Recently, Nadia Murad and Denis Mukwege won the Nobel Peace Prize for their work in ending sexual violence in conflict zones.
What do we mean when we say that sexual violence is used as a weapon within war and conflict?
It can mean a few different things. In some conflicts, like the Rohingya/Myanmar conflict, sexual violence, rape and forced impregnation are used for ethnic cleansing and intimidation. 700,000 refugees have fled to Bangladesh to escape Myanmar persecution, with forced impregnation being in the tens of thousands. There is no measurable or accurate number for the number of women raped or assaulted within this conflict. A nonprofit also noted that men and boys have been victims of sexual violence within this conflict, too.
In the Congo conflict, an interview with rebels suggested it was a norm of conflict since all other laws and norms had crumbled, rape was not a serious offence either. One even noted that it is a biological lust of men, known as ‘lust rapes‘. Within 16 months of the Congolese conflict, 2,600 victims were treated because of a form of sexual violence.
In Iraq, Yazidi women are being sold as sex slaves after the Islamic State attacked Sinjir (northern Iraq), and forced women into human trafficking as a form of ethnic cleansing. ISIS have used the systemic rape and brutality against Yazidi women who they have dubbed as infidels, as a way to purify territory and Islam.
These are just a few examples of how sexual violence is used within a conflict, and there are many more. China has recently come under media and public scrutiny for their forced detention camps, and many testimonials have come out about forced pregnancies being used to cleanse Uighurs from Xinjiang for future generations.
In many cases, the victims of sexual violence are further ostracised from their community, from other women, from their husbands and from their religion. There is still an immense culture of blame in these conflicts, and the scale of sexual violence, including gang rape, female genital mutilation, and burning, is uncontainable and extremely difficult to manage. Many do not have access to basic medical health care to treat the mutilations, burns and physical trauma of a rape, let alone psychological help for the trauma of rape, violence, war and in many cases, violent killings of family members, children and partners taking place right in front of them.
Nadia Murad is a Yazidi survivor of the Islamic State and their sex slave operation, who escaped and became a human rights campaigner. She briefed the UN on the issue of human trafficking in 2015, which was the first time they had ever been briefed on the subject. She has since become an Nobel Peace Prize Winner in 2018, and an advocate for mass rape and genocide awareness, working with Human Rights Attorney Amol Clooney, to help current Yazidi women who are still held in captivity.
Denis Mukwege is a Congolese gynaecologist, who was also awarded the Nobel Peace Prize alongside Nadia Murad, specialising in treating women who have been raped by armed rebels. He has called out governments in the past for not doing enough to stop this injustice and founded the Panzi Hospital which has treated over 85,000 people, 60% of which had injuries from rape.
After the World War 2 Nuremberg Trials, rape as a weapon of war has deemed a crime against humanity. So, why aren’t we seeing foreign ministers in governments condemning or increasing aid to help these conflicts?
Why are we seeing UN projects combating this, massively underfunded by millions of pounds?
Currently, ending gender-based violence is part of the Sustainable Development Goals in the UN, but it is still far away from reaching its goal in 2030. The UNFDA hands out ‘dignity kits‘ to victims of sexual violence which include feminine hygiene products and torches to use when it’s dark, but they have been reported to be underfunded by £1.4 million in order to account for all the refugees that are fleeing the conflict. Clearly, not enough is being done.