Ending Sexual Violence in Conflict: Turning Commitment Into Action

June 23, 2014
Women Walk in the Middle of a Conflict Zone

Time and again, we hear horrific accounts of violence perpetrated against women in conflicts around the world. But this violence is not inevitable. The United States is committed to addressing this important issue diplomatically and financially -- and it is not alone. The first Global Summit to End Sexual Violence, held June 10-13 in London, brought together over a thousand leaders and activists -- including military leaders, prosecutors, government officials, doctors, first responders and survivors -- all of whom are working toward this goal.

Preventing sexual violence in armed conflict is a matter of international peace and security. Sexual violence fuels conflict, forces people to flee their homes and countries and is often linked to cyclical violence and other human rights abuses. Evidence demonstrates that impunity for some of the world's worst crimes underwrites conflict and instability for years. We must strengthen the framework for accountability to send a clear message that anyone who chooses to resort to such brutal tactics will be brought to justice, and we must also ensure survivors have access to the services they need to heal and reintegrate.

At the Summit, I heard from women and men from many countries, including prosecutors and judges, doctors, and survivors of these gender-based crimes. While the survivors endured unspeakable acts of violence, they are now rebuilding their lives and their communities and helping others who have suffered find the strength and resilience to do the same.

As Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues, I went to London to highlight the critical role women play in building peace and preventing the conflicts that spawn sexual violence. Investing in the full participation of men and women in development, conflict prevention and resolution and peace building establishes a foundation for stable, inclusive and prosperous societies. The equality and empowerment of women and girls is essential to healthy, peaceful, and prosperous societies for all.

Along with my colleagues, we shared what the U.S. government has been doing to prevent and respond to sexual violence, support survivors, and increase accountability for these acts of brutality in countries ravaged by war, violence and insecurity.

In addition to ongoing work undertaken by the State Department in addressing sexual violence, Secretary Kerry announced a newly-created Accountability Initiative to support specialized justice sector mechanisms, such as mobile courts to improve access to justice for survivors of sexual and gender-based violence and help build the capacity of partner governments to bring perpetrators to justice.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry addresses reporters during news conference with British Foreign Secretary William Hague and actress and UN Envoy Angelina Jolie at the conclusion of the 2014 Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict in London on June 13, 2014. [AP Photo]

The United States will also increase its initial $10 million commitment to Safe from the Start, a joint State Department and USAID initiative that helps prevent and respond to gender-based violence at the onset of humanitarian emergencies worldwide. The State Department is also funding other important initiatives, such as Together for Girls, which helps countries undertake comprehensive surveys to document the magnitude, nature, and impact of physical, emotional, and sexual violence against children, with a focus on girls. We recently doubled the original commitment to the Gender-Based Violence Emergency Response and Protection Initiative to $1 million. This initiative addresses the immediate security needs of survivors of severe gender-based violence, as well as individuals under credible threat of imminent attack due to their gender.

In addition, we remain steadfast in our commitment to advancing the status of women and girls in all aspects of our diplomatic work, and to raising the importance of gender equality at every level. The United States has, for instance, been vocal in its advocacy of a standalone goal to promote gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls in the Post-2015 Development Agenda. This standalone goal should include targets for crucial gender-related issues that are not easily addressed under the other proposed goals -- such as ending violence against women and girls.

Importantly, Secretary Kerry also challenged the rest of the world to join us in restricting travel by those responsible for crimes against humanity, war crimes, and other serious violations of human rights, including those involving sexual violence. Ensuring there is no safe haven for these perpetrators is one of many steps we must take to end sexual violence in conflict.

The United States is a leader in the fight against wartime rape, and will continue to take actions to banish sexual violence to the history books. In his closing remarks, Secretary Kerry quoted the late Maya Angelou, herself a survivor of sexual violence: "Out of the huts of history's shame/ I rise/ Up from a past that's rooted in pain/ I rise." The world came together last week to rise up against rape and towards a safer future. I am humbled to have participated, and proud to continue this work every day alongside my colleagues at the State Department.

About the Author: Catherine Russell serves as the U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues. You can follow Ambassador Russell on Twitter @S_GWI.

Editor's Note: This entry also appears on The Huffington Post.



Janet F.
United States
June 24, 2014
Eleven million U.S. taxpayer dollars given to whom, exactly? And overseen by whom? The gov'ts we are working with do not use our gifts to help their citizens. They are part of the problem. And they have rearrested Meriam Ibraham in Sudan! Where are you Mr. Secretary? No comment on an innocent woman jailed again? With her AMERICAN husband and children? Sounds like we are not the policemen of the world but the Santa Claus'. We do not govern the World. We should not try to buy its redemption. Refocus on our own country. 60,000 children alone, are crossing our southern border this year. We are drowning in "refugees" here. Provide security for American citizens, country and property first, then we can increase what we do for foreign problems. Our gifting money that we borrow then pay interest on is the story of the goose (USA) and the golden egg (our economy) coming to reality. Mr. Kerry, please come back to earth you have gone waaay too far out. You have much to address here. Besides, we have travel restrictions galore and still can't stop those on the lists from coming through the gates.
Cary P.
Guam, USA
June 24, 2014
[Re: Cary Lee Peterson] I admire their endeavors and awareness on this subject matter. WOHT appreciates their support on human trafficking and sexual violence.
Patrick W.
Maryland, USA
June 25, 2014
What will happen, if Iraq falls into terrorist hands. The same thing their writing about and worse, Millions of New Refugees, Discrimination based on terrorist extreme believes, the end to the new economy there, and the end of free trade with other countries. Which would be bad for the world's economy and the people that live in that country.


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