Today, June 19 marks the annual International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict, a day that was established by the UN General Assembly in June 2015, for the sole purpose of raising awareness of the need to put an end to conflict-related sexual violence, and to honour the victims and survivors of sexual violence around the world.
Conflict-related sexual violence has a profound and lasting impact on the victim, while fracturing families and the social fabric of society, it also threatens public health, security and peacebuilding efforts. It is a severe human rights violation and can be used as a strategy of war and conflict. Despite many resolutions and commitments, sexual violence continues to be present in conflict settings and survivors receive little justice. Last year, we looked at Ending the culture of impunity in sexual violence atrocities in the Horn, where we reflected on conflict related sexual violence in Somalia and violence against women and girls.
Today on the 19th June 2021 as we celebrate International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact all aspects of our lives and it has already impeded prevention, protection and service provision for survivors of sexual violence while also enabling any political commitments made prior to Covid-19 is faltering. The resources for victims were redirected towards the prevailing public health emergency.
The UN Secretary-General March 2021 report showed how women and girls who were already facing conflict and displacement had an increased risk of experiencing sexual violence. The Secretary General stated that the pandemic “amplified gender-based inequality, which is a root cause and driver of sexual violence in times of conflict and peace”.
The pandemic in particular affected women and girls’ access to justice systems and to sexual and reproductive health services, which worsened the impact of sexual violence. In Somalia, women and women’s rights organisations shared that the pandemic had eroded some of the progress they had made for women and girls’ protection, such as access to justice, accountability and protection. They also called for addressing the increase of gender-based violence and to prioritise women and girls’ rights and needs.
2020, commemorated two major milestones in the development of the Women, Peace and Security agenda, the 20th anniversary of the UN Security Council Resolution 1325 and the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. This demonstrates how far we have come, but more progress and efforts need to be achieved to ensure that women and girls rights are respected, protected and promoted.
And lastly, Covid-19 must not and shall not alter our efforts to eliminate sexual violence in conflict or serve as an excuse for not supporting or uplifting survivors of sexual violence in conflict and preserving their rights and dignity. If anything, it is now more crucial than ever before, to address and end conflict-related sexual violence!