An unlikely pair, Angelina Jolie and William Hague opened the End Sexual Violence in Conflict Summit in London this morning. They were joined by an audience including government officials, media, NGOs, along with the general public.
End. A strong word. A bold statement
This heartbreaking issue is being brought to life at the summit. The reality of the global situation is displayed starkly on exhibition panels around the event whilst painful stories are shared with journalists across coffee tables, attracting media attention to an issue that has often remained taboo.
48 women are raped every hour across the Democratic Republic of Congo
(2011 American Journal of Public Health).
I held my breath and bit back tears as I listened to a survivor of sexual violence relay her experiences. She described the humiliation she faced as she was judged to be at fault for the violent attack that stripped her of her dignity, value and sense of worth. Now she has set up her own charity to work with survivors (not ‘victims’) of sexual violence, offering counselling and care she lacked following her own trauma, and restoring the self-respect of women who have suffered and survived.
Whilst Angelina was making front page news this morning, I was speaking to parliamentarians about William. Not Hague, but Wilberforce. William Wilberforce bravely tackled the problem of slavery, a practice accepted and even welcomed by many of his peers. But he sought an end to it. End. A brave word.
The endemic abuse faced by women across the world is similar in many ways to the abuse perpetrated during the slave trade. Sexual violence is accepted, even welcomed in some cultures as a demonstration of a man’s prowess, his power over the ‘insignificant’ woman.
Wilberforce sought an end to slavery. Hague is seeking an end to sexual violence. End is a brave and courageous word. A commitment which will force governments across the world to be held accountable for what is happening to their citizens.
A survivor, a doctor, a parliamentarian. All those I spoke to today were hopeful. They want to see positive outcomes from the summit, international pressure on this issue forcing change, and all share a vision of an end to sexual violence in conflict.