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Achieving gender equality requires an active commitment to reducing discriminatory laws and practices, tackling harmful gender stereotypes that assign roles based on socially constructed identities or biological sex, and combatting all forms of violence that target, or disproportionately affect, women and girls. In armed conflict, the struggle for gender justice must begin with the recognition that conflict impacts differently on women and girls than it does on men and boys. Gender equality also means being responsive to the distinct needs and experiences of LGBTQI survivors.
LAW works directly on gender equality issues across our thematic focus, recognising that gender inequality is a root cause of many human rights violations and abuses. LAW advocates for the voices of women to be heard and maintains that women must be included in significant and meaningful roles throughout peace-building efforts if long lasting peace is to be achieved.
Sexual and Gender-Based Violence
Sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) is pervasive in conflict and post-conflict settings and affects men, women and children differently. In conflict, sexual violence is a highly effective weapon of war due its devastating and long-lasting collective impact on whole communities, creating concentric circles of harm. It forces displacement, destroying connections to homes, families and communities thereby inhibiting return, and is used to terrorise, attack and/or alter the identity of persecuted groups. The targeted use of sexual violence against women and girls by violent extremists, including sexual slavery, has contributed to the systematic disempowerment of women and girls in those societies, and it is increasingly accepted that the occurrence of conflict related sexual violence (CRSV) against men and boys is vastly underreported. Many men and boys remain silent out of fear of being ostracised or accused of homosexuality, in particular where it is criminalised. Outside the conduct of hostilities, conflict creates situations within which SGBV pervades. Those displaced by conflict and other humanitarian crises face significantly higher risks of SGBV. Women and girls who make up part of the estimated 65 million displaced persons globally are denied the protection afforded by their community and functioning law enforcement and justice institutions, leaving them extremely vulnerable to sexual violence.
In many conflict and post-conflict affected contexts, criminal convictions are rare as a result of a number of converging factors. These include:
- Fear of reporting by survivors due to lack of effective witness protection mechanisms, extreme cultural stigma and re-traumatisation;
- An overall climate of impunity;
- The involvement of state actors and armed groups in the offences;
- The breakdown of national judicial processes; and
- Inadequate national legislation and international jurisprudence to prosecute the crime.
It is essential that legal and policy approaches are mutually reinforced by community-driven responses to sexual violence, including by transferring the stigma of sexual violence from the survivor to the perpetrator. Survivors of sexual violence should not have to face ordeals or re-traumatisation in the pursuit of the legal redress and justice they are entitled to. Perpetrators of SGBV, whether state or non-state actors, direct perpetrators or those ultimately responsible for mass sexual violence, should be brought to justice and held accountable.
LAW recognises that sexual violence is not a stand-alone problem which can be solved in isolation. A fully integrated approach is required which both addresses deeply rooted gender inequalities and works to empower women. The prevalence of sexual violence against men and boys in conflict and detention settings must be both recognised and addressed, and the distinct needs and experience of survivors from the LGBTQI community must too be addressed. All survivors must be empowered to drive the justice process and be supported to formulate and deliver their own advocacy messaging on their justice priorities to decision-makers and power-holders.
In April 2019, the United Nations Security Council adopted landmark Resolution 2467, adding another major pillar to the Women, Peace and Security architecture. The Resolution strengthened the prevention of conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV) through justice and accountability, and affirmed, for the first time, that a survivor-centred approach must guide every aspect of the response of affected countries and the international community. LAW can rightly call itself a leader in its field when it comes to placing empowered survivors at the forefront of tackling CRSV and other forms of sexual and gender-based violence. It will heed the Security Council’s call to action by continuing to improve and expand its model for addressing the diverse needs and priorities of survivors through creative justice solutions and an expansive approach to accountability. LAW will pursue every opportunity to ensure that survivors’ voices are heard in the most important fora where the global response to sexual and gender based violence (SGBV) is debated and defined, particularly when international courts and tribunals adjudicate on matters that will shape the prevailing approach to SGBV for years to come.
See our recent work on drafting the Sexual Offences Bill in Somalia and our scoping exercise on increasing accountability for gender-based violence in Lebanon.