April 10 marked the date when an epoch making milestone marked the longstanding fight to bring gender violence in conflict to an end. Eight foreign ministers from the world’s wealthiest countries came together under the banner of the G8 and had conflict-related sexual violence was on the agenda.
Conflict-settings have been a thriving hotbed of impunity when it comes to sexual violence. Whether it was in the Second World War, or in the Bosnia-Herzegovina war and the Rwandan war in the 1990s, or in the continued state of armed conflict in Syria and DR Congo, thousands of women have been brutally raped. Rape in conflict is a reflection of the myriads of undercurrents that prevail in society in peacetime – and when manifested so brutally in wartime, rape is destructive and detrimental to the fabric of international peace and security. UN Security Council resolutions and plenty of raw international frameworks specifically addressing sexual violence came about: but the progress itself was rather slow and incomplete. Wars continued to occur, and women were continuously bearing the brunt of sexual violence. Bodies remained battlegrounds, societies were crippled and rehabilitation was too much of a distant dream.
Till date, much of the action taken in remedying the broken lives of the women in conflict zones has been the domain of the non-profit sector and civilian participation, with a small involvement from governments and other intergovernmental organizations. These organizations have been involved in convincing the world’s leaders of the need to devote attention to the cause of women in conflict zones. Initiatives were made by the United States for the DR Congo with close reference to the conflict minerals that were being mined in the region, fuelling the continuation of sexual violence. However, this is the first official time that a concerted effort in listening and responding to sexual violence in conflict has been made.
Conflict is a hotbed for sexual violence. But this is not an issue that affects women alone. Conflict rape is a reflection of a greater ethos: the fact that women are not only disrespected, but are also the link in the chain that is sought to be broken in order to break the entire chain. Gender-based violence rips up society and leaves its every edifice shattered. And there is no doubt that this will continue to be the face of the future – even as more and more complexities in the world, political, social, economical and climatic come to fore – as women will be forced to bear the consequences of the conflicts that these factors can spark off.
What the G8 has initiated is historic, no doubt. But it has to be sustained. It is not a one-time commitment, and it is certainly not a one-meeting dialogue that will count. Sustained effort and complete overhaul is necessary. Support for survivors is one thing: but the greater need of the hour is to bring the culture of impunity to an end once and for all.