WILPF addresses weapons at the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict
From 10–13 June in London, Foreign Secretary William Hague and Angelina Jolie, Special Envoy for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, co-chaired the largest global meeting on the issue of sexual violence in conflict ever convened. WILPF joined in alongside invited governments, legal, military and judicial practitioners, representatives from multilateral organizations, NGOs, and civil society. As the longest serving women peace movement, the WILPF delegation brought attention to the fact that ending violence and eliminating its causes is a critical element in preventing conflict.
Through its advocacy and workshop participation, WILPF called attention to three of these root causes of conflict during our events at the summit: patriarchy, armament, and exclusion. We hosted a panel discussion on the impact of escalating violence on the lives of women in Syria and another on gender and war, at which participants highlighted the connections between arms sales and sexual violence. WILPFers also participated in other events, including co-hosting an event with Oxfam and Control Arms on gender-based violence and the Arms Trade Treaty. Reaching Critical Will’s Ray Acheson spoke about how to implement the ATT provision on preventing armed-gender violence and highlighted the connections between the UK’s arms sales and its efforts to prevent sexual violence conflict in violence.
At the WILPF event on gender and war, civil society experts from Syria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ukraine, South Africa, Colombia, and Bosnia examined gender dynamics pre-, post-, and during conflict. “The international security system has expired—we don’t have rule of law anymore, we have the law of arms,” said Olena Suslova of the Women’s Information Consultative Center in Ukraine when asked about the impact of arms proliferation and militarism on gender relations and women’s security. The uncontrolled international trade in arms is one of the root causes of violent conflict, and a tool that is used to uphold unequal power relations between men and women in conflict as well as in peacetime. The problem is global and gender is at play in multiple contexts, such as the political sphere, the private sector, and in different geographical areas. To confront this challenge, governments, organizations, and civil society needs to address the construction and effects of masculinity norms in the male dominated arms industry as well as entrenched traditional masculinity norms in societies, which indeed constitute a key player in conflicts all over the world where sexual violence persists.
The message of demilitarization was brought to the fore by activist and Nobel Laureate Leymah Gbowee. In an opening address, she declared, “to imagine that we can stop rape in conflict without stopping wars will be like trying to draw blood without pricking the finger or cutting. It is impossible. For us to do things differently like our sisters in many conflict zones, we must endeavour to put an end to the militarism that has engulfed our world. We must be proactive about these issues in peacetime…. Militarization and the presence of weapons legitimize new levels of brutality and impunity. This violence, unfortunately, continues in post conflict where chaos adds to the many frustrations exacerbated by war.” Leymah got directly to the core of the challenge. However, this discussion was not part of the ministerial meetings during the Summit.
Indeed, the Summit was marked by what PeaceWomen’s Director Maria Butler called “hero colonialism”. She noted the rhetoric of the north saving the south in rhetoric of US Secretary of State John Kerry and others. “We heard again and again the words that support women’s participation. However, these words sometimes rang hollow. This was particularly the case during the Ministerial meeting on the security situation in Nigeria and Boko Haram (held in the margins of the Global Summit), which excluded Nigerian civil society.” Jody Williams has similarly reflected on the segregation of civil society activities to the "Fringe,” which diminished the critical role of civil society and was “a time warp in the wrong direction”. Yet as Butler points out, it was important that NGOs were there. For WILPF’s part, it was an opportunity to “highlight the silence that exists on weapons and profits made from sexual violence” and to bring forward the issues of patriarchy and exclusion.