A political signal for better protection for girls and women in crisis situations

Article, 08.11.2013

The international community has a duty to step up its commitment to combat violence against women and girls, particularly in conflict and emergency situations. That is why the British government has launched the initiative «Call to Action on Violence against Women and Girls in Emergencies»: to send a political signal for better protection of girls and women in crisis situations. On 13 November 2013, a high-level conference will take place to bring together humanitarian actors, donor states and recipient countries and reaffirm the joint responsibility of all stakeholders. Switzerland will be represented by Maya Tissafi, deputy director general of the SDC.

As part of the «Call to Action on Violence against Women and Girls in Emergencies initiative», Switzerland wants to step up its commitment to combat violence against women and girls in crises and conflicts.

Concrete measures will be defined within the framework of the SDC's humanitarian aid emergency relief and development cooperation programmes in fragile countries, the new National Action Plan 1325 on Women, Peace and Security and the strategy to protect civilians in armed conflicts.

Violence against women and girls takes on many forms and faces
Violence against women and girls is a sad reality in all crises and conflicts. It is one of the most serious human rights violations, and has many forms and faces. It generally goes unpunished.

In armed conflicts, sexual violence against women and girls is often used systematically by the conflicting parties in order to demoralise their opponents and to weaken the cohesion of local communities. Boys and men are also affected, albeit to a lesser extent.

In refugee situations in particular, women and girls are exposed to violence as basic care structures break down and they are forced to live without protection or privacy. When they go about their daily routine – washing themselves, fetching water, buying food or collecting firewood – they risk being assaulted. Economic hardship drives some women into prostitution, particularly in urban areas. All too often, young women are vulnerable to forced marriage and trafficking. Moreover, crisis and refugee situations are always accompanied by an increase in domestic violence, as men trying to cope with external stress factors often resort to violence against women, and parents turn on their children to let off steam.

The consequences for the women and girls affected are very serious and frequently result in long-term physical injury and psychological damage. Because violence against women is still a taboo issue in many societies, the affected women are also socially ostracised and shunned by their communities. Consequently, violence against women during times of crisis becomes a structural problem that prevents the equal participation of women in the political, social and economic reconstruction and transformation of their societies in post-conflict and post-crisis situations.

Switzerland’s long-standing commitment
Switzerland can look back on a long-standing commitment to combating violence against women and girls. The SDC was one of the first humanitarian actors to provide, as early as 2002, direct and unbureaucratic support for victims of sexual violence in the Great Lakes region. These early efforts have since then become a comprehensive programme that provides emergency medical assistance, psychosocial rehabilitation, and legal, social and economic support for women and girls. Switzerland is also involved in prevention efforts and supports measures to strengthen rule-of-law structures and combat impunity. In addition, experts and personalities are mobilised to strengthen support for the issue in Switzerland and raise public awareness.