Looking beneath the headlines

International Alert hosted a panel discussion at the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict (ESVC) in London on 11 June.

The summit brought together survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, experts, NGOs and government delegations from over 100 countries, and was co-chaired by UK Foreign Secretary William Hague and UNHCR Special Envoy Angelina Jolie.

Our discussion, entitled ‘Locating ESVC in the broader gender, peace and security context’, highlighted some of the key but often under-explored issues related to tackling sexual violence, drawing on our recently published report, Re-thinking gender in peacebuilding. You can listen to interviews with some of the panel here.

Moving beyond a narrow approach to gender in conflict, which tends to view men as perpetrators and women as victims, Henri Myrttinen, a senior researcher on gender issues at Alert, stressed the importance of taking into account the various complexities and power dynamics of gender relations. Highlighting that sexual violence is not the only form of violence in conflict, Henri pointed out that perpetrators should not be seen as ‘monsters’: they are rarely located outside of society but are often part and parcel of our cultural and political systems.

Madiha Shafi, from our Pakistan office, presented the current gender-related projects she is conducting, which include grassroots awareness-raising, engagement with policy-makers and celebrities, as well as development of early warning mechanisms. She highlighted that working together with men and women has proven to be the most successful method in tackling sexual violence in Pakistan.

Francesco Kaburu and Halima Ismail from Comitato Internazionale per lo Sviluppo dei Popoli (CISP) presented their project with Alert on tackling sexual violence in Somalia. While there have been successes in tackling sexual violence at the grassroots level, notably in areas such as health and the economic reintegration of women, Francesco and Halima stressed that important challenges remain in Somalia. These include the dire security situation, corruption and resistance from judges and the police.

Callum Watson from the Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF) followed by looking at sexual violence in relation to men and masculinities within the security sector, highlighting three key points. First, acknowledging the full effects that sexual violence has on both women and men is crucial, since both are equally affected. Second, it is important to know the environment in which sexual violence against men takes place, since it differs in every context. Third, tackling sexual violence towards men requires moving beyond stigmatisation of male survivors.

Finally, Hannah Wright from Saferworld presented some findings and work on gender-sensitivity in conflict, and reiterated the importance of understanding the gender dynamics of the local context to bring about positive change. While there is some awareness on the roles of gender in conflict, Hannah noted that little information exists on the gendered drivers of conflict. Moreover, conducting a gender analysis highlights the social construction of masculinity and femininity. Thus, promoting positive ideas of masculinity represents one step in the direction of moving away from stigmatisation.

You can listen to a podcast on the topic, featuring interviews with some of the participants, here:

Find out more about our work on gender and peacebuilding here.