COFEM statement on International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict
19th June 2020
This year, on the occasion of the sixth International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict, the spotlight is on the impact of COVID-19 on survivors of conflict-related sexual violence. COFEM takes this opportunity to recognize the bravery and strength of women survivors of conflict-related sexual violence whose lives have been further upended by COVID-19.
Sexual violence in conflict is itself a pandemic, present in all conflicts worldwide. Evidence suggests that COVID-19 is further heightening risks of violence against women and girls in conflict-affected contexts–and not only related to sexual violence. Intimate partner violence, child marriage, and female genital mutilation have also seen a rise in settings around the world dealing with COVID-19.
At the same time that sexual and other forms of violence against women and girls may be increasing in conflict-affected settings as a result of COVID-19, survivors’ access to care and support may be further undermined. The inadequate infrastructure that generally defines conflict-affected contexts presents significant challenges to ensuring basic health services for survivors, which is further compromised by the current health crisis. The overburdening of law and order mechanisms can mean that even basic security is not available to protect survivors and those at risk.
In the face of these challenges, COFEM wishes to call attention to the critical efforts of women at the frontlines of supporting survivors of conflict-related sexual violence during the COVID-19 pandemic: the women community workers who continue to work hard to raise awareness on preventing the spread of COVID-19 and help survivors access services; the female doctors who put their lives at risk to provide services to survivors; and the women’s rights activists who continue to advocate for better services for survivors of sexual violence in conflict. All these efforts are testimony to the power of women’s leadership.
However, the importance of supporting these women-led efforts are often overlooked in policies and programming to address COVID-19 in conflict-affected settings around the world. Today, as the Secretary General calls for attention to the impacts of COVID-19 on survivors of conflict-related sexual violence, COFEM calls for governments and the larger humanitarian community to ensure that attention to the problem of violence against women and girls is integrated into COVID-19 policies and guidelines, and that financial support is provided to women at the frontlines of response work. The participation, protection and leadership of women and girls is the only sustainable way to enable recovery from COVID-19 and to end sexual violence in conflict.