There are no winners among countless casualties in armed conflict, not least the women and girls victimized by militants who have weaponized sexual violence as a tactic of war, torture and terrorism.
The General Assembly’s 2015 resolution proclaimed 19 June as a day to condemn and call for the end of conflict-related sexual violence, including rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy and enforced sterilization and to honour victims, survivors and those fighting to end these most horrific of crimes.
We see it too often in all corners of the globe, from Ukraine to Tigray in northern Ethiopia to Syria. “Every new wave of warfare brings with it a rising tide of human tragedy, including new waves of war’s oldest, most silenced, and least-condemned crime,” said Pramila Patten, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict.
A March report covering 2021, which says that 97 per cent of incidents target women and girls, described the heightened risks migrant, refugee and displaced women and girls face, the ongoing attacks against women and girls merely engaging in livelihood activities and economic hardship, political instability and gender inequality as contributing factors to sexual violence.
Conflict-related sexual violence exacts an unspeakable toll on a survivor, who is most likely to be a civilian and not a combatant. Prevention, protection and treatment services efforts are lacking. A culture of impunity surrounds this scourge: Perpetrators remain free, while survivors are left with lasting physical and emotional scars, robbed not only of health, dignity and peace but of justice. Sexual violence also thwarts women’s participation in social, political and economic life.
The costs of conflict are great; the costs of conflict paid largely by women and girls are incalculable.
Top: Esther (name changed for privacy and protection) was raped by a military member in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which recorded the highest number of UN-verified incidents of conflict-related sexual violence last year, according to the report of the Secretary-General. She became pregnant and developed obstetric fistula in childbirth. After six agonizing years, she underwent repair surgery at UNFPA-supported General Hospital in Bunia, which also has treated cases of fistula caused by sexual violence menacing the country and aggravated by conflict. © OCHA/Ivo Brandau