Highlighting sexual violence on International Women’s Day
05 March 2009
"Women and men: United to end violence against women" is the theme of this year’s International Women's Day which is observed at the United Nations on 5 March 2009 and celebrated internationally on 8 March.
Sexual violence, and the threat of violence, increases women’s vulnerability to HIV and in certain parts of the world is being used as a tactic of war.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon highlights this in his message marking International Women’s Day: “Violence against women is also linked to the spread of HIV/AIDS. In some countries, as many as one in three women will be beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused in her lifetime. Women and girls are also systematically and deliberately subject to rape and sexual violence in war.”
UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé is also unequivocal on the need to end this violence in his statement: “Violence, including rape and sexual abuse against women and girls should not be tolerated in any circumstances, be it in conflict or war or at home in our own communities.”
Sexual violence in conflict
Sexual violence in conflict has not been a high priority for security institutions and is often overlooked due to stigma and under-reporting. However, the trauma and terror of rape can wound as deeply as bullets and in areas with high HIV prevalence, women are also at risk of being infected with HIV.
Leo Kenny, Team Leader of UNAIDS Security and Humanitarian Response is convinced of the pressing need to address the issue sexual violence among the uniformed services: “While soldiers and uniformed service personnel have been perpetuators of violence against women, they have also been part of the solution and are potential key agents of change if the right programmes are put in place.”
“Educating and involving peacekeepers in addressing sexual violence is important as soldiers have influence among their peers both within the service and the wider community. By changing their perceptions and behaviours it can positively impact the larger population,” Mr Kenny added.
"Violence, including rape and sexual abuse against women and girls should not be tolerated in any circumstances, be it in conflict or war or at home in our own communities."
UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé
The women who survive sexual violence need access to comprehensive health and counselling services and, where necessary, HIV prevention, treatment, care and support. However the context of civil unrest can result in barriers to universal access to these services.
There is also a need for the millions of uniformed service personnel worldwide to be integrally considered in the scale up towards universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support.
UN Action against Sexual Violence in Conflict
Two years ago today, UN bodies came together to form a joint initiative, “UN Action against Sexual Violence in Conflict.” The partnership now stands at twelve UN entities which seek to draw attention to the issue of sexual violence in conflict and the need to do more, to improve the quality of programming to address sexual violence, to increase the coordination of efforts for comprehensive prevention and response services, and to improve accountability as well as to respond effectively to the needs of survivors.
The UN Action initiative is designed to create greater awareness of these abuses and, ultimately, end sexual violence to make the world safer for women and girls.
Three main pillars
The first aspect of this initiative, country level action, involves country level support and efforts to build capacity and train advisers in gender-based violence programming and coordination, as well as support for joint UN programming in selected countries.
Second, “advocating for action”, raises public awareness and generates political will to address sexual violence as part of the broader campaign to “Stop rape now.” The third aspect is the creation of a knowledge hub on sexual violence in conflict and effective responses.
Stop rape now
Rape has deep roots in a historical absence of accountability and UN Action has helped catalyze a paradigm shift: insisting that sexual violence is recognized as a security threat that demands a security response, rather than simply an inevitable byproduct of war.
International Women’s Day
In 1977 the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution inviting Member States to proclaim a United Nations Day for Women's Rights and International Peace—International Women's Day—in recognition of the fact that securing peace and social progress and the full enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms require the active participation, equality and development of women; and to acknowledge the contribution of women to the strengthening of international peace and security.
For women around the world, the symbolism of International Women's Day has a wider meaning: it’s an occasion to celebrate how far women have come in their struggle for equality and an opportunity to unite, network and mobilize for meaningful change.