W

e need to include women’s protection and empowerment in counterterrorism efforts. That’s the consensus of a panel of experts that recently discussed ISIS and sex slavery at an event co-hosted by the U.S. Institute of Peace, or USIP, and the McCain Institute.

“This is not a woman’s issue,” said Cindy McCain, Chair of the McCain Institute’s Human Trafficking Advisory Council. “This is an issue of peace, it’s an issue of human rights, it’s a terrorism issue. That’s the distinction we have to make when we start talking about this specific issue.”

McCain’s sentiments were shared by the panel, which included Zainab Hawa Bangura, U.N. Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict; Ambassador Mark Lagon, Distinguished Senior Scholar and Centennial Fellow at the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University; and Sarhand Hamasaeed, Senior Program Officer at USIP. The moderator for the panel was Elise Labott, Global Affairs Correspondent at CNN.

The panelists shared stories of survivors they have met or worked with, discussed challenges and gave recommendations on how to address the issue. They also touched on an interesting conclusion that although these women and girls are victims of sexual violence, and live in an environment where they are sold, traded and inherited like property, they are often not seen as victims of terrorism or war, even though they are. For this reason, the panel believes that psychosocial support, empowerment and protection of women is an important part of counterterrorism.

“When we think of terrorism, we tend to think of hijacking, hostage taking, explosions and property destruction,” Bangura said. “But we cannot deploy the public face of terrorism while ignoring the violence that terrorists inflict on women and girls in private behind closed doors.”

According to the Ending Sexual and Gender-Based Violence in War and Peace brief released by USIP in September 2016, SGBV doesn’t stop when the war ends. It is used to suppress marginalized groups and continues to undermine long-term security and stability of countries and communities. Like Hamasaeed said, we hear so much about the fight against ISIS but not about the sexual violence that is happening. “This issue did not start with ISIS and won’t end there,” he added.

The recommendation from the panelists is clear but it will be up to the next U.S. Administration, Congress and other policy makers and shapers to incorporate these lessons and implement a strategy that includes the hidden victims of these atrocities: women and girls.

 Watch the full panel discussion below. 

SAFETY EXIT