OGIP blog 25th November 2022
The theme for OGIP’s first research series, produced in 2019, was “Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict” - a topic that has received a lot of attention in the Women Peace and Security (WPS) agenda. In recent years, there has been an increased focus from Governments around the globe on this issue following the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict held by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in 2014. The summit was a landmark moment bringing unprecedented political attention to the subject of conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV), with heads of state, policymakers and activists from around the world taking note of this long-neglected issue. The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office will be holding the a long awaited second global conference on CRSV in November 2022 in London to bring renewed energy to the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative (PSVI). The conference will focus on justice and accountability, support for survivors and strengthening the international response to CRSV.
CRSV is a devastating tool of war which lies on a continuum or gender based violence that is faced by women every day around the globe. It represents the very worst impacts of militarism and patriarchy that also fuel wars and conflicts around the world. Despite lots of attention on this issue over the past few decades, CRSV remains prevalent today from reports of sexual violence coming out of around Ukraine to instances in Tigray, the northeastern region of Ethiopia. We cannot become complacent and must continue to raise awareness about this issue, as well as tackling the root causes, holding perpetrators accountable and supporting survivors of sexual and gender based violence.
The UK’s PSVI initiative seeks to be global; however, its roots remain western-centric. At the international conference, it will be essential for policy-makers and practitioners from the global north to listen to the voices of activists and advocates, including survivors of sexual violence, from around the world to inform the initiative going forward. OGIP want to seize this moment of increased global attention to push forward the conversation on PSVI by promoting diverse experiences of young advocates and researchers engaged with the issue of sexual violence in conflict globally through their study, advocacy and work with survivors.
OGIP’s research series on ‘Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict’ platforms the voices of a diversity of young people engaged in the field of sexual violence in conflict - either in their work or study - and those affected by violence. The research series highlights the experiences of survivors of sexual violence, as well as exploring the continuum of violence - from peacetime to conflict, from private to public - in the hope of driving forward the agenda and bringing about sustainable change that centres survivors and the experiences of young feminists engaged in the prevention of CRSV. From this research series and in consultation with the OGIP community, the following recommendations were developed to guide practitioners in engaging with and implementing PSVI.
Recommendation One: Holistic Approach to WPS
The Women Peace and Security (WPS) agenda is broken down into four pillars: prevention, protection, participation, and relief and recovery. Experiences of women in conflict environments span across these four pillars, but work of practitioners is often siloed leading to contradictions in the agenda that are difficult to overcome. Take protection and participation for example: the protection pillar frames women as passive victims of gender based violence, including CRSV, and the participation pillar holds women up as leaders and peacebuilders peace in their communities. However, the agenda overlooks the interlinkages between the two, such as the gender-related harms that women face which act as a barrier to participation (Turner and Swaine 2021). The WPS agenda would be strengthened by a holistic approach that works across all four pillars to understand the dependencies between them. Similarly, any response to CRSV would be strengthened if it works across all four pillars to tackle the root causes, as well as prioritizing support for survivors. Furthermore, it is important for this holistic approach to be intersectional and look at the harms experienced by specific groups. OGIP advocates for practitioners to understand the synergies between the WPS and Youth Peace and Security (YPS) agendas to recognise and respond to the specific and heightened vulnerabilities that young women face. Practitioners working on PSVI implementation must:
Recommendation Two: Prevention
In addition to the siloing of the pillars, the dilution of pacifism as one of the founding ideals of the WPS agenda has been routinely criticized. It has been said that the WPS agenda has become “virtually synonymous with ending the impunity of perpetrators of conflict-related sexual violence”. However, preventing conflict should be a priority in and of itself if we want to prevent CRSV (Reilly 2018). Disarmament needs to be centered in the response to CRSV, as feminist pacifist organizations intended when advocating for the WPS agenda. Instead it has been co-opted into “making wars safer for women” rather than preventing wars to begin with (Renzulli 2017). We see this play out as women’s numbers in military units increase, but their inclusion in peace talks still lags behind. Too often, attention is only given to women’s victimization instead of their agency in resisting conflict. Elevating and supporting women’s work in conflict resistance and peacemaking is another way to bolster prevention. Additionally, investment in social infrastructure and public safety nets like the care economy, healthcare, housing and sustainable, inclusive job development is another concrete step towards positive peace. Reducing social and economic strains in turn reduces conflict and we know that countries with women’s equal participation - politically, economically and socially - have lower levels of violence and conflict (True 2015). We should shift towards a proactive model for women’s human rights in place of the current reactive agenda that is contingent on the eruption of conflict. Due to the continuum of violence against women, a proactive model requires promoting a positive peace that mainstreams gender at every level. Practitioners working on PSVI implementation must:
Recommendation Three: Meaningful Participation
People who are affected by the outcomes of the PSVI Summit have a right to be included in the policymaking processes that aim to prevent CRSV. Yet girls, young women, and survivors of CRSV face multiple structural barriers which limit their ability to engage in global initiatives such as the PSVI Summit. They are often excluded from decision-making spaces and their contributions discredited. In early 2020 PSVI came under significant scrutiny following a report by the Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI) which gave the initiative an amber/red assessment. Most notably the ICAI report notes the lack of meaningful engagement of survivors in the “choice design and implementation of projects” under the PSVI umbrella. The lack of consultations with those affected by sexual violence is symptomatic of many failed policies in this space. PSVI projects must be grounded in sustainable approaches with survivors' experiences at the center. This lack of inclusivity can have concrete impacts on the effectiveness and sustainability of policy interventions which aim to prevent CRSV. Without efforts to meaningfully and effectively include and consult girls and young women, the PSVI Summit risks entrenching the very inequalities and social dynamics which give rise to CRSV. As such, the PSVI Summit must center respectful engagement with girls and young women and ensure that their insights inform the outcomes of the Summit, including the design, implementation, and monitoring of the PSVI outcomes. Practitioners working on PSVI implementation must:
The UK should be commended for shining a global spotlight on the issue of PSVI. However, young researchers and advocates working with OGIP want to continue to push the international community to improve their response to this issue to ensure we are tackling the causes of CRSV rather than upholding the systems that support it. This paper is a step towards diversifying recommendations on policy and practice around PSVI, in the same way that our Research Series on PSVI adds to the diversity of research on CRSV and platforms the voices of young women who work or study in this space. Our recommendations urge PSVI practitioners to center the experiences of a diversity of young women and crucially survivors or CRSV in any response. This means listening to them, funding them and enabling them to meaningfully participate. This will support a sustainable response that addresses the symptoms of CRSV rather than perpetuating the underlying causes, such as militarism, patriarchy and the continuum of gender based violence.
True, J. (2015). A Tale of Two Feminisms in International Relations? Feminist Political Economy and the Women, Peace and Security Agenda. 11(2), 419-424.
Turner, C and Swaine, A. (2021). “At the Nexus of Participation and Protection: Protection-Related Barriers to Women’s Participation in Northern Ireland,” International Peace Institute, June 2021.
Renzulli, I. (2017). 'Women and peace'. Netherlands Quarterly of Human Rights, 35(4), 210-229.
Reilly, N. (2018). How Ending Impunity for Conflict-Related Sexual Violence Overwhelmed the UN Women, Peace, and Security Agenda: A Discursive Genealogy. Violence Against Women, 24(6), 631-649.