of armed conflict.
Maneuver aimed at terrorizing the population
Testimonies similar to that of this woman from Central Equatoria, South Sudan, are unfortunately all too frequent. Attacked by soldiers in her own home, she says: “After a man bit me, another pointed his gun directly at my chest and told me that if I didn’t accept them, he would kill me” . Her terrified children were nearby as this human rights violation unfolded.
The collapse of social norms gives men with guns the opportunity to prey on women
Acts of sexual and gender-based violence increase whenever armed conflict breaks out, as fear, chaos and confusion provide perfect cover for the perpetrators of these acts. Conflicts exacerbate gender inequalities, which disproportionately affect women and girls around the world, and aggravate levels of violence against them.
The breakdown of social norms, legal restraints and common protections gives men armed the opportunity to address vulnerable women, girls and adolescent girls. This is often a premeditated maneuver aimed at terrorizing the population.
From Nigeria to the DRC, an “epidemic of war rape”
Conflicts and natural disasters break up families, displace women, girls and adolescents and force them into refugee camps and other insecure places. They alienate them from their community, from social structures and support networks, and from health and social services.
In these contexts, they are much more exposed to acts of gender-based violence and are extremely vulnerable to physical, sexual and psychological harm. For example, in 2021, violence against women and girls accounted for 97% of reported conflict-related sexual violence cases.
Lack of secure migration channels
Women, children and adolescents in migration situations are also at increased risk of gender-based violence due to the lack of safe and regular migration channels. This situation is exacerbated by inadequate access to services and information, including on rights, as well as language barriers and the lack or absence of decent work and education opportunities.
A study of migrants and refugees on the Colombia-Venezuela border ranked care management and prevention of sexual and gender-based violence among the top ten unmet sexual and reproductive health needs .
Rwanda: genocide, rape and the French army according to Gaël Faye
According to the results of 19 studies carried out in 14 countries, 21% of displaced women have suffered sexual violence. However, the true figure is likely to be much higher, as incident recording is incomplete and women are often afraid to speak out, fearing social stigma.
When in dire straits, women, girls and adolescents may be forced to trade sex for food, cash and other resources necessary for survival. Up to a third of girls living in humanitarian settings say their first sex was forced.
But conflict is not the only driver of sexual and gender-based violence. Health emergencies, including Covid-19 and natural disasters, due to climate change, are also important factors. A summary study initiated by UN Women revealed that more than half of the women surveyed said that they or people around them had experienced physical and verbal violence since the start of Covid-19.
The UN has confirmed more than 24,000 grave violations against children and adolescents in 20 countries
Covid-19 has disrupted basic health services and diverted resources to pandemic response. Long-standing barriers to accessing services, such as stigma, fear of reprisals and weak rule of law institutions have been exacerbated by the pandemic. In addition, movement restrictions due to Covid-19 continued to prevent survivors of sexual violence from accessing essential services.
Climate change and natural disasters cause poverty, displacement, conflict and school dropout. They indirectly lead to an increase in cases of child marriage, which is recognized in international law as a form of gender-based violence.
Unfortunately, child marriage is only one of many outrages. During 2018, the UN confirmed more than 24,000 grave violations against of the children and adolescents in 20 countries, including recruitment as child soldiers, killing or maiming, and sexual assault or abduction.
Prevention and repair
These atrocious acts will not go away on their own. We urgently need to carry out targeted actions and interventions to prevent and manage acts of sexual and gender-based violence, including in humanitarian and fragile settings, in strict compliance with international human rights law and international law humanitarian.
Most of these crimes go unpunished
Survivors need specific sexual and reproductive health services, as well as social care. However, the facts show that this care is often not available. They also demand justice and accountability against the perpetrators of these crimes. Yet most of these crimes go unpunished, those responsible go unpunished, and survivors are left without redress or redress.
At the global level, there is a need for concerted multilateral efforts to accelerate the fight against sexual and gender-based violence and to strengthen international collaboration in support of comprehensive sexual and reproductive health and rights for all individuals, including including the prevention of sexual and gender-based violence. We must also ensure gender- and age-appropriate reparations for all survivors, in accordance with international human rights law and international humanitarian law.
Rape of children in the Central African Republic: dismissal for the French soldiers of Operation Sangaris
At the national level, countries must establish supportive and protective frameworks and focus resources to protect the physical and mental health of refugees and others at risk of personal violence and displacement due to conflict. Measures should be part of a comprehensive program for sexual and reproductive health and rights, which protects access to sexual and reproductive health services in all settings, including humanitarian response.
Measures to promote accountability, ensure access to justice and reparation for survivors, and fight impunity for perpetrators are also needed.
Invest to end this scourge
Countries must dedicate long-term investments and social protection programs to integrate this agenda into emergency humanitarian actions and programming across all sectors. This includes investing in capacity building, data monitoring and analysis, essential training for health workers, and establishing a supportive and safe working environment.
Our actions must be guided by key human rights principles
We face a global scourge of sexual and gender-based violence. It feeds on the anarchic chaos of conflict, the unprecedented disruption of Covid-19 and the growing destruction caused by climate change.
The UN Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women has developed guidance on the gender dimensions of disaster risk reduction on women in the context of climate change and prevention in disasters. conflicts, during and after conflicts.
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Our actions must be guided by key human rights principles – equality and non-discrimination, participation and empowerment, accountability and access to justice. We have the tools to end this scourge, but it will require an integrated partnership approach at all levels. No link will work alone. Also, each sector must contribute to the eradication of sexual and gender-based violence in conflicts and situations humanitarians.