Surviving sexual violence

On Wednesday 11 June in London, the Alliance is speaking at a side event at the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict. You are invited to join our discussion at this public event.

Sexual violence against women and girls is closely linked to HIV. Research shows that women who have experienced sexual violence may be three times more likely to get HIV than those who have not. Around the world, one in three girls and women will be beaten, coerced into sex or abused in their lifetime. We urgently need to put an end to this violence, for many reasons.

The Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict is taking place on 10-13 June 2014 at ExCel London. The UK Foreign Secretary, William Hague, and Angelina Jolie, Special Envoy for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees are co-chairing the summit. It is the largest gathering ever brought together on the subject, with a view to creating irreversible momentum against sexual violence in conflict and taking practical action.

Three days of free public events are taking place at the Summit Fringe on 10-12 June. Claire Mathonsi, the Alliance’s Regional Representative on gender based violence (based in Africa and pictured above) is speaking at a public side event called Surviving Sexual Violence on Wednesday 11 June 2014. Along with colleagues from Marie Stopes International, Médicins Sans Frontières, and Ipas, we will discuss how to improve women and girls access to life saving health services. The session will include a screening of the film ‘Grace Under Fire’ which follows Dr Grace Kodino, a leading reproductive health advocate, as she explores the impact of the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Sexual violence and HIV

Sexual violence is likely to involve unsafe sex. Women and girls cannot negotiate condom use or discuss safe sex when they are so vulnerable. There is also a tendency among men who are violent to have had many sexual partners and more unsafe sex. They are therefore more likely to have HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Forced or violent sex increases the risk of trauma and bleeding which in turn increases the risk of HIV and other STIs.

Women and girls who have experience sexual violence need access to proper health care services, so they can get emergency contraception, safe abortion care, HIV prevention and treatment and psychosocial support. In places where there is or has been conflict, this is extremely challenging. In South Sudan for example, two thirds of the health facilities affected by the conflict are reportedly closed or operating at limited capacity.

What can we do to improve the situation of women and girls who experience sexual violence? We need a greater investment in gender equality, women’s empowerment and gender transformative approaches to tackle the root causes of violence against women.

The Alliance working in South Sudan

Evidence from around the world shows that women and girls in conflict settings, including internally displaced people (IDP) camps, experience high levels of violence. There are 160 IDP camps in South Sudan. Of the estimated 500,000 women and girls of reproductive age affected by the crisis, about 10,000 women and girls are at risk of experiencing sexual violence. In far flung camps there are reports of instances of women and girls being raped while looking for firewood, food or fetching water for their families. Some have been killed as a result and many are too afraid to report their violation.

In South Sudan, the Alliance’s linking organisation ACHI has been working with community-based programmes to tackle the twin problems of HIV and violence against girls. ACHI works with internally displaced people in camps, providing HIV services including testing and counselling services, information and awareness, condom distribution, referral to treatment and follow-up. In general, there are few projects in IDP camps in South Sudan to protect and respond to women and girls who experience violence, which makes ACHI’s work so important.

Read more about ACHI’s work in this new case study.