End Sexual Violence in Conflict 2014
“Rape is a perpetual evil of war but it is used as a weapon of war to demoralise an enemy…”
The quote above is from an Evening Standard article this week. As you might be aware, a Global Summit on the prevention of sexual violence in war is taking place at the Excel Centre Docklands. Maybe one of the main reasons it is so prominent in our media is the fact that Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie is co-chairing the event as special envoy for the UN High Commissioner for refugees, along with foreign secretary William Hague.
The aim of the summit is ‘to shatter the culture of impunity for sexual violence in conflict by launching a new International Protocol with international standards for documenting and investigating sexual violence in conflict zones.’
There were harrowing accounts from the victims of these crimes reported in the newspapers to highlight this issue; particularly disturbing was the article about the rape of women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
I went along on Wednesday with a couple of my colleagues to attend a panel discussion on faith leaders’ response to the prevention of sexual violence and was eager to hear what their thoughts would be. Of course, I was thrilled that William Hague and Angelina Jolie greeted the panel at the start of the event!
The discussion was chaired by the Rt Hon Nicky Morgan MP and there were multiple faiths represented by the panel members. Archbishop Justin Welby sent a video message which was played at the start of the meeting.
The questions asked from the audience included ‘Have religious clerics played a role in a new violent culture against women?’ and ‘What are the distinctive practical roles that faith leaders can play in addressing sexual violence in conflict?’
Archbishop Rwaje Onesphore, from the Anglican Church of Rwanda, described how faith leaders need to create a safe space for victims to talk about their wounds. He also focused on the role that faith plays in preventing these crimes – helping men and boys to know the consequences of their actions. He mentioned that it has been said that the church is a ‘sleeping giant’. He declared that it needs to get up and speak out.
Shanin Asraf, the Muslim chaplain to Birmingham University, talked about the importance of faith leaders acknowledging that religious texts and teachings can be a roadblock as well an aid to healing for survivors.
Rabbi Shulamit Ambalu talked about the need remove the language of shame and tell women that they are loved and made in the image of God: ‘Shame does not belong to them’.
There was a deep recognition that faith leaders have a pivotal role in supporting the victims of these crimes as well as promoting a culture of prevention – reaching those men and changing their mindsets. We were left with the feeling that although there are many steps to be taken to end these crimes, the summit has been a big stepping stone in raising awareness and putting theories into action.
Archbishop Justin Welby, in his video message, said – ‘Historically we are seeing that there has been a culture of impunity. Faith leaders are challenging that culture fiercely. Rape and sexual violence in war is unacceptable and will have consequences.’
Faith has such a pivotal role to play in turning the tables on impunity. It is imperative that it plays its part.