Marking June 19th as the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict, the United States remains resolute in its commitment to preventing conflict-related sexual violence and holding accountable those responsible.
Just last week, President Donald J. Trump launched the United States' Strategy on Women, Peace, and Security, a new national strategic initiative that aims to empower women to become global leaders and agents of change in preventing conflict and sustaining peace. With this renewed emphasis on the role of women in addressing peace and security, efforts to address sexual violence in conflict are all the more pressing and integral to U.S. foreign policy.
Sexual violence in conflict is a security threat that affects entire communities, perpetuates conflict, and is a horrific abuse of human rights that we cannot afford to ignore. It can include or lead to other types of gender-based violence such as early and forced marriage, female genital mutilation and cutting, domestic violence, human trafficking, and sexual slavery as well as cause numerous negative health impacts that may affect future generations. Sexual violence in conflict leads to long-lasting, often intergenerational trauma; further erodes the role women can play in the resolution of conflict; divides communities; and contributes to stigmatization of women and impedes their ability to contribute to society after conflict. Impunity for sexual violence is widespread and prevents the conditions that sustain lasting peace.
Through the new Strategy, the United States demonstrates its dedication to addressing sexual violence in conflict through survivor-centric diplomacy while promoting the full and meaningful participation of women and girls in conflict prevention and resolution across the globe. The U.S. seeks to strengthen the framework for accountability mechanisms to hold responsible those who commit or enable gender-based violence during conflict. The strategy also advocates for the protection of women and girls’ human rights as well as access to aid and other resources while encouraging U.S. partner governments to adopt similar policies and plans that also promote the participation of women in conflict resolution and decision-making.
In addition to committing to a full and comprehensive response to sexual violence in conflict, the United States invests in measures to prevent gender-based violence in the first place. The United States also provides resources and support for survivors to address the trauma and stigma they experience as a step toward healing those afflicted as well as mending their communities. In Iraq, the Department funds efforts to provide support for survivors of torture and sexual and gender-based violence, particularly survivors of ISIS, by building the capacity of civil society to provide comprehensive, interdisciplinary care. These programs provide rehabilitation that is trauma-informed while recognizing the widespread, long-term, profound, and complex impact of these terrible crimes.
While sexual violence in conflict can affect anyone, gender inequality frequently drives sexual violence crimes and victims are disproportionately women and girls. Women should always play a role in peace building and post-conflict negotiations, and ensuring that the voices of women and girls affected by sexual violence in conflict is essential to addressing these issues in peace talks. Indeed, evidence shows that when women participate in post-conflict negotiations, a peace agreement is 35 percent more likely to last for fifteen years or beyond. In Burma, for example, the Rohingya population is under siege and has faced extrajudicial killings, sexual violence, and the burning of Rohingya villages. Earlier this year, the Department honored Razia Sultana, a Rohingya human rights activist, with the International Women of Courage Award for her courageous work promoting justice, accountability, and support for survivors of sexual violence. Leaders like Razia are essential to forging an end to conflict and building long-term peace.
With the right support and appropriate resources, survivors can focus their efforts on healing, accessing new opportunities, and reaching their – and their communities’ – full potential. Survivors who wish to see their perpetrators held accountable can also receive the tools they need to pursue justice. As we stand firmly with survivors, we know that ending this form of violence requires the full commitment and collective action of the international community.
Sexual violence in conflict -- against women and girls as well as men and boys -- is not an inevitable outcome of war. It is a crime. The United States recognizes that women around the world provide a unique and central perspective on conflict resolution and the building of an enduring peace, creating a demonstrable link between women and international security -- and that addressing gender inequality and women’s empowerment are essential to fighting sexual violence and holding those responsible accountable. At the Department of State, we are guided by a simple truth: to manage and prevent the tragedy of conflict and crisis, a primary step is to build and contribute to a society that values women and girls, respects their human rights, and ensures equal opportunity.
About the Author: Amelia Apgar serves in the Secretary's Office of Global Women's Issues at the U.S. Department of State.