Protecting civilians in armed conflict

Gender issues


Sexual violence in armed conflict and gender discrimination

Sexual violence and rape in particular are pervasive in many armed conflicts. Conflict situations create a climate where law and order are disrupted and a sense of impunity may prevail among armed forces. Perpetrators include members of Government armed and security forces, paramilitary groups, armed non-State actors (ANSAs), peacekeeping forces as well as civilians. In some conflicts, sexual violence is used strategically to terrorize and humiliate civilian populations. In other contexts, it occurs in a more opportunistic manner, for example as a result of a lack of discipline, or linked to a sense of impunity.

There is unfortunately no reliable data that gives a fair illustration of the magnitude of the problem worldwide as the number of cases of sexual violence is usually under-reported.  While men and boys are also victims of sexual violence, women and girls are particularly at risk and represent the overwhelming majority of victims.

Armed conflict and violence tend to exacerbate discriminatory practices between men and women as it impacts gender roles and responsibilities.

ANSAs and sexual violence and gender discrimination

Although sexual violence is committed by both Government forces and ANSAs, little is known about the specific challenges when advocating against sexual violence committed by ANSAs.

While most initiatives rightly focus on assistance to the survivors of sexual violence, little is done to engage with (potential) perpetrators and prevent abuses from occurring in the first place.

In Geneva Call’s experience, aspects of some ANSAs’ policies and practices are discriminatory, notably in regards to women. Some ANSAs do include women in leadership positions or consult them in decision-making processes, including peace negotiations. However, this tends to be the exception rather than the rule.

International law provides a clear framework for the prevention and prohibition of acts of sexual violence and the protection of women and girls in armed conflict. In adopting seven resolutions in the last decade, the UN Security Council has created key policy instruments on Women, Peace and Security that are applicable to both States and ANSAs. In addition, certain international treaties, such as the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), reinforce women’s rights, including in the context of armed conflict. Despite their significance, these instruments provide no opportunity for ANSAs to express their willingness to abide by these norms.

It is therefore essential to engage ANSAs if sexual violence in armed conflict is to be prevented and prohibited and if victims are to be helped and perpetrators sanctioned. Such engagement is also necessary if gender discrimination is to be addressed and women’s participation increased at all decision-making levels.

Geneva Call’s innovative approach

Geneva Call engages ANSAs to reduce the threat of conflict-related sexual violence, to eliminate gender discrimination and to promote greater participation of women in decision-making processes.

Engagement tools include dialogue, advocacy and training. Geneva Call has also developed an innovative mechanism, the Deed of Commitment for the Prohibition of Sexual Violence in Situations of Armed Conflict and towards the Elimination of Gender Discrimination, that allows signatory ANSAs to undertake to respect international standards as they cannot become parties to international treaties.

Geneva Call supports and monitors implementation of the Deed of Commitment by signatory ANSAs.

Geneva Call also works with community-based organizations to build their capacities to engage with ANSAs and assist in monitoring their commitments.

Main Achievements

  • 24 ANSAs have signed the Deed of Commitment prohibiting sexual violence and gender discrimination and have taken measures to enforce their obligations.
  • Over 20 ANSAs have been engaged in dialogue by Geneva Call and sensitized to relevant international standards relating to sexual violence, and to the importance of women’s participation at all decision-making levels and in peace negotiations. Several of these ANSAs have included some of these norms in their policies or internal regulations.
  • A protected space for 60 young girls at risk from armed violence has been launched with local partner Nashet Association in Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon.