By H.E. Amira Elfadil
On this International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict, the African Union Commission salutes survivors of sexual violence and other powerful authorities in Africa for raising their voice against the atrocities of sexual violence in conflict.
For over a decade, the international community has raised its voice against sexual violence, among other forms of violence, and the Commission distinctly associates itself with the elimination of sexual violence in conflict settings, particularly in the context of the 2020 African Union theme of the year on “Silencing the Guns by 2020”.. Standing up against this violation of human rights continues to break the culture of silence, brings communities and the world together, and strengthens the fight.
Sexual violence during conflict does not just violate women and men, girls and boys on a massive scale but also destroys families and communities. In many conflict and post-conflict situations, we see the effects of this act of war echoing across generations, through gender inequalities, trauma, stigma, poverty, and poor health and wellbeing. This has and is impacting Africa’s opportunity to harness the demographic dividend, to unlock the potential behind investing in girls and women’s empowerment and, a chance for a healthy, prosperous population – a key prospect of the African Union’s Agenda 2063 on the “Africa We Want”.
The health sector has a very important role to play in terms of prevention, treatment, and rehabilitation. The onus especially befalls on the stakeholders working towards ending AIDS in Africa by 2030. In Sub-Saharan Africa, seven out of ten women in conflict settings and in refugee populations are exposed to gender-based and sexual violence. Women who have experienced violence are 50% more likely to be living with HIV. Media and service-provider reports often register an increase in sexual violence perpetrated against women and children in armed conflicts.
Young girls and women are subjected to rape and forced marriages, and other forms of gender-based sexual violence, including female genital mutilation, particularly in communities where these harmful practices have been normalised into the social fabric. Africa and the world need to do more. For Africa, it is to transform our communities, our countries and the continent to pursue social and economic change, to educate our girls, to empower our women and to transform the lives of our people.
An important investment Africa must make is on ensuring access to information, data and evidence, which would inform legislative, programme, political and community-level action. As we work to ensure all the guns are silenced in 2020 and beyond, the continent – and particularly in places that have hosted periods of instability and conflict – we need to ensure Africa is emerging to a sustained future of peace, security, development and, invest in the wellbeing and potentials of all people, particularly girls and women. We need to be making the investments that address the disease burden; that expands economic participation; that expands our human capital and capacity; and one that ensures we address the gender inequalities perpetuated by gender-based sexual violence.
The Commission will continue to advocate for silencing of the guns and eliminate the use of sexual violence as a tool to displace populations, and as a means of repression, terror, and control. We strongly call on national authorities across all African Union Member States to prevent sexual violence by promoting peace, upholding the commitments in all key instruments and agreements – including the Maputo Plan of Action, Agenda 2063, the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (UNCEDAW) and the Sustainable Development Goals.
As the global community contends with the unprecedented challenges brought upon by the Novel Corona Virus COVID 19 pandemic, particularly in rising cases of gender-based violence – including rape, child marriage, female genital mutilation and other forms of sexual violence – our urgency, our conviction must be remaining accountable. Sexual violence in conflict is a threat to our collective security and a stain on our common humanity. Protecting our communities collectively means ensuring accountability for perpetrators and providing ensuring access to care and services, and resources for victims.
We are facing extraordinary challenges as a continent due to the coronavirus pandemic which is stretching our public health and care systems; increasing pressures on our efforts to eradicate poverty. These are aggravating the social construct and may raise pressures that create the conditions for conflict across many levels.
The Commission applauds AU Member States, Development Partners, Regional Economic Communities RECs), and the international community who are providing survivors of sexual violence in conflict with services, care and treatment, and justice.
We recognise and align ourselves with the work going towards preventing abuse and violence through collaborative programming that links reconstruction, access to the continuum of service, addressing the underlying social norms and harmful practices that continue to perpetuate gender-based violence and inequality, as well as community awareness and empowerment.
In conclusion, I reiterate that the Commission stands ready to work with the global community, with our Member States, Civil Society, religious and traditional leaders, all partners and other stakeholders.
We must ensure that the rights and needs of sexual violence survivors are at the heart of response efforts and interventions, particularly as we fight the COVID 19 pandemic. We reaffirm our commitment to eliminate the scourge of conflict-related sexual violence and to provide justice, as we work to Silence the Guns.
The writer is a Commissioner for Social Affairs, African Union Commission