Sexual violence in conflict is an atrocity that stands in the way of peace, prosperity, and gender equality.
In Iraq and Syria, ISIL is making life hell for women and girls.The situation is especially grim for members of minority populations. Thousands of girls and women were abducted by ISIL last summer. Many, including girls as young as seven or eight, were repeatedly raped and forced to "marry" ISIL fighters. Others have been sold as slaves.
The United States is providing both humanitarian aid and other kinds of assistance. But the international community needs to do more to protect and better serve women and girls affected by conflict.
For example, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, sexual violence has become a weapon that destroys lives, fuels conflict, and stands in the way of lasting peace. The U.S. is working to build a coherent approach to justice. Judges are holding open trials in local areas so witnesses can testify in their own communities. In turn, those communities can see first-hand that sexual violence will not go unpunished, and that impunity will not be tolerated.
Sexual violence in conflict continues to be a global problem that we need to address. In many headlines, women are portrayed as victims. And while there’s no doubt that far too many women and girls are survivors of gender-based violence, it’s not the whole story. Women are also incredible agents of change. They wield influence in their communities. They bring unique insights to decision making tables. They increase the effectiveness of government.
Gender-based violence, including sexual violence in conflict, holds women and girls back from participating fully in society. The repercussions negatively impact whole communities, halting development and leading to poorer educational, health, and economic outcomes. Tackling gender-based violence is crucial if we hope to unleash women’s and girls’ full potential and promote stability and economic growth.