WITNESS recently made a decision to focus a concentrated level of support to networks of human rights defenders working to challenge gender-based violence that occurs during and after armed conflict and under political repression (for more detail on this, see our previous blog post on the new network campaign strategy).


Violence on the basis of gender is a form of discrimination that seriously inhibits women’s ability to enjoy rights and freedoms. Despite sustained efforts, gender-based violence remains pervasive.  Most often this is violence against women and girls – though it can also be directed at men, or be based on gender identity. Violence most often occurs in the family and community, but is also perpetuated by the state through policies or actions of state agents. At times of war, gender-based violence is a weapon used to achieve military objectives. The consequences are grave and long-lasting for victims and communities.

The statistics are daunting:

  • Among women aged 15-44 years, gender-based violence accounts for more death and disability among women than the combined effects of cancer, malaria, traffic injuries and war.
  • One in every three women has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused by a man in her lifetime.
  • Killed, aborted or neglected, at least 100 MILLION girls have disappeared —and the number is rising
  • In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) at least 200,000 cases of rape and sexual violence have been recorded in the last 14 years (AFP via Inform.com, April 23, 2010)
  • An estimated 30 percent of the rape survivors in the DRC are infected with HIV (as many as 60 percent of the combatants are believed to have the virus)

Yet the scope and scale of organizing against gender-based violence is also strong.  The women’s rights movement includes a powerful range of collaborative partners at a local, regional and international level. We know that we can complement strong, collaborative civil society mobilization that includes active local participation and a growing focus on accountability in the community. Strong existing networks of NGOs and social movements include such alliances and organizations as the Womens’ Initiatives for Gender Justice, Coalition for Women’s Human Rights in Conflict Situations, the Center for Women’s Global Leadership’s ‘16 days of Activism against Gender Violence‘ Campaign, Women for Women International, Women in Black, Women’s Refugee Commission, Physicians for Human Rights, Isis-WICCE, and Nobel Women’s Initiative as well as a range of local and regional groups/coalitions.

We see the potential for tangible advocacy impact at multiple levels, including “victories along the way” as well as bigger impacts. There are new institutions and approaches at an international level including the soon to be established dedicated UN agency for women , a growing number of Security Council resolutions specific to this area, as well as cases at the International Criminal Court (ICC). And the role of women in transitional justice processes and peace-building processes is critical to reinforce. In our own backyard (WITNESS is based in New York), Secretary Clinton and the US Congress have made a welcome commitment to this area, for example, by introducing legislation to commit to the International Violence Against Women Act.

Video also is a powerful tool for confronting gender-based violence. In our own experience we have worked to use video around this issue in settings from evidentiary to community organizing to solidarity activism to real-time reporting to truth-seeking, reconciliation and peace-building. My colleague Priscila Neri highlighted some of her picks for the most effective use of video in confronting gender-based violence in a post on International Women’s Day. Powerful personal narratives, and storytelling that reveals systematic problems are key here. In spheres of online, mobile and networked organizing and advocacy, advocates can confront gender-based violence, engage effective documentation of incidents, and mobilize local and international support.

Some of WITNESS’ work supporting women’s rights, and particularly violence against women is highlighted in this short video:

Some of our work to-date on gender-based violence includes issues both in conflict and in other settings ranging from trafficking, to feminicide to violence against sex workers by police – in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe, Mexico, Yemen and Macedonia.  And we have regularly worked on intersectionality between gender-based violence and other issues, for example HIV-AIDS. With this experience, and the tremendous guidance of Board members like Mallika Dutt (Breakthrough) and Zainab Salbi (Women for Women International) we feel well-prepared to be an asset to the field, both on our direct campaign partnership work, but also in sharing what we learn about effective use of video for change as broadly as possible with our peers.

Stay tuned for our next blog post on our second focus area: forced evictions in the name of development.

Violeta Krasnic, Senior Program Manager, Europe and Central Asia, contributed to this post.

2 thoughts on “Gender-Based Violence in the Context of Armed Conflict and Political Repression

  1. Gender-Based Violence will never go to an end in Sudan in spite of the hard work of the National & the International Organizations on the issue of Human Rights and Gender, in Sudan the targeted women is the Human rights activists and the women who is working with the International Organizations or the (International Community) they keep on tracing, punishing, threatening them by all means. Violation is not only physical it is also sociological and sychological when you are an educated women and joining an International Organization it is hard for you to keep your rights if the Government is encouraging the discrimination and abusing of womens.

    that is from my own experience; Sawsan Omer Hassan Gassouma

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