OPINION: The elimination of sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) requires a joint effort.

Redress

OPINION: The elimination of sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) requires a joint effort.

By Nobuhle Thobela

Lunga Dweba

Despite the fact that both men and women suffer from the effects of war, women and girls are typically further marginalised. While armed conflicts might provide opportunities for women to take up new roles in nations where peace operations are underway, they can also expose them to new risks.  Sexual assault against women and girls is a common feature of today’s wars.  It is further aggravated by social stigmatisation in their communities as a result of rape and illnesses contracted during the conflict.  The safety and security of marginalised communities are not always guaranteed by the cessation of hostilities.  Women and girls’ access to services is often restricted in the majority of post-conflict areas.  When surrounding schools are destroyed during the conflict, children frequently travel long distances to school.  Similarly, when medical centres are destroyed, these groups are left without medical care in their immediate communities.  In these situations, women and girls are more likely to stay at home to avoid the increased risk of sexual violence and exploitation.

In light of this background, the author believes that issues of sexual violence and exploitation in armed conflicts are a global challenge that necessitates a global response to eliminate SEA against women and girls.

According to some estimates, between 250 000 and 500 000 women were raped during the 1994 Rwandan genocide.  These figures may appear high, but they may not reflect the genuine figures because most occurrences of sexual violence in armed conflict go unreported.  Unreported crimes arise as a result of civilian displacement, destruction of infrastructure, and a lack of legal representation to pursue the perpetrators in court.

International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has done a fantastic job providing an appropriate humanitarian response to victims of sexual violence and abuse, as well as the broader repercussions of war, all over the world. Such interventionist actions are laudable because they ensure the prompt availability of trained professionals to respond to victims of armed conflict who may require shelter, medical treatment, or humanitarian assistance. However, I believe that, while organizations like the ICRC do all possible to assist victims of armed conflict, there is still much more that can be done.

Any act of violence against innocent women and girls, such as SEA, has no justification.  However, failure to address poverty and social isolation tends to drive people to seek alternatives, some of which include the ongoing violence against women and girls.  Those in charge of protecting persons who do not take part in hostilities can not just fold their arms and hope that the ICRC and other humanitarian organs will make up for their mistakes.  In my opinion, the entire society must cooperate not just to reduce the scourge of violence against women and girls, but to eliminate SEA for good.

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