Speech/statement | Date: 23/05/2019 | Ministry of Foreign Affairs
By Former State Secretary Marianne Hagen (Oslo, 23 May)
State Secretary Marianne Hagen opened the civil society segment of the conference Ending Sexual and Gender-based Violence in Humanitarian Crises with this statement.
Ladies and gentlemen, friends,
Welcome to Oslo! I am proud that we have managed to bring together such a breadth of civil society and governments, from across the world, to the first humanitarian pledging conference on this crucial issue – Ending Sexual and Gender-based Violence in Humanitarian Crises.
Among the things that have made the deepest impression on me when I have visited countries in conflict and crisis are the harrowing stories of sexual violence:
- Girls who are captured and held as sex slaves,
- Systematic gang-rape of women and girls,
- Boys and girls maimed for life as victims of sexual violence,
- And the stories of men who have been sexually abused, as child soldiers or as detainees
These are not unavoidable by-products of war. They are examples of the use of sexual violence as a tactic of war and terror.
The aim is to tear apart the fabric of society and inflict long-term damage on individuals and communities. Survivors are left with shame and stigma. Families are broken up. Communities are shattered.
I have met some survivors and visited some affected communities, most recently in the Democratic Republic of Congo. I will never forget these encounters, but what I will remember first and foremost is not people’s despair, it is their determination to fight for justice.
Wherever these atrocities are perpetrated, we also see people rising up against injustice and stigmatisation. And civil society is leading the way.
Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, survivors themselves are taking up the fight. They are demanding justice, and reclaiming their dignity. Nobel Peace Prize winner Nadia Murad is one shining example. And wherever I meet survivors, I am reminded of her. I am deeply impressed by their strength and courage, and their determination to rebuild their lives.
Secondly, local women’s groups and human rights defenders provide support. They are encouraging survivors to seek medical assistance and to come forward with their stories. Moreover, they are often at the forefront of efforts to remove stigma and rebuild shattered communities.
Thirdly, international civil society organisations play an invaluable role at many levels:
- by supporting local organisations with funding and capacity-building,
- by providing life-saving medical support and other forms of assistance to survivors,
- by engaging in local, national and international efforts to hold perpetrators to account,
- by increasing global awareness about sexual and gender-based violence and the need to fight this scourge, and
- by working to safeguard sexual and reproductive health and rights.
Fourthly, local and international civil society organisations work to redress unequal power relations between men and women. Gender inequality is a root cause of sexual and gender-based violence.
Fifthly, the call for justice is growing ever stronger, and it is voiced by virtually all survivors. Over the last 25 years, we have developed important tools for the pursuit of justice, including the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and several resolutions from the UN Security Council.
Still, more needs to be done to hold perpetrators to account. Civil society has an important role to play in monitoring and documenting sexual violence in armed conflicts across the world. Your efforts to document atrocities provides us with a crucial tool when we pursue justice for victims of sexual violence.
With one in three women experiencing physical or sexual abuse in her lifetime, SGBV is a global challenge that must be addressed in all communities at all times.
This is a shocking statistic. However, the problem is even more widespread during humanitarian crises.
When law and order collapse, and tensions rise as food, water, shelter, and healthcare become scarce, the risk of sexual violence increases. Girls and women are particularly vulnerable. Today, more than 140 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance, 35 million of whom are women and girls of reproductive age. It is crucial that these women and girls are empowered and protected. It is also crucial that life-saving health services are available for survivors of sexual and gender-based violence perpetrated in humanitarian situations.
However, the efforts to fight SGBV during humanitarian crises remain chronically underfunded. The funds used for this purpose accounted for just a tiny fraction of the record-high 15-billion-dollars provided for last year’s UN-coordinated humanitarian response plans.
Addressing sexual and gender-based violence needs to be given high priority and at the same time to be fully integrated into all our humanitarian efforts. This is not a stand-alone issue. Protecting those at risk and assisting survivors of SGBV must be front and centre in both our humanitarian response and our longer-term efforts to promote peace and development.
This is why protection against sexual and gender-based violence is a key priority in our new humanitarian strategy and our Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security.
On behalf of the Norwegian Government and the other co-hosts of this conference – Iraq, Somalia, the United Arab Emirates, UN OCHA, UNFPA and the ICRC, I would like to end by thanking Norwegian Church Aid and all its partners for organising the civil society segment of this conference.
It is truly inspiring to see that so many representatives of civil society organisations from all over the world have found their way to Oslo for this event. I am confident that the key messages from your seminars and plenary discussions today will not only inspire, but also inform and influence the high-level sessions tomorrow.
Governments and international organisations will not be able to address sexual and gender-based violence in humanitarian crises without partnerships with civil society. It is my sincere hope that this conference will help to strengthen your continued efforts to prevent and respond to SGBV in humanitarian crises.
Thank you for the vital work you are doing. I look forward to further developing our partnerships in the time ahead.