By Will O’Brien
WWSO Summer 2017 Intern

Asha Wanda remembers the day four years ago that forever changed her life.

“They took us into the forest and they raped us, one after the other,” Wanda recounts through tears. “When they were done with us, they took the young men and put a gun to their heads and forced them to also have sex with us.”

Wanda describes the indignity of having young men she describes as “like children” to her forced into sex with her and her peers. That future generations should never have to endure such an event is why the United Nations instituted the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict, June 19.

Rampant violence related to the civil war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has been a catalyst for conflict-related sexual and gender-based violence. The violence in the Kivu province has been particularly detrimental to small farming communities. Wanda, along with 10 other women from her village, was raped by armed rebels while walking to a larger village to sell the palm oil she produced. A few months later, her husband was taken by a group of rebels and Asha was resettled in the village of Walikale, where she was able to receive counseling services with other survivors of sexual violence through the Ushindi program.

The International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict commemorates the 2008 adoption of U.N. Security Council resolution 1820, which condemned tactical sexual violence in armed conflict.

The United Nations defines conflict-related sexual violence as “rape, sexual slavery, forced prostitution, forced pregnancy, forced abortion, enforced sterilization, forced marriage and any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity perpetrated against women, men, girls or boys that is directly or indirectly linked (temporally, geographically or causally) to a conflict.”

Faith communities around the world are called to advocate against and work to prevent ongoing conflict-related sexual violence. Religion allows people from around the world to initiate change by connecting on a spiritual level. Using faith as the basis for advocacy allows social change to take root in ways that are not possible through private enterprise and government run programming. By engaging with faith communities in conflict and post-conflict areas, education and support can reach those in need.

Social stigma around conflict and sexual violence have made effective reporting about conflict-related sexual violence extremely difficult. Some estimates go as far as to suggest that for every reported instance of conflict-related sexual violence 20 instances go unreported. This has made it difficult to accurately understand the scope of the problem and, more importantly, how survivors of sexual violence in conflict and post-conflict areas can be supported effectively.

In 2007, the UN formed the United Nations Action Against Sexual Violence in Conflict (known as UN Action) to end sexual violence in conflict and post-conflict situation. UN Action is the cooperative effort of 13 UN entities that are working on “ improving coordination and accountability, amplifying advocacy and supporting country-level efforts to prevent conflict-related sexual violence and respond more effectively to the needs of survivors.”

The Secretary General—Antonio Guterres—has published a report addressing conflict-related violence in 19 nations where accurate information is available. The 19 nations across South America, Africa, and Asia are all engaged in or recovering from recent large-scale conflict. The report details the conflict, the nature of the conflict-related sexual violence, and the UN response in each of the nations.

The Secretary General’s report outlines recommendations for members of the UN Security Council, as well as recommendations for all member nations. People interested in lifting up or participating in the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict are encouraged to read the Secretary General’s report and advocate for the changes and recommendations outlined within the report.

Asha Wanda is but one of many survivors of conflict-related sexual violence in the 19 countries the UN report, and this type of violence is not limited to these areas. Ushindi has worked to help people in Wanda’s situation, but there is still a long road ahead of us to end conflict-related sexual violence.

International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict:

Secretary General’s Report: