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APPG on Women, Peace and Security: Ensuring the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative (PSVI) is Successful and Survivor-Centred

Report of an Event on Ensuring the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative (PSVI) is Successful and Survivor-Centred, held on Wednesday 13th July

Briefing Background

On Wednesday 13th July 2022 the APPG (All-Party Parliamentary Group) for Women, Peace and Security and the APPG for  Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative co-hosted an event in collaboration with the International Rescue Committee.

The event brought together experts, practitioners and parliamentarians to discuss how the UK Government can ensure its Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative (PSVI) is successful and survivor-centred. It was chaired by Baroness Fiona Hodgson, Chair of the APPG for Women, Peace and Security and the speakers included.

  • Baroness Arminka Helic, Conservative Peer and Special Adviser to the Former Foreign Secretary
  • Esther Karnley, Women’s Protection and Empowerment Coordinator for IRC Tanzania
  • Natalia Karbowska, Director of the Ukraine Women’s Fund
  • Helen Stawski, Director of Policy, IRC

Summary of Event Discussion

The discussion centred on the challenges and solutions to achieving an effective and survivor centred approach to addressing conflict related sexual violence (CRSV).

Lack of consistent prioritisation

In 2021, only 28.5% of global funding requests regarding gender-based violence (GBV) were met (cite OCHA). Between 2018-2021, 87% of gender-specific international humanitarian assistance came from just 10 donors, meaning a cut from just one donor—such as the UK last year—could considerably impact efforts to prevent and respond to GBV.

Tackling CRSV has been a priority for the UK Government, and it has succeeded in raising the profile of this issue since 2013. And yet, leadership on the agenda has waned and funding has decreased over the years (cite the ICAI report). Baroness Helic argued the importance of ensuring that the PSVI campaign survives whoever becomes the next Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary, stating that political will is essential for it to be central in government policy and crisis response. This will require heads of state and other high-level officials being actively involved, as a way of ensuring it is ‘hard wired into British foreign policy’ to future proof and maintain momentum on the initiative.

Other panellists discussed that unfortunately for many governments, addressing conflict related sexual violence is not a first priority when conflict erupts.

The lack of funding and political attention given to CRSV manifests in clear ways on the ground. Natalia Karbowska, for example, shared an anecdote of speaking with a police officer in the Ukraine who said that the police do not have time to deal with CRSV, and that this will have to wait to be dealt with after the conflict has subsided. This anecdote is not an uncommon one in conflict, but the lack of prioritisation of CRSV impacts directly on the lived experiences of women and girls, who are disproportionately impacted by CRSV.

In practice, when CRSV is not considered a priority, survivors may not have access to safe and confidential services, and survivors may be discouraged to seek help or report violence experienced, decreasing their change of accessing justice.

Lack of funding for women’s rights organisations

Helen Stawski spoke to the impact of UK aid cuts and how they have not only stopped essential CRSV and wider gender-based violence (GBV) services from being delivered, but also resulted in eroding trust with communities that will be very hard to repair. She said that as a result of the cuts, all of IRC’s FCDO-funded health, education and protection programming in Nigeria ended, forcing IRC to scale down programming and, in some cases, close activities altogether. This left people who have experienced human rights violations – including gender-based violence – with more limited support to secure the services they need to recover from violence.

All panellists spoke about the need for increased funding to local women-led and women’s rights organisations.  At present there is a severe lack of funding to locally led women’s rights organisations who are critical for ensuring a survivor led approach. Local and national actors received only 3.1% of total reported gender-specific assistance in 2020– a figure which is likely to be even smaller when looking at women-led CSOs preventing/responding to GBV specifically (Cite: Development Initiatives, 2021)

Both Esther Karnley and Natalia Karbowska spoke of the importance of supporting locally led organisations as they are first responders to crises and have invaluable knowledge of the needs of communities that INGOs simply do not have. It will be difficult to meaningfully address GBV and CRSV without governments increasing long-term and flexible funding to local women-led organisations.

Disconnected and disparate expertise

Baroness Helic recommended bringing together CRSV expertise from around the world as currently a lot of it is siloed in separate national institutions. She said that we had already learned so much and it was important that policymakers did not spend time going over old ground or what we have already learnt.

Esther Karnley also spoke of the importance of learning from existing expertise, such as the FCDO funded What Works initiative, and the importance of going beyond just policies and prioritising interventions.

Lack of focus on prevention

Esther Karnley talked in detail about the importance of IRC’s work in Tanzania in preventing GBV which is ultimately rooted in inequality. This has included working to educate men and boys through programmes such as “Engaging Men in Accountability Practices” (EMAP) as well as ensuring economic empowerment for women and girls, enabling them to be self-sufficient and have increased opportunity to leave or avoid abusive situations.

What Works to Prevent Violence – research funded by the FCDO – filled a crucial evidence gap around prevalence and prevention in humanitarian and conflict settings. It has shown that the prevalence of GBV is higher in some conflict affected communities. What Works also showed that conflict and increases in GBV are not limited to sexual violence perpetrated by armed groups but also linked to intimate partner violence (IPV). This points to the need to look at GBV broadly and to establish holistic systems and services addressing GBV at its root cause of gender inequality. The What Works initiative demonstrated that there are effective ways to stop violence before it occurs.

Unfortunately, lack of funding, lack of political will and the embedded nature of gender inequality in many societies means that a focus on accountability is usually prioritised over prevention. However, in order to address the issue of GBV, including CRSV, at their root causes – gender inequality – we need to make sure we don’t lose the focus of prevention.

Recommendations to the UK Government

1. Embed PSVI in UK Foreign Policy

There is a unique opportunity for the UK to be a leader and global advocate for prioritising preventing and responding to CRSV as an essential tenet of foreign policy. We have seen just how influential it can be to have high level political support driving this issue up the international agenda and mobilising global support and funding, but this must be consistent in order to have a long-term and sustainable impact.

Given the changes in leadership of the UK Government, it is essential that this initiative remains a priority in UK foreign policy to ensure high-level attention, staffing and resource, as well as maintain diplomatic engagement at the bilateral and multilateral level. It must therefore be embedded in a way that means it cannot easily be pushed to one side should political priorities change.

2. Increase funding, prioritising local women-led organisations

The UK government should increase its funding on preventing and responding to CRSV and use their diplomatic influence to encourage other governments to follow suit. This will require returning Official Development Assistance (ODA) to 0.7% as soon as possible to ensure the scale of need can be met.

As well as increasing funding, it will be critical to prioritise funding towards local and national women’s rights organisations. These organisations are first responders to crises, know what is needed for their communities, and can reach and support survivors. Furthermore, this funding should be multi-year, flexible, and support promoting gender equality over time, as evidence from What Works has demonstrated this is what is key to tackling issues such as CRSV.

3. Bring global expertise together

There is a vast amount of research and evidence through initiatives like the FCDO’s What Works initiative, and in women-led and women’s rights organisations around the world, on what we know works to help prevent and respond effectively to GBV and CRSV. It is essential this is brought together to inform a survivor led approach for PSVI. Participants also noted and welcomed the FCDO-led PSVI Steering Board and expressed hope that this forum will continue post-Conference.

Building on what has already been created, and the extensive expertise both within the UK and globally, the UK should play a leading role in bringing this expertise together into a coordinated central reservoir to share with practitioners and policymakers across the globe. This should include equal representation from the Global South and affected countries and learning from locally and women-led women’s rights organisations.

4. Ensure survivor safety and wellbeing from services to high-level advocacy initiatives.

Esther Karnley spoke of how IRC’s programmes provide holistic survivor-centred services that include case management, support during judicial processes, and sexual and reproductive health support. Karbowska echoed this need for a holistic approach, and the importance of ensuring that policies, implementation and monitoring of services are informed by survivor’ lived experiences.

This approach would ensure survivors are included at high-level discussions in a meaningful way, including in the planning of the Conference in November. The Government has stated its intention to ensure the Conference is survivor-centred and it is critical it does so by being trauma-informed, strengths-based and needs-led. This will ensure the UK creates a safe environment where survivors from around the world are able to input and that if they choose to attend, they are given meaningful opportunities to input and that they are listened to.

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