On the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) calls on the UK Government to ensure meaningful action for survivors of conflict related sexual violence as an outcome of the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative (PSVI) Conference - held in London on 28-29 November this year.

Women and girls are disproportionately impacted by gender-based violence, and the risk of sexual violence is heightened during conflict and crisis. The PSVI Conference is a critical moment for the UK Government to strengthen the global response to conflict related sexual violence, by bolstering accountability, increasing access to survivor centred response services and implementing actions to prevent violence from occurring in the first place.

As a leading civil society voice at the Conference, IRC is calling for more sustained funding for prevention and response programmes in conflict settings and the scaling up of partnerships with women-led organisations and survivor groups, by providing sustainable and accessible forms of funding.

Evidence from the UK aid-funded, ‘What Works to Prevention Violence Against Women and Girls’ programme, of which the IRC is a consortium member, shows that all forms of gender-based violence are intensified during violent conflict, as breakdown of law and order and the exacerbation of gender norms and stereotypes lead to the normalization of sexual violence. This can cause a range of conflict-related sexual violence, including domestic violence, sexual slavery, forced marriage, and the use of rape as a weapon of war. In all humanitarian crises, responding to gender-based violence is an essential, lifesaving service.

The IRC works to foster communities where women and girls are free from violence and have the rights and resources to promote their own safety and self-determination. In over 40 countries across the globe, we are achieving this through evidence-based programmes that respond to violence once it has occurred, while also working to prevent violence.

A feminist approach is key to our work, meaning that we work closely with women-led organisations in conflict settings, take an intersectional approach to ensure we reach survivors who are most in need, and elevate the diverse voices of women and girls in our advocacy. In the words of Sagal – a young Somali student who participated in IRC’s Women Rise programme - “I ask, as a woman, to give priority to women. And to give women opportunities to reach positions where they can change things, be supported, complete higher education and be financially supported in their journey. Women can overcome anything…they only need to be supported and for someone to stand with them.”

Laura Kyrke-Smith, Executive Director of International Rescue Committee UK, said,

“The Conference is a unique and welcome opportunity to raise attention and galvanise global action to end the scourge of conflict-related sexual violence.

Only through funding, evidence-based interventions, and listening to the experiences and priorities of survivors themselves, will the PSVI Conference realise the opportunity to find solutions, empower survivors, and prevent sexual violence in conflict in the future.”

David Miliband, CEO and President of the International Rescue Committee, said,
 “The PSVI Conference should be viewed as the beginning, not the end, for addressing sexual violence in conflict. Aside from seeing a strong Political Declaration delivered at the Conference, we will need a sustained and well-resourced commitment to preventing sexual violence in conflict over the years to come and see governments embed it into their foreign policy.

It is critical that global, national, and local accountability for sexual violence in conflict is strengthened and survivors are centred throughout. However, a focus on response and accountability for sexual violence in conflict alone will not suffice; we must equally focus on prevention, diminishing the drivers and life-threatening risks that women and girls face all over the world, especially in crisis settings.

We urge the UK Government to commit to spending 50% of UK Aid on reaching those living in fragile and conflict-affected countries where needs are greatest, especially for women and girls.”

Notes to Editors

With programmes in over 40 countries across Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and the U.S., the IRC delivers innovative programmes focused on preventing and responding to violence against women and girls. This includes being a key consortium member of the FCDO’s What Works to Prevent Violence: Impact at Scale What Works programme, which champions feminist principles and accountability to women and girls. We have also worked on the development of the Murad Code, an initiative led by Nobel Peace Prize winner Nadia Murad which sets out a Global Code of Conduct for Gathering and Using Information about Systematic and Conflict-Related Sexual Violence launched in May 2022.