Turning Outrage Into Action to End Violence Against Women and Girls

from outrage to action

Recent news headlines about the horrific mass rapes committed against women and girls in Israel and in Sudan have brought much needed attention to the issue of sexual violence during wartime.

The terrible truth is that rape is one of the most commonly perpetrated, and under-prosecuted, war crimes.

With the world facing the highest number of conflicts since the Second World War, the UN reports that an alarming number of women and girls worldwide are experiencing gang rape, sexual slavery and other forms of sexual violence. Today, there are 20 “situations of concern” where sexual violence is a threat to women and girls, including conflicts in Ethiopia, Haiti, Myanmar and Ukraine.

Across the globe, women and children are also the primary causalities during war, and those who survive are much more vulnerable in its aftermath:

  • About two-thirds of the people killed by Israeli forces in Gaza since October are thought to be women and children. The conflict has left pregnant women in dire condition, with limited or no access to maternal care and at risk of dying in childbirth.
  • In an earthquake that hit the western region of Afghanistan in October, almost 90% of those killed were women and children. Edicts forcing women indoors further increased their exposure to harm and limited their access to health care. In Herat, one woman dies every two hours during pregnancy or childbirth.
  • The refugee crisis in Armenia has collapsed support networks, leaving thousands of women cut off from life-saving services and increasing their exposure to risks of violence, sexual exploitation and abuse.

In fact, whether it is war or natural disaster, rates of violence increase dramatically during a humanitarian crisis – 7 in 10 women will experience sexual or physical violence during these times.

Multiple factors contribute to this alarming number. When a crisis hits, in the form of an armed conflict, natural disaster, or humanitarian emergency, community and family protections are weakened and society’s ability to protect women and girls from violence is significantly compromised. Vulnerabilities increase and support and services decrease.

Husbands or partners may commit this violence, or opportunist attackers may strike while women and girls are fetching water, food and firewood. During conflict, armed actors also target women and girls, using sexual violence as a tactic of war, and sometimes aid workers – the very people tasked with protecting them – sexually exploit and abuse women and girls.

No matter the cause or the geography, we should use our collective voices to express outrage for all the resulting harms to women and girls – and press our leaders to help stop it.

We are in the midst of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, an annual global campaign that begins on November 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and ends on December 10, Human Rights Day. It brings together activists, policymakers, service providers and individuals to call for the prevention and elimination of all forms of violence against all women and girls.

The campaign is a time to put our united energies together and with one voice call on governments to implement gendered responses and solutions at the start of humanitarian crises – whether war or natural disaster. We must investigate and hold accountable all perpetrators of violence, and increase investments in preventing all violence against women and girls.

At FUTURES, we specifically call for passage of two critical policy solutions that can do just that:

  • The International Violence Against Women Act makes ending violence against women and girls a top diplomatic, development, and foreign assistance priority by ensuring the U.S. government has a strategy to efficiently and effectively coordinate existing cross-governmental efforts to prevent and respond to gender-based violence globally. Provisions should include addressing rape as a weapon of war.
  • The Safe from the Start Act will ensure that humanitarian response organizations are better equipped to prevent gender-based violence and support survivors through training, guidelines, and the deployment of specialized experts to close gaps that make women and girls vulnerable to violence and abuse.

FUTURES condemns all forms of violence against women and girls, everywhere. And we pledge to continue advancing solutions, together with allied communities and leaders, to finally put women’s safety and well-being at the center of this work.

Won’t you join us?