By Yasmine Sherif
NEW YORK, Jun 19 2023 (IPS-Partners)
Sexual violence is unacceptable in any shape or form, in all contexts, including those of conflict.
As we come together on the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict, we must reflect together on the pain, horror, fear and inhumanity that rape, sexual abuse, trafficking, slavery, child marriage and other forms of conflict-related sexual violence bring to a young child’s life, hence, our collective humanity.
Sexual violence is a grave breach of international law. It is immoral and it is unconscionable. Nevertheless, as we look back and towards brutal armed conflicts in Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Mali, Sudan and beyond, we read reports of girls and women – and boys and men too – being raped, sexually abused, pushed into marriage, trafficked and denied their most basic human rights and human dignity.
While sexual violence and rape have long been tactics of war, global efforts to end sexual violence in conflict are relatively new – and have been far too ineffective in curtailing these despicable assaults on people everywhere. Consider that the Lieber Code first mentioned rape as an executable offense during wartime in the late 1800s in the US Civil War. Sexual violence was also mentioned in the 1949 Geneva Convention as a “need to protect the honour of women.” It wasn’t until the late 1990s that rape during wartime was more largely prosecuted, with the United Nations classifying it as both a crime against humanity in 1993 and a war crime in 1995.
As a global community, we have done far too little to protect people – especially girls and women – from these heinous attacks. Growing militarization, the proliferation of arms and terrorism are making matters even worse.
In places that have experienced high levels of political, social and economic upheaval, recent UN reports indicate that “sexual violence is being used to subjugate and humiliate opposition groups and rival communities.” And when sexual violence occurs, perpetrators often go free, while girls and women are all too often blamed, ostracized and shunned from their communities.
We must stand united against these weapons of oppression. Education is key to empowering women and girls everywhere to stand up against sexual violence, it’s key to providing girls in crisis-impacted countries with access to safety and protection in the classroom. Education also entails mental health services to enable them to begin to heal from what otherwise would become lifelong scars. Education empowers them to pursue justice and end impunity. Education is also key for boys and men to understand that any act of sexual abuse or violence is criminal, despicable and unacceptable – anywhere, anytime, in every circumstance.
Please join Education Cannot Wait, the United Nations global fund for education in emergencies, in calling for an immediate stop to all forms of sexual violence. We will endure these assaults on individuals – and on our humanity – no more.
ECW Executive Director Yasmine Sherif Statement on the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict