The patriarchal framework of justice which reflects gendered stereotypes, cultural and traditional prejudice has to change. Whilst there is slow progress in implementation, international law is drifting inexorably into recognising the integrated role of human rights in addressing sexual violence, Madeleine Rees, President of WILPF International, analyses how this can be done.
This is an extract from an article that was first published in May 2013.
Sexual violence, access to justice, and human rights. Taken separately, each of these issues would mean something different depending on whether you are the lawyer, the human rights activist, an objective third party such as the man/woman on the street, or whether you are, in fact, the person who survived the first, demands the second and wants the third.
If we look at how we could address sexual violence from a human rights perspective it would be this: work for greater gender equality – which does not mean counting the number of women in governance structures, military et al – but lies with real political economic analysis. Effective response through education, health care, employment, social welfare strategies which address these inequalities and, as part of this to address constructions of masculinity which lead to violence.
Element 2 would be the accountability framework. Ensuring that the crime is properly described in law so as to accurately reflect what happened to the individual and not the alternative history so often created by references to consent. Ensure effective investigation with trained investigators who understand the consequences and personal impact of the crime.
Element 3 is the provision of services, which must not be conditioned by participation in prosecutions, so that the survivor, male and female, get the sort of support that is needed in terms of health care and psycho social support. Providing legal advice at this stage is also crucial so that the agency of the individual can be claimed and this support must continue if the individual decides to witness for the prosecution
Element 4. Measures to “debunk “myths about crimes of sexual violence and the gendered roles which make that inevitable.
Element 5. Security sector reform that is not just about weapons and defence but is about real security and includes gender analysis and the participation of women.
The details of how this could be done are, as in all things, contextual but, and this is where the hope is springing from, International law is drifting slowly and inexorably into this way of thinking. There are the Security Council Resolutions 1325, 1820, and 1889 which have taken us some of the way, particularly 1889, but there has been little implementation in real terms. But then take a look at the G8 Declaration on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict adopted in London 11th April this year. Of the five elements listed above it has them all! Plus an additional one relating to funding, another re international cooperation and places an emphasis on the protection of human rights defenders.
The shift towards looking at men and men’s responsibilities is marked. I did not think I would see eight of the most powerful economic forces demanding an engagement of men and boys to prevent violence against women, essentially to address violent masculinities.
I have a tendency to be overly optimistic, but optimism does not mean naiveté. Once the words are on paper and soft law is created, we are opening a door. Addressing sexualized violence through justice alone, however is not a panacea, and we must be careful not to over emphasize sexual violence to the exclusion of all the other experiences women have during conflict, a danger that can lead to us focusing on only one element of women’s experiences and if we look and do not find it, then moving our attention elsewhere. But, it is an entry point to help us analyze and better understand the nature of gender and gendered relations, it is an entry point to help us develop better our understanding of the social, economic root causes of violence and violent conflict. And if we understand it, we are much better placed to prevent it.