Rape is used in conflict as a deliberate military strategy and, once the shooting starts, it is the main cause of fear for women and girls. They are right to be afraid. Sexual violence in conflict is on the rise around the world; in a UN Security Council report, 49 state and non-state actors were identified as suspected of having committed or been responsible for rape or other forms of sexual violence in situations of armed conflict in 2021.
The testimony of a woman from the Central Equatoria region of South Sudan describes a situation that is unfortunately all too common. She was attacked by soldiers in her own home, she recounted: “After one man bit me, another man pointed the gun directly at my chest and told me that if he did not accept them, he would kill me.” This violation of her human rights occurred in front of her terrified children.
Conflicts and natural disasters separate families and displace women, girls, boys and adolescents. They alienate them from their communities, social structures and support networks
Sexual and gender-based violence increases whenever there is an armed conflict, because fear, chaos and confusion create perfect conditions for the aggressors. Wars exacerbate gender inequalities that exacerbate women and girls around the world, increasing the levels of violence to which they are already exposed. The breaking of social norms, of legal restrictions and of common protection, gives armed men the opportunity to take advantage of vulnerable women, girls, boys, and adolescents. They often do this as a deliberate tactic to terrorize the population.
Conflict and natural disasters tear families apart and displace women, girls, boys and adolescents, forcing them into refugee camps and other insecure environments. They alienate them from their communities, social structures and support networks, as well as from health and social services.
In these settings, women and girls are more likely to experience gender-based violence and become extremely vulnerable to physical, sexual and psychological abuse. In fact, of the cases of sexual violence in conflicts reported during 2021, 97% were perpetrated against them.
Migrant women, children, and adolescents also face a higher risk of gender-based violence due to the lack of safe and regulated migration routes. This is compounded by a lack of access to basic services and information, including related to their rights, as well as language barriers and limited or no access to decent work and educational opportunities. An assessment conducted among migrants and refugees on the Colombia-Venezuela border ranked care and prevention of sexual and gender-based violence as one of the top 10 unmet needs in sexual and reproductive health.
Up to a third of girls living in a humanitarian crisis setting say their first sexual relationship was forced
A review of 19 studies estimated that 21% of displaced women experienced sexual violence. However, the true figure is likely to be much higher, as incident reporting is patchy and victims are often afraid to speak out for fear of social stigma.
In desperate circumstances, women and girls may be forced to trade sex for food, money and other resources needed to survive. Up to a third of girls living in a humanitarian crisis setting say their first sexual relationship was forced.
But armed conflicts are not the only driver of sexual and gender-based violence. Health emergencies, particularly covid-19, and natural disasters, including those caused by climate change, are also important factors. Before the pandemic, one in three women in the world had experienced physical or sexual violence from an intimate partner. In 2021, according to an assessment carried out by UN Women in four countries, more than half of the women surveyed declared that they, or someone they know, had suffered physical violence and verbal abuse since this health crisis began.
Covid-19 has also disrupted essential health services and diverted resources towards responding to the pandemic. Barriers to reporting and accessing services, including stigma, fear of retaliation, and a fragile rule of law, have long existed but have been intensified by the pandemic. Additionally, the mobility restrictions imposed to curb the spread of the virus do not allow survivors of sexual violence to access essential services.
Climate change and natural disasters cause poverty, displacement, conflict and loss of access to education. They indirectly lead to an increase in child marriage, recognized by international law as a form of gender-based violence.
Unfortunately, child marriage is just one more atrocity in a long list. In 2018, the UN verified more than 24,000 serious violations against children and adolescents in 20 countries, including the recruitment of child soldiers, murder or maiming, and sexual assault or abduction.
we need actions
These atrocities will not go away by themselves. We urgently need specific actions and interventions to prevent and respond to sexual and gender-based violence, especially in fragile and humanitarian crisis settings, while respecting universal human rights and international humanitarian law. Survivors require specific sexual and reproductive health and social care services, as well as participation in decision-making. However, as the data shows, such care is often not available or accessible. They also demand justice and accountability from the perpetrators. Most of the crimes go unpunished, there are no consequences for those responsible and the survivors are seen without reparations or remedies.
At the global level, a multilateral and systematic effort is needed to accelerate the response and prevent sexual and gender-based violence, strengthening international collaboration to achieve comprehensive sexual and reproductive health and rights for the entire population, including prevention. The response to survivors must also be ensured with a gender and age perspective, aligned with human rights and international humanitarian law.
At the national level, countries must create policies and focus resources to protect the physical and mental health of refugees and displaced persons, as well as others at risk of sexual violence due to armed conflict. Measures must be integrated into a comprehensive sexual and reproductive health and rights program that protects access to sexual and reproductive health and rights services in all settings, including humanitarian response settings. Measures to promote accountability and reduce impunity for perpetrators are also necessary.
Countries must allocate long-term investments and develop social protection plans in order to integrate this agenda into their emergency and programmed humanitarian response, incorporating this approach in all sectors of action. This includes investments in capacity building, data monitoring and analysis, essential training for health workers, and creating an enabling and safe environment in which health workers can work.
We are facing a global plague of sexual and gender-based violence, fueled by the lawless chaos of armed conflict, the unprecedented disruption caused by covid-19, and the growing destruction caused by climate change.
The United Nations Committee for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women has developed a guide on gender-related dimensions in disaster risk reduction in the context of climate change and conflict prevention, conflict and post-conflict situations. We have the tools to end this plague, but it will be necessary to tackle the problem through alliances at all levels. Our actions must be guided by the key human rights principles: equality and non-discrimination, participation and empowerment, accountability, as well as access to justice. No single contribution will have the necessary impact on its own; All relevant sectors and actors must contribute to eradicating sexual and gender-based violence in armed conflict and humanitarian settings.
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Source: EL PAIS