by Lauren Ravon and Lise Martin
Last week the international community was shocked when two little girls in India looking for a safe place to go to the toilet were brutally gang-raped, murdered and left hanging in a tree.
It reminds us that violence is a daily reality for far too many women and girls around the world.
Women in refugee camps in South Sudan, for instance, who wish they had bigger jerry cans because fewer trips to fetch water means less likelihood of being raped or killed. Syrian girls, who are increasingly forced into early marriage because their families fled their homes to escape the crisis and now find themselves desperate for shelter, food and water.
According to the World Health Organization, one in three women suffer physical or sexual abuse in their lifetime—in times of conflict, but also in times of peace. In Canada, intimate partner violence continues to account for 25 per cent of all police-reported violent crime, and these rates haven’t changed in over a decade.
An unprecedented opportunity
This week, as London hosts the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, the largest event of its kind, world leaders have the opportunity to take practical action to put an end to sexual violence in conflict.
We know from our work, in conflict-affected countries and in Canada, that sexual violence is both a cause and consequence of gender inequality. Ending violence requires comprehensive and sustained measures for prevention, protection and response. This means ensuring survivors get the support they need.
When Foreign Minister John Baird sits at the summit this week, we call on him to push for concrete action and tangible commitments to address the root causes of sexual violence in conflict.
Support must be given to grassroots women’s organizations to tackle gender inequality that lies at the heart of the problem. We know that prevention of sexual and gender-based violence is most successful where initiatives address root causes and promote women’s empowerment and gender equality.
Concrete actions must be taken to ensure women are at the centre of all peace-building efforts, as outlined in the UN Security Council Resolutions on Women Peace and Security. This is an essential step towards building a peace that upholds women’s rights and addresses impunity for gender-based violence.
Ending impunity for perpetrators must be high on the agenda. If courts, police and security forces look away, then the violence will continue.
In Afghanistan for example, far greater investment is needed to reform the security sector to meet women’s needs. Only one per cent of the Afghan National Police is female, which means most Afghan women are never able to report crimes committed against them. Further action is urgently needed to ensure the Afghan police force is safe for women to join and to provide improved training and resources to handle incidents of gender-based violence.
When in London, Minister Baird should demonstrate that Canada is a true leader in the fight against sexual violence in conflict by making clear and strong commitments to:
- immediately sign the Arms Trade Treaty, a landmark treaty that recognizes that the illicit use of and trade in small arms and light weapons aggravates violence against women;
- establish a Canadian fund to support women’s organizations, and increase specific funding to tackle violence against women within Canada’s international aid budget;
- commit to supporting survivors of sexual violence in conflict by scaling up access to safe, confidential and comprehensive health services.
Violence doesn’t only happen on the battlefield
In Canada, a recent survey by the Canadian Network of Women’s Shelters & Transition Houses showed that in one day 4,178 women and 2,490 children sought refuge in women’s shelters, 116 of them were known to be pregnant and 184 had been threatened by a gun.
In Prince Albert, Sask., a woman who was violently assaulted, suffered severe burns and had to have a leg amputated is a chilling reminder of the striking levels of violence women face in Aboriginal communities. The attack moved an entire community to march in the streets against gender-based violence. Their call demands a response.
We need Canada to take ending violence against women seriously. It is high time the government enacted a national action plan on violence against women and conducted an inquiry into the hundreds of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls.
Moving from statements to action
Two years ago the House of Commons passed a unanimous motion committing Canada to be a global leader in ending sexual violence in armed conflict. Words, however powerful they may be, do not suffice. Canada must do more than say it is a leader. The time to act is now.
Lauren Ravon is the senior policy adviser at Oxfam Canada. Lise Martin is the executive director of the Canadian Network of Women’s Shelters & Transition Houses.
This article originally appeared in Embassy News.