by Freya Findlay
“We must send a message around the world that there is no disgrace in being a survivor of sexual violence, that the shame is on the aggressor. We must work together in new and unprecedented ways across borders and religions, bringing governments and people together and tackling the problem from every possible angle and by doing this, we can end the use of rape and sexual violence as a weapon of war once and for all. We really can do it.”
So spoke Angelina Jolie, Hollywood actress and Special Envoy for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees on Tuesday at the opening of the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, being held at ExCel London until tomorrow.
Foreign Secretary, William Hague and Jolie are co-chairing the summit that aims to eradicate sexual violence in conflict by creating real change on the ground as well as an irreversible momentum against sexual violence worldwide.
People from over 100 countries have come to the Summit Fringe to share stories and experiences and discuss opinions and ideas.
With so many aid groups and charities exhibiting at the free public event, the public had the chance to wander round, taking in the images and discussions from victims and aid agencies on how violence is used against women in war.
In six discussion rooms, experts and representatives from across the world talk, debate and are interviewed about every topic relating to sexual violence and conflict, its consequences and ways to try and prevent it, find out about it, bring perpetrators to justice.
At one of temporary theatres created just for the summit, a screening of the play ‘Liberian Girl’, written by Nigerian Diana Nneka Atuona, was shown to an enrapt audience. The dramatic reading enacted the journey of a 14-year-old girl, Martha, who pretends to be a boy in order to cross the border during the Liberian Civil War and is then recruited as a child soldier. The in-depth research that writer Atuona, who won the Alfred Fagon Award in 2013 for this-her first play, must have done was clear. Martha’s story felt real and many were moved to tears by the end of the show.
There are also three silent cinemas showing in excess of 100 award-winning films and thought-provoking documentaries; a stage which hosts a range of performances from a Mock Trial debating whether 1325 and other Women, Peace and Security UNSC resolutions had been effective to musical performances.
There are also workshops around the summit where people can engage, learn and debate. Bineta Diop, the African Union Special Envoy for Peace and Security sat down with a group of 25 young people from Plan UK to discuss their questions. These young people had been picked from countries all over the world – Indonesia, Pakistan, Bosnia, Uganda, Somalia (though sadly there was no one from Nigeria) and were all active members of their communities back home. They have been given the opportunity to put forward their recommendations to ministers and discuss their opinions and views with representatives. Plan UK is keen to promote the involvement of young people in these discussions and make sure their voices are heard.
Diop talks inspiringly to this group of young people, telling them that, “Africa is rising” and stresses that women and young people are driving the agenda of African development.
“We are diverse,” Diop said of Africa, “But we need to make sure we have one Africa to eradicate our conflict.”
Concerns were raised by one young delegate about whether the £6 million William Hague has promised to the survivors of sexual violence in conflict will get through to the people who need it or end up in the pockets of corrupt politicians. Diop spoke in return about the necessity of holding politicians to account and the importance of using the media to spread the message of what is happening in London at this summit.
Thérèse Mema Mapenzi, Coordinator of the Sexual Violence Project at the Justice and Peace Commission in Bukavu, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, wrote earlier this week in The Guardian about the stigma children born from rape are subjected to and the fact that we cannot eliminate sexual violence in conflict without eliminating conflict all together.
“The conflicts in Congo are caused by our minerals,” Mapenzi tells me at the Summit. It is the coal tar in mobile phones and other minerals such as gold and silver, which Mapenzi says are the root of conflict in Congo – not ethnic diversity and divisions.
Mapenzi says that phone companies pay rebel groups for minerals because that way they are cheap.
“I want [the phone companies] to buy minerals and prove where they got the minerals from and discourage [paying rebels]. They should ask the people who sell the minerals to prove where they get it from.”
She calls on international leaders to pay attention and help Congo receive justice and solve its issues.
“Will this Summit make a difference?” I ask.
“Of course it will make a difference. The world will hear what has happened.”
One of the most important things about the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict is to hear what has happened and give those who have been silenced a voice. This summit is raising awareness on an unprecedented scale and hopefully will mark a turning point in the history of sexual violence in conflict.