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Nobel Women’s Initiative 2011

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Survivors of sexual violence at a women’s centre. photo: Amnesty International/flickr

Yesterday, 23 May, the third international gathering of the Nobel Women’s Initiative opened its gates in Quebec, Canada. This year it carries the title Women Forging a New Security: Ending Sexual Violence in Conflict. For three days, over 120 civil society activists, corporate and security sector leaders, military and peacekeeping personnel, academics from around the world, and numerous Nobel Peace Laureates are convening to discuss strategies for tackling sexual violence in conflict.

Sexual violence in times of war or turmoil is not at all a new phenomenon. Rape has shadowed war for as long as armies have marched into battle. In the past four decades, however, the scale of sexual violence has come to reach almost surreal proportions. While “traditional” warfare was, in the past, characterized by a clash of armed forces, wars have developed more and more into internal armed conflicts. The targets are increasingly often civilians, turning rape and sexual attack into useful forms of war and a core military strategy in conflicts around the world, from Sudan to Burma to Colombia.

Rape is the most intrusive of traumatic events. Sexual violence is as damaging as a bullet. It destroys not only the body of the victim, but the basic social fabric of the community. Where sexual violence has been a way of war, it destroys the way of life. Rape shatters traditions that anchor community values, disrupting their transmission to future generations. Children accustomed to rape and violence grow into adults who accept them as the norm.

The Nobel Women’s Initiative, organizing body of the ongoing conference, was established in 2006 by Nobel Peace Laureates Jody Williams, Shirin Ebadi, Wangari Maathai, Rigoberta Menchú Tum, Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan Maguire. These laureates aim to end the culture of impunity which still surrounds issues of sexual violence. They want better protection for women and children, more medical and legal services for survivors and improved systems to track incidents. But above all, their goal is to change the minds of men and women all over the world — men that they may not think of women as ready victims and women also that they may not think of themselves as helpless victims.

Follow the conference online through the conference blog, or appreciate writer and feminist Jaclyn Friedman’s live-blog of the panel sessions at Feministe.com. Plus, for further information on the topic, you can either find daily articles in the 50-50 Inclusive Democracy section of the online journal openDemocracy, or you can find a wealth of information in the ISN Digital Library.