FOCUS ON : Sexual Violence in Conflict

FOCUS ON : Sexual Violence in Conflict

Over the next few weeks, Time for Equality will devote its FOCUS ON section to the topic of sexual violence in conflict, in line with its objectives of understanding, raising awareness and promoting action. We’ll publish a collection of articles to set the context and explore this topic. We welcome your feedback!

Sexual violence in conflict: setting the context

Violence against women is a gross human rights violation. Whether it occurs in the context of an intimate partnership, within the larger family or community structure, or during times of conflict, it is a deeply violating and painful experience for the survivor.

Conflict exacerbates the gender inequalities and abuses of power that can lead to gender-based violence (GBV). Therefore, in armed conflicts women and children are more vulnerable to sexual and other forms of gender-based violence, including rape by combatants and intimate partners or acquaintances and, at times, sexual exploitation by humanitarian actors.

The motives for conflict-related rape and gender-based violence are multiple. Sexual violence has often been used in conflict as a tool to demotivate conflict-affected populations from fighting back or to humiliate and shame men and women. It is sometimes used as a tool of indoctrination and group bonding for combatants, or as a reward or form of compensation, for combatants who are usually not otherwise paid. Sexual violence is sometimes an instrument of genocide, used to transform the ethnic or social composition of a society.

The sexual and gender-based violence perpetrated against women in conflict and in humanitarian settings has begun to be the focus of international attention, with efforts being made to prevent its occurrence, to respond to the survivors’ needs and to address impunity for those responsible.

The United Nations adopted seven resolutions on Women Peace and Security1, which provide UN Peacekeeping with a framework for implementing and monitoring the Women Peace and Security agenda. In particular the Security Council Resolution 1960  creates institutional tools to combat impunity for rape in conflict by allowing referrals to UN Sanctions Committees and the International Criminal Court, international condemnation, reparations, as well as listing of perpetrators in the UN Secretary General’s annual report 2.

On 19 June 2008, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1820 (2008) on Sexual Violence against Civilians in Conflict, which condemns the use of rape and other forms of sexual violence in conflict situations, and calls for effective steps to prevent and respond to acts of sexual violence. In particulat it urges Member States to comply with their obligations for prosecuting the perpetrators of sexual violence, ensuring that all victims of sexual violence, particularly women and girls, have equal protection under the law and equal access to justice, and ending impunity for sexual violence as part of a comprehensive approach to seeking sustainable peace, justice, truth, and national reconciliation.

Sexual violence is not inevitable, and we can prevent and stop it. An important aspect of prevention is monitoring and reporting; collecting data on the causes, characteristics, and consequences of rape in conflict allows us to build our knowledge of the scale of gender violence, to raise awareness, to address political institutions and to prepare new strategies.


 1 The Security Council Resolution 1325 (2000)  was the first Resolution to address the disproportionate and unique impact of armed conflict on women. For more information about the history of Security Council mandates on Women, Peace and Security please visit

2 Read our post about the new Report of wartime rape and other forms of conflict-related sexual violence by the UN Secretary General.<

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