Sexual Gender Based Violence remains high in the Great Lakes region

Jebbeh Forster, UN Women Peace and Security Advisor for Eastern and Southern Africa addressing the media after the launch. Photo
Jebbeh Forster, UN Women Peace and Security Advisor for Eastern and Southern Africa addressing the media after the launch. Photo

Although sub-Saharan countries are enjoying a semblance of peace, there are a few spots are facing conflict or under threat of conflict.

Sexual and gender based violence remain a major threat to women’s security in the region and particularly within the Great Lakes Region.

At the launch of the Global Study on the Implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 (UNSCR 1325): Preventing Conflict, Transforming Justice, Securing the Peace, it was noted that sexual and gender based violence remained high in all the countries within the region.

Jebbeh Foster, UN Women Peace and Security Advisor for Eastern and Southern Africa noted that there is low accountability for Sexual and Gender Based Violence within the Great Lakes region leading to impunity.

Giving an example of Democratic Republic of Congo, Foster recalled that in 2010 the UN Special Representative for Sexual Violence had described the country as the “rape capital” of the world.

“There are approximately 40 rape cases occurring daily in Eastern Congo and most of the cases are committed by armed men,” said Foster when she gave a summary of Pillar Five, Gender and Sexual Gender Based Violence of the Great Lakes Strategic Framework 2016.

Pillar Five on Gender and SGBV addresses impunity for gender based crimes at country level. The Pillar also seeks to enhance women’s visibility and participation in decision making and peace building as well as increase women’s economic empowerment and resilience. With the high rates of SGBV in the Great Lakes region, the Pillar addresses provision of services for SGBV survivors. It also takes note of the fact that Sexual Gender Based Violence is not necessarily a consequence of conflict making it clear that even in times of relative peace women are not safe from SGBV.

This was reiterated by Sahle-Work Zewde, Director General, United Nations Office at Nairobi who noted that “despite some significant areas of progress, there are areas of limited success and new threats to women’s security such as the high levels of sexual and gender based violence, violent extremism, the low visibility and representation of women in formal peace processes, and the inadequate resources allocated to women’s recovery and reintegration needs, which undermine women’s security, empowerment and gender equality, and consequently sustainable peace and development”.

What the Strategic Framework seeks to address within this pillar is to  have “a peaceful and stable region free from sexual and gender based violence in which women and girls are empowered to participate in peace building, economic growth and enjoy equitable access to benefits for sustainable development.

Sustainable development must also ensure that peace and security is maintained in a sustainable manner for the future generations.

“Together, we must ensure that the next generation knows a region founded on sustainable peace, development and gender equality,” said Paivi Kannisto, UN Women’s Chief Advisor on Peace and Security.

The fact that women must be empowered and given space within decision making remain a key point that was resounded by speaker after speaker even as the panellists shared their experiences within the platform of addressing women in the peace agenda.

According to the Global Study on the Implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 (UNSCR 1325): Preventing Conflict, Transforming Justice, Securing the Peace “Women’s empowerment contributes to the success of peace talks and the achievement of sustainable peace, accelerates economic recovery, strengthens peace operations, improves our humanitarian assistance, and can help counter violent extremism.”

“The Strategic Framework specifically addresses the need to ensure a peaceful and stable region in the Great Lakes, free from Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV), and in which women and girls are empowered to participate in peace building, in economic growth, and enjoy equal access to benefits of sustainable development,” said David Clapp, UNDP’s Sub-regional Platform Coordinator for East and Southern Africa.

He noted: “Development has to be engendered if it’s not to be endangered.”

This is why Pillar Five of the Great Lakes Strategic Framework 2016 is building up on other regional frameworks that have been previously developed to address sexual and gender based violence. These include The Pact on Security, Stability and Development in the Great Lakes (Great Lakes Pact) 2008 which had 10protocols including the Protocol on the Prevention and Suppression of Sexual Violence Against Women and Children; Goma Declaration on Eradicating Sexual Violence and Ending Impunity on the Great Lakes Region; Kampala Declaration 2010 and Kinshasa Declaration 2012.

In January 2014, the Office of the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General (SESG) for the Great Lakes Region of Africa launched the women’s platform for Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework aimed at strengthening the capacities of women’s organisations in the region to implement Peace, Security and Cooperation as well as the national plans of Action for UN Security Resolution 1325. It would also combat violence against women and support women affected by violence as well as

Through the Great Lakes Strategic Framework 2016 there is great need to address impunity on Sexual and Gender Based Violence of which a budget of $1,620,000 has been set aside. The Framework, therefore, entails providing technical and advisory support to the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) to implement the agreement for setting up of special courts and or mechanisms for fast tracking of GBV cases in member states with a budgetline of $870,000. It will provide technical and advisory support to civil society organisations to do evidence based advocacy for fast tracking of GBV cases and this has a $150,000 budget. Another $150,000 has been set aside to support civil society organisations to track and publish progress on accountability of GBV cases in the region. Money has also been set aside, $450,000 to provide technical and financial support to the African Union Commission and the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region for the convening of special technical and high level political sessions to discuss progress on addressing impunity for GBV in the region.