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Breaking the Cycle of Violence

Minister of Foreign Affairs Ine Eriksen Søreide's opening remarks at the seminar "Breaking the Cycle of Violence - Working with men: survivors, perpetrators and agents of change".

Dear friends, ladies and gentlemen,

Sexual violence is not a side effect of war – it is a weapon of war. A weapon that comes for free, and which is too often rewarded with impunity. As Dennis Mukwege reminded us in his Nobel lecture, it is a weapon that aims to destroy not just the victim, but families and communities - the very social fabric.

The physical terror suffered from sexual violence in conflict does not discriminate between male and female victims.

The shame, confusion, guilt, fear and stigma of sexual violence is felt as strongly by men as by women; as strongly by boys as by girls.

Despite this, taboos remain pervasive – often backed up by the perception that being a victim is somehow incompatible with masculinity. Too often, coming out as a victim is not an option, because “as a man you should have been able to defend yourself”. Too often seeking help is not an option, because “as a man, you should be able to cope”.

From some of the few studies and investigations that do exist, we know that conflict-related sexual violence against men and boys is “regular and unexceptional, pervasive and widespread.” Yet it is also severely underreported. The attention given to sexual violence against men in armed conflict is too often confined to the footnotes.

We lack knowledge about the true extent of sexual violence directed against men, and the impact it has on its victims. We need to know how violence against men differs from violence directed against women; how we can bring it to an end; and how we can best support those who have been affected.

That is why I want to thank you for attending this important seminar. It is an opportunity to share experiences and gain much-needed knowledge, and literally lift the subject out of the footnotes and into the headlines.

***

But a misconstrued masculinity has more to answer for. Boys and men are victims that need care and deserve justice. But as we know, men are also perpetrators that must be held to account.

The overwhelming majority of those committing acts of sexual violence are male.

One in three women have experienced some form of physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. We know that in situations of armed conflict these rates are far higher.

Conflict-related humanitarian crises trigger patterns of sexual violence, including rape, trafficking and forced marriages. Men and boys are also harmed, but women and girls are particularly exposed.

We need to understand not only the needs and vulnerabilities of girls and women. We also need to understand the needs and vulnerabilities of boys and men, and develop our ability to work with men in these situations.

We have to recognize the complexities - and act accordingly.

***

Let me mention a few action points that I find especially important:

Firstly, if we are to end gender-based violence, which is something all of us agree must be the goal, the perpetrators must be brought to justice. There can be no impunity if we are to move forward.

Secondly, just as important as justice is the issue of rehabilitation. It is key to work with men:

  • so that they come to realise what drives their own violence,
  • so that their children are not exposed to the same attitudes and experiences that they were,
  • so that it becomes possible to end the cycle of violence.

Thirdly, it is essential to understand and amplify the roots of what fosters discipline for combatants, and have a systematic approach. We know that clear rules, training, leadership and accountability in the chain of command are important building blocks.

Fourthly, we know from research that the main drivers of violence against women are deep-rooted gender inequalities. Pervasive gender norms and unequal power-relations create the conditions in which violence against women is tolerated and even, in some cases, accepted. In some societies, perpetrating sexual violence is not really regarded as a bad thing. It is not a good thing either, it is just a fact.

Understanding the dynamics of power and culture is key to changing these attitudes, and to engaging men as agents of change. Men who have worked towards an equal and fair society must be empowered and lead by example, to break situations of ongoing violence.

***

In Norway’s new humanitarian strategy, we have announced enhanced efforts to combat sexual and gender based violence. We want to establish new initiatives in this field, and we will increase our support for relevant measures, such as provision of psychosocial support to survivors.

This includes efforts to prevent and respond to abuse and violence against men and boys. These efforts are to complement, not replace or reduce the attention and support provided to women and girls. It is a matter of approaching a complex problem in its totality, and ensure that we do not ignore the rights or needs of any one group.

***

This year marks 10 years of the mandate of the UN Special representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict. In 2019 there will be a number of international events dealing with various aspects of sexual and gender based violence and conflict-related sexual violence. One of these events will be hosted by Norway with the Special representative, Pramila Patten, with UN OCHA, UNFPA and other partners.

This will be an International Conference with the aim of closing the gaps in the humanitarian response to sexual and gender based violence, focusing especially on conflict-related sexual violence.

The objectives will be:

  • to mobilise stronger political commitment to protect and assist people at risk and survivors of conflict-related sexual violence,
  • to mobilise additional financial resources, especially for the UN-coordinated Humanitarian Response Plans in this field, and
  • to highlight best practices and lessons learned to prevent and respond to sexual and gender based violence in humanitarian situations.

I look forward to inviting ministers, high-level officials, heads of international organizations and not least civil society leaders to Oslo on 24 May. There will also be a preparatory event organized by civil society on 23 May hosted by Norwegian Church Aid, in cooperation with other organizations. Civil society engagement is vital.

***

Let me end by underlining that the devastating physical, psychological and social impact of gender based-violence demand a complete response. To end gender-based violence, we must work with whole communities, women and men, girls and boys.

In Mukwege’s Nobel lecture, he reminded the world that the choice is ours, whether or not “we create a positive masculinity which promotes gender equality, in times of peace and in times of war.”

I believe this is key. Not falling into the trap of rejecting masculinity, but a collective effort to create, show and uphold a positive masculinity. One that is compatible with helping victims, and incompatible with creating them.

Thank you for your attention.

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