Next week London will host the largest ever conference on the issue of ending sexual violence in conflict – organised by Foreign Secretary William Hague and UN Special Envoy for Refugees Angelina Jolie.
Sexual violence in conflict, including the rape of women and girls, is one of the most destructive and widespread violations of human rights. According to former UN Peacekeeping Commander Major General Patrick Cammaert it is more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier in modern conflict.
Among the thousands gathering at the Excel Centre from 10 to 13 June will be government ministers from around the world, technical experts, survivors of sexual violence and people who work on the issue in countries affected by conflict. The first three days will also be open to the public with more than 150 free live events, including 60 debates and discussions, exhibitions, films and a marketplace.
Anyone can come along to these events so do come down — you can check out the full programme of events here — and come and see what ActionAid is doing at the summit. We will have a video booth, being run jointly with the Guardian, where people will be asked to record a message to world leaders on ending sexual violence in conflict. The Guardian has also asked people to send in their video messages in advance.
Abducted by rebels
Ten women who work for ActionAid around the world will be attending the summit to give their firsthand experience of working on projects to end sexual violence. Women like Raisa Ndogole from the Democratic Republic of Congo, which has suffered years of conflict.
In 2000, Raisa’s sister was abducted, raped and abused by rebels. She was kept in the bush for two years before being returned to her family. Raisa’s father has also been harassed, kidnapped and interrogated by rebels during the country’s ongoing civil war.
Despite these atrocities and being forced to flee her home in Goma, Raise finished her diploma of graduate law and soon after established the Association for Women Lawyers. The association has been operating for over a decade and supports survivors of sexual violence to seek justice. Raisa now works with ActionAid as a Policy and Campaign Coordinator.
Time to act
If you can’t make it to the summit you can add your voice to the debate by using the #TimeToAct hashtag on Twitter. The Foreign Office have also launched a global photo campaign encouraging people to take selfies of themselves holding a sign with #timetoact on it with a watch or clock in the picture.
The aims of the summit are hugely welcome, but what’s also important for ActionAid is to act to reduce all forms of violence against women and girls in times of peace, as well as times of war, and to recognise that these are intrinsically linked because they are fuelled by the same attitudes towards women which mean they are not listened to or valued. It is also not uncommon for violence against women and girls to increase after conflicts have formally ended.
That is why ActionAid’s She CAN fundraising appeal will help young women break the cycle of poverty so 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.