In the last year, the world has witnessed a shocking deterioration of the global security climate. Women and girls in particular are experiencing significant consequences, including their displacement within and across borders and an intensified risk of all forms of sexual violence. This situation gives a renewed significance to two international days observed by the UN this month, the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict and World Refugee Day and challenges the international community to address these interlinked issues with urgency.
Statement: International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict and World Refugee Day
By the end of 2021, the number of forcibly displaced people worldwide had climbed towards 90 million, propelled by new waves of violence or protracted conflict in countries including Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Myanmar and Nigeria, as well as climate related crises. UNHCR reports that one in five refugee or internally displaced women have faced sexual violence, and these numbers are likely now to be rising further in 2022.
In Afghanistan, we have seen numerous cases of conflict-related sexual violence perpetrated against women and girls, including in 2021 as the county fell to the Taliban. The war in Ukraine has caused the internal displacement of some 7.1 million people, and 6.9 million refugee movements have been recorded outside of the country. It is estimated that 90 per cent of these refugees are women and children, and there are mounting allegations of conflict-related sexual violence perpetrated against them. There has been widespread use of sexual violence in conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region.
UN Women is gravely concerned about the continued use of sexual violence as a tactic of war, terrorism and political repression and calls on all parties to conflicts to commit to ceasing such acts, particularly in the context of displacement. Reports of conflict related sexual violence must be urgently investigated and prosecuted, and victims and survivors of different forms of violence must have access to quality, holistic and comprehensive survivor-centered services, support and justice. It is also crucial to tackle gender inequality as the main root cause of such abuse, through multi-sector prevention strategies that promote the transformation of discriminatory social norms and harmful practices, including through engagement with men and boys.
It is vital to build strong partnerships with and promote the safe leadership of women human rights defenders, mediators, peacebuilders and women’s civil society organizations that assist survivors, including internally displaced and refugee women and girls and returnees. We need to ensure that women are able to meaningfully participate and lead in peace processes, as we know from experience that inclusive peace agreements are more effective and durable.
Let us commit to working together on both immediate responses to address rights violations, and long-term investments in Sustainable Development, peace and security to address the systemic causes of conflict and vulnerability. Displaced women and girls and those experiencing sexual violence in conflict must not be left out but placed at the centre of our response.