Gender-based violence is a serious violation of human rights. The obligations and commitments articulated in numerous international and regional instruments, including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Beijing Platform for Action, the Program of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development, Security Council Resolutions 1308, 1325, 1820, 1888 and others, provide a global perspective that requires the UN and States Parties to take action at all appropriate levels.
There are three key principles underlying Sexual Violence in Conflict and Post-Conflict:
- violence against women and girls is almost always more prevalent than violence against men and boys in conflict situations;
- men and boys are part of the problem and need to become a bigger part of the solution;
- sexual violence against women and girls, as well as boys and men, stems from many of the same root causes and therefore solutions need to be addressed in a more holistic way.
Conflict exacerbates gender inequalities and abuses of power that can lead to gender-based violence. Conflict does not cause sexual and other forms of gender-based violence (GBV), although it can manifest new forms of GBV in those environments. Sexual violence takes on new forms as a consequence of conflict and is often used as a tactic of war, either randomly, opportunistically or systematically.
Both in conflict and post-conflict situations, sexual violence tends to be more prevalent and more serious because of higher levels of violence, the breakdown of social cohesion and law and order, and the exacerbation of existing vulnerabilities. With the breakdown of social order, impunity is also more likely.
Sexual and other forms of gender-based violence are used in conflicts as a tool to de-motivate conflict-affected populations to prevent them from fighting back, through terror and attempts at subjugation, or to humiliate and shame men and women. Sometimes gender-based violence is used as a tool to indoctrinate and create group bonds for combatants. Gender-based violence is used as a reward or form of compensation (‘spoils of war’) for combatants who are usually not otherwise paid. Sexual violence is sometimes an instrument of genocide, used to transform the ethnic or social composition of a society. Combatants may use it both strategically, as a threat or warning to control areas of economic or political importance, and randomly, as a result of perpetuating a cycle of anxiety and fear that impedes recovery (UNFPA, 2012) and affects the emotions and psychological well-being of those who have endured such violence.
Most of the direct victims of gender-based violence are women and girls; some are men and boys.
According to the United Nations Population Fund’s study “Sexual Violence in Conflict and Post-Conflict: The Involvement of Men and Boys”, the testimonies of women who live to tell of their suffering, including as sex slaves during war, demonstrate the unimaginable levels of trauma that have been inflicted on women and girls. According to the same study, in post-conflict environments, sexual violence and physical violence against a female partner can be ways for a man to assert his dominance. Even if he has lost everything.
Addressing the multidimensional problem of sexual violence in conflict and post-conflict settings is complex and difficult. The international community has recognized that effective prevention and response will require long-term, comprehensive and coordinated multi-stakeholder efforts that address the different aspects of affected populations, including their health, education, economic, legal, psychosocial and security concerns.