This week I took part in the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict led by UK foreign minister William Hague and actor and activist Angelina Jolie. Hague said he wanted it to be a “summit like no other”.
I have certainly never been to an event like it before, it had quite a buzz – with hundreds of delegates and a large fringe event open to the public. Governments, civil society, military and judicial personnel from all around the world took part.
ActionAid had high visibility, especially our video booth, hosted with the Guardian, which was busy with people recording powerful messages.
It was also encouraging that the Foreign Office paid for 10 of our staff from country programmes to attend the event and take part in the debates and sessions. It is a mark of respect for ActionAid that we were one of the agencies chosen for support in this way.
Meeting incredible, brave women
I was proud of the quality and passion of our staff from around the world – they really are incredible, brave, articulate women. The diversity of people at the event was also noticeable – except when it was the Ministers’ session and then it was very visible that it is men who hold the power.
Some of the sessions I attended mixed high level political rhetoric with incredibly moving and powerful films, presentations and real-life stories of the horrific use of rape and sexual violence as a weapon of war. We must never forget this is indeed real life for some people.
You couldn’t fail to be moved, saddened and angry and feel passionate about the need for change.
High level of political commitment welcome
Such a high level of political commitment is to be welcomed. But, in a sense, that is the easy part – no-one will be against tackling such a horrendous issue.
The summit was about building global momentum for change but this has to translate into action on the ground – conflicts in DRC, South Sudan and Syria seemed far away from the palatial, air-conditioned conference centre.
The key is to empower women, especially grass-roots women groups.
Numerous studies have shown that strong women’s movements are the most important factor in reducing violence against women and girls.
At the ‘sharp end’ ActionAid is doing that everyday.
Governments at the conference must ensure that the difference is felt in real practical steps and actions – otherwise all the fine words in the world will make no difference.
ActionAid’s She CAN fundraising appeal helps young women break the cycle of poverty and violence so that they can fulfil their potential and live lives without fear.
The appeal runs until 25 June and all donations from the public will be matched by the UK government.