November 26, 2019 — Last month, the UK Government was meant to holding a conference to bring together governments, international charities, civil society and survivors and turbocharge action to tackle the global epidemic of gender-based violence on crises. The Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative (PSVI) was set up by the UK in 2012 with the aim of raising awareness of sexual violence in armed conflict and rallying global action to end it. Unfortunately this year’s PSVI conference, which came just before the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, was postponed because of the upcoming general election.
Gender-based violence can impact anyone but from the IRC’s work in some of the most fragile places in the world we know that rates of violence against women and girls rise significantly during periods of conflict and crisis. For example, since the outbreak of war in Yemen in 2015 gender-based violence has increased by a horrific 63%.
Therefore, during the 16 Days we wanted to highlight 16 inspiring people working tirelessly to end gender-based violence.
The Nobel Laureates
In 2014 Murad, an Iraqi Yazidi, was held captive by ISIS and repeatedly subjected to rape and abuse. Based on her horrific experience, in 2015 she spoke at a UN Security Council meeting on human trafficking and conflict. In 2018 she and Denis Mukwege were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war in armed conflict.
From a young age Yousafzai spoke out publicly against the ban on the education of girls imposed by the Taliban in Pakistan. When she was 15 she survived an assassination attempt and her activism gained global attention. In 2014 Yousafzai and Kailash Satyarthi were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Today she heads up the Malala Fund, an organisation which uses education to empower girls to achieve their potential.
Dr Dennis Mukwege
Mukwege is a Congolese gynaecologist who specialises in the treatment of women who have been raped during armed conflict. Mukwege is also a global campaigner against the use of rape as a weapon of war and in 2018 was jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize with Nadia Murad.
Burke is an American civil rights activist who founded the #MeToo movement in 2006. Time Magazine named Burke, among a group of other prominent female activists nicknamed "the silence breakers", as the Time Person of the Year for 2017
Since 2016 Clooney, a barrister who specialises in international law and human rights, has provided legal representation for Nadia Murad and other Yazidi survivors. Clooney is aiming to secure accountability for crimes perpetrated by ISIS against the Yazidi community in Iraq and Syria.
Dr Alaa Murabit
Murabit is a Libyan Canadian doctor and one of seventeen Global Sustainable Development Goals Advocates appointed by the UN Secretary-General. In 2011 Murabit founded Voice of Libyan Women. The organisation focuses on advocating against gender-based violence as well as improving the political participation and economic empowerment of women in Libya.
Sultana is a Rohingya lawyer and activist who set up the Rohingya Women’s Welfare Society to provide support Rohingya survivors of gender-based violence. Earlier this year Sultana was awarded the International Women of Courage Award by the US State Department.
It was actually Jolie’s film ‘In the Land of Blood and Honey’ about the Bosnian war that inspired then Foreign Secretary William Hague to set up PSVI in 2012 and since then the two have worked together on this cause. In June 2014, Jolie co-chaired the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, the largest-ever meeting on the issue.
Kidman has long been a champion of women’s rights and in 2006 was appointed as a goodwill ambassador of the UN Development Fund for Women. The same year Kidman visited Kosovo to hear first-hand about women’s experience of conflict. In 2019 while testifying in front of the US Congress House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee Kidman called violence against women was ‘the most systematic, widespread human rights violation in the world.’
On International Women Day in 2011 Craig teamed up with his James Bond co-star Judi Dench in a video which raised awareness of violence against women.
Theron became a UN Messenger of Peace in 2008 for her dedication to preventing and stopping violence against women and girls. In 2104, Theron spoke out as part of the UN’s Stop Rape Now campaign.
Baroness Helić a fled to the UK from war torn Bosnia when she was 23. She became an advisor to William Hague during his time a Foreign Secretary and after watching ‘In the Land of Blood and Honey’ encouraged him to set up PSVI. In 2017, Helić was named as one of London's most influential figures because of her refugee work.
Baroness Hodgson is one of Parliament’s most vocal champions of women’s rights around the world. She is the co-chair of the influential cross-party All Party Parliamentary Group on Women, Peace and Security and served on the special House of Lords Committee on Sexual Violence in Conflict.
Since entering the House of Lords in 2000, Baroness Northover has ensured women’s issues is central to her work. Between 2014 and 2015 she served as a Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development. In this role she focused on empowering women and girls, including ensuring that they have access to education and healthcare.
Despite only becoming a Government Minister earlier this year, Baroness Sugg’s work has ensured women’s protection is right at the top of the UK’s priority list. In July she wrote powerfully about the scale of the gender-based violence in crisis and concluded ‘UK aid’s mission is to end poverty. Fighting for gender equality is at the very heart of this mission. We cannot end poverty without defending women’s rights’
Lord Collins has been the Labour Party’s International Development spokesperson in the House of Lord since 2013. Early this year he led a debate about the current funding gap for services which tackle gender-based violence in crises, which the IRC estimates is currently $104.2 million, and challenged to UK Government to do more.
These a just a few of the people inspiring the IRC during the 16 Days. You can read our latest report ‘Safety First: Time to deliver on commitments to women and girls in crisis’ here.
The International Rescue Committee responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises, helping to restore health, safety, education, economic wellbeing, and power to people devastated by conflict and disaster. Founded in 1933 at the call of Albert Einstein, the IRC is at work in over 40 countries and 29 U.S. cities helping people to survive, reclaim control of their future and strengthen their communities. Learn more at www.rescue-uk.org and follow the IRC on Twitter & Facebook.