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Sexual Violence, Security and the Role Gender Equality Has to Play in Tackling Rape

By: Tewodros Melesse; Originally posted by Huffington Post

Tewodros Melesse is the Director-General of International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF)

In late July 2010, a woman brought her 10-year-old daughter, Sakina, into an emergency outreach clinic in Muzaffargarh, South Punjab, Pakistan. Floods had inundated that part of the country, and our Member Association -- the Family Planning Association of Pakistan (Rahnuma-FPAP) -- had deployed using boats and vans.

The girl had fallen, the mother said. But the examination that followed told a very different story. Bleeding from her genitals indicated she had been sexually assaulted. But the mother, terrified of the social stigma that might follow the girl for the rest of her life, was initially unwilling to confide in our clinic staff.

Eventually confidence was established and the real explanation emerged. Sakina immediately received treatment to prevent sexually transmitted infections, HIV and pregnancy, all of which are part of the Minimum Initial Service Package (MISP). These are the services that we deploy into emergency situations where a humanitarian response is required. Rahmuna-FPAP psychologists trained in sexual and gender-based violence also provided counselling and support for Sakina.

It is estimated that tens of thousands of women and girls are subjected to sexual assault in conflict situations each year around the world.

When the social order breaks down, women and girls often pay a heavy price. Violence and sexual exploitation are just some of the dangers, and they're tragically commonplace in the wake of disaster or conflict.

IPPF, which has been in existence for more than 60 years, has an extensive history providing emergency reproductive health care for many of the survivors.

Our member associations are grassroots organizations run by and for communities - which means they are already on the ground when disaster strikes. We were -- and still are -- involved in crises around the world from Haiti to Palestine, and Liberia to Syria.

Our close involvement with communities means we have a personal connection. This is why, in the end, Sakina's mother was eventually prepared to confide the truth of what had happened to her daughter.

It's because of our extensive work and unyielding commitment to these issues that we are hosting a debate at the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict. The summit, co-chaired by actor and Special Envoy for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Angelina Jolie and UK Foreign Secretary William Hague, is taking place this week in London.

IPPF will host a debate, titled "Ending Sexual Violence in Conflict, Securing SRHR, and delivering Gender Equality" on Wednesday, June 11th.

Co-hosted by the Swedish Government and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), our panel includes a survivor of sexual violence, the Executive Director of the UN Population Fund, Babatunde Osotimehin, Sida's Senior Gender Equality Policy Specialist, Sofia Dohmen, and IPPF President Naomi Seboni.

There are many reasons why women are at particular risk of sexual violence. First, if men are responsible for distributing goods and necessities, women may be subject to sexual exploitation. Then there are the practical constraints that put women and girls at risk. Women may have to travel to remote distribution points for food, water and fuel; their living quarters may be far from latrines and washing facilities; their sleeping quarters may be unlocked and unprotected.

Fear of violence is, of course, not the only issue women and girls have to face in conflict and humanitarian disasters. Problems related to sexual and reproductive health are the leading cause of death and ill health globally for women of childbearing age. In wartime, this vulnerability increases exponentially, as access to services decrease.

Women might have to give birth alone; if they make it to a clinic they might be miles from the nearest blood bank. When pregnant women are displaced and living in camps the need is even more acute. Family planning provided through mobile clinics, like IPPF's, remains a cost effective way of reducing pregnancy-related deaths for people who have already suffered from too many other tragedies.

Despite this, sexual and reproductive health services in conflict settings are often overlooked and remain under resourced.

There is no single solution to tackling sexual violence in conflict. What is undeniable is that survivors must have their voices heard and a survivor-centred approach should be integrated into peace and security efforts.

Properly resourcing the MISP is certainly part of the answer, but, in the longer term, the recognition of women's right to equality -- and not just access to services -- is vitally important.

This year governments are discussing the future of development goals -- sexual violence in conflict will be part of these global discussions. Tackling the inequality which makes women and girls vulnerable must also be at its heart.

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