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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”.

Women call for an end to violence against women and girls in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Women call for an end to violence against women and girls in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Photo: ActionAid

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.

What I should have said to Angelina Jolie

Kiran Gupta's picture Kiran Gupta Research and Project Information Assistant

When Angelina Jolie and William Hague arrive unannounced at your stall at an international summit, what do you say? “Thanks for stopping by!” is what came out of my mouth (Anchorman fans will get the reference). What I should have said was: “do you know about ActionAid’s theory of change for tackling violence against women and girls?”

Angelina Jolie and William Hague visit the ActionAid stand at the Global Summit to end violence in conflict
Angelina Jolie and William Hague visit the ActionAid stand at the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict
Photo: ActionAid

We held a stall at this week’s summit on Ending Sexual Violence in Conflict at London’s Excel Centre, the biggest summit ever of its kind. Foreign Secretary William Hague and Angelina Jolie, Special Envoy for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees co-hosted the event. 

Its aims were to end the culture of impunity for perpetrators, increase support for survivors, and produce “a seismic shift in attitudes” on the subject of sexual violence.

Ending violence

When Angelina stopped by our stall, she picked up her very own copy of our booklet on this subject (you can, too, here), so she’s all set to find out that:

• Violence against women and girls is the most widespread form of abuse worldwide, affecting one third of all women in their lifetime. Sexual violence is one of the most destructive and widespread violations of human rights in countries affected by conflict.

• It is important to reduce all forms of violence against women and girls, in times of peace as well as times of war.

• Ending violence against women and girls is essential to fighting poverty.

From my point of view, the Summit Fringe events were a huge success and highly engaging. I hope the decisions being made behind closed doors are just as impressive, including but not limited to investing in women’s rights organisations, who against innumerable odds have advanced this issue to where it is today in London’s docklands.

The hashtag for the summit is #timetoact. I couldn’t have put it better myself.

Double your donation

This blog won't make easy reading. Anne shared her story and we wanted to tell you what happened to her. Together we must face the reality of sexual violence.

“We must send a message around the world that there is no disgrace in being a survivor of sexual violence, that the shame is with the aggressor.” That is what Angelina Jolie said yesterday at the opening of the Ending Sexual Violence Summit in London.  

That is why I believe Anne Bucheche is such a courageous woman - for speaking out about an horrific attack by a gang of men from a militia group during clan clashes over land disputes in western Kenya who sexually assaulted her in front of her children and husband.

AnneAnne Bucheche is determined that others should never suffer as she did.

Attacked at home in front of her family

“I was selling onions in the local market when the militia demanded cash from me,” she said. “They were using the cash to buy guns across borders. Later that evening a group of between five to ten men broke into my house and beat me and my husband up.

“They were demanding more money, but I didn’t have it. Two of the men held my legs apart while the others put their fists inside my private parts insisting I must have hidden the money inside there. A gun was held to my head so that I did not scream at all. When they left I was bleeding a lot. They took my two cows and ran back to their hide out in the forest.”

Rebuilding her life and working for justice

Anne was helped by ActionAid with medical care and facilitated healing forums where she and other women spoke out their experiences and started the healing process. She also received a grant from ActionAid to restart her business.

Since the attack Anne has become involved a community group trained by ActionAid to take up cases of violence against women and girls and work with the police, health workers, the judiciary and an organisation of women lawyers who provide pro-bono legal services to women survivors of violence.

She is vocal in campaigning for rights of women and girls against violence. She has also been involved in peace-building activities as a way of protecting women from violence in the future.

She told her story to the Evening Standard last week because she wants to help other women see that they too can break their silence on this taboo issue.

Hear testimonies from survivors of rape and sexual assault

I will be down at the summit today with the amazing women from ActionAid who work with survivors of sexual violence and have come to London to share the testimonies that they have gathered and make sure the voices of survivors are at the centre of this debate.

They will be speaking at a panel discussion at 4.30pm which is one of the huge number of events that are open to the public so do come down if you can.

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.

Photo: ActionAid

It’s degrading, humiliating and destroys a woman’s sexual identity. These are just some of the words that were used to describe sexual violence in conflict - war rape. They came from ActionAid frontline aid workers and actors and ActionAid ambassadors, Sarah Alexander and Helen Worth.

This week sees the largest ever gathering of politicians, experts and activists led by UK foreign minister William Hague and actor Angelina Jolie aiming to create irreversible momentum against sexual violence in conflict as well as outlining practical action that helps women who have suffered sexual abuse.

A zero tolerance approach

We’ll be at the Ending Sexual Violence in Conflict summit. In particular, we’ll be pushing for a zero tolerance approach to sexual assault. That means punishment of perpetrators - no matter how long it takes, paying reparations and ensuring women can access justice. 

So what do you think can be done? Here are six answers that we think can help.

• Change attitudes around the world so that the stigma that survivors of sexual violence usually face, is instead attached to the perpetrators

• End the culture of impunity and make sure women survivors have access to justice

• Always prosecute rapists

• Stop objectifying women

• Give girls real power

• Give all women a voice 

These are some of the reasons why 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.

It’s almost upon us. The world cup kicks off in a matter of days and at ActionAid we’re caught up in sweepstake fever. 

Mbou Jutenda. Makhnda U17 girls football club
Mbou Jutenda. Makhnda U17 girls football club
Photo: ,Zute & Demelza Lightfoot/ActionAid

I know next to nothing about football, which is almost sacrilege when you’re northern, but there you have it. Following a team every week for months, years, decades, seems a little too much like hard work and somewhat time consuming.

I'll be basking in the atmosphere

However, it’s hard not to get swept up in a wave of excitement when the national team are playing, and so I will watch, along with the rest of the country holding my breath, hoping for the win and hopefully basking in the incredible atmosphere that such events bring with them.

Whilst you’ll no doubt be vying for your team to win, there’s also the team you got in the sweepstake to consider. Admit it. What huge competition would be complete without an office/ university / friendship group sweepstake? Not one is the answer you’re looking for!

Download the ActionAid sweepstake

At ActionAid we’ve designed our own that we wanted to share for anyone who hasn’t been quite so organised. Download the sweepstake (pdf)

Whilst you’re downloading we’re also encouraging you to make a donation to ActionAid’s She CAN appeal which runs until the 25 June. All donations made during that time will be matched by the UK government and will help some of the world’s most vulnerable girls in countries such as Kenya and Myanmar overcome poverty and violence. At least if your sweepstake team gets knocked out you’ll be safe in the knowledge that you contributed in some way to making a difference.

News of the horrific gang rape and death by hanging of two so-called ‘low caste’ girls - 14 and 15 year old cousins from the Dalit community in Uttar Pradesh, northern India shows how vulnerable the poorest women and girls in India still are to violent sexual attack.

Young activists join with ActionAid in India to protest violence perpetrated on women and girls
Young activists join with ActionAid in India to protest violence perpetrated on women and girls
Photo: Florian Lang/Actionaid

Colleagues in India tell me there is anecdotal evidence that sexual assault, rape and murder of women is an increasing feature of atrocities committed against the Dalit community.

What is worse is that the rape of Dalit women in many places, but especially in northern India, is not being taken seriously enough.

So the initial reported laxity of the police in investigating the case has come as no surprise to ActionAid in India and our partners on the ground. Although as outrage grew, the local police chief insisted on a thorough investigation.

What was welcome was that Indian Minister of State for Women and Child Welfare, Maneka Gandhi immediately condemned the slow police start once it was brought to her attention and affirmed the importance of establishing rape crisis centres.

Another welcome development was the across-the-board condemnation by the Indian public and the widespread recognition by ordinary people that women's rights are central to a mature democracy: a very clear achievement of the robust and strong Indian women's movement.

Yet more still needs to be done.

A rape is reported every 22 minutes in India

A rape is reported every 22 minutes in India according to official government statistics although this in no way reflects the true numbers which are much higher. Additionally, three in four rapes in India occur in rural areas amongst predominantly lower caste women.

That is why ActionAid’s new ‘one stop’ crisis centres for survivors of rape which we are setting up with government support will be targeting this most vulnerable of demographics. 

But sexual and other forms of violence are not just an Indian problem. It is an international disgrace, affecting millions of women and girls every year. In the UK the number of recorded rapes of both adults and children has risen steadily since 2008.

Poverty increases vulnerability to violence

As our UK-based She CAN campaign shows, and as our recent blogs on the plight of Nigeria's schoolgirls affirm, poverty and violence against women and girls are interlinked and feed off one another.

Poverty increases the vulnerability of women and girls to violence, while violence traps women and girls, their families and communities in poverty.

Worldwide, ActionAid is committed to helping women and girls break the cycle of poverty: to fulfil their potential and live lives without fear. The UK government is doubling all donations to our She CAN appeal until 25 June.