Sexual Violence in Conflict Survivors Launch Global Advocacy & Support Network


Survivors United for Action, the first global network of its kind, aims to connect and support survivors and lobby policy-makers.


13 June 2014 - Jineth Bedoya Lima was a journalist covering the conflict in Colombia in 2000 when she was kidnapped, tortured and sexually abused by paramilitaries.

In 2009, she went public about her experiences and established the It is Not Time to be Silenced campaign to support women who have experienced sexual violence in Colombia.

"One day I was a victim, when a group of men attacked my body, soul and life. But today, I am a survivor, and in my face you need to see the faces of the millions of women around the world who have suffered the same as I have," she said at the launch of what is believed to be the first global network for women who have experienced rape and gender violence in conflict.

"Survivors are raising their voices to support all women who have suffered these crimes against humanity. But we can't do this alone, that's why we are demanding commitment from all our governments."

Four Nobel laureates joined survivors and the Norwegian and Dutch foreign ministers to launch the Survivors United for Action networkon Thursday at the Ending Sexual Violence in Conflict summit in London.

Among them was Jody Williams, who was awarded the Nobel peace prize in 1997 for her work to ban landmines. While working in El Salvador in the 1980s, she was sexually attacked by death squads.

"It takes some of us many years for me it was 15 years to talk about it, but the point of all us being here is because we all stand up and lift our voices for women not yet ready to talk about what has happened to them. We are here to say we don't carry the shame, the people who carry the shame are those who believe they have the right to violate our bodies," said Williams, chairwoman of the Nobel Women's Initiative, an organisation established by women who have won the Nobel prize, which advocates for just and equal peace.

Williams welcomed the attention that sexual violence in conflict is now receiving from governments, and hoped the summit would be a turning point. But she said that words needed to be backed by action. "They [governments] say it's time to act, but as someone said to me here, we have been acting for decades."

She said the number of countries that had drawn up national action plans to implement the UN security council resolution 1325, which emphasised the importance of women's role in peace and security, adopted in 2000, was only 46. "If we have to wait 15 years for governments to take action [on sexual violence], we're going to continue to suffer for a long time," she said.

Organisers hope the network will offer women a platform to connect with other survivors for support and to lobby policy-makers about their rights at local, national and international level.

Often, the voices of survivors of violence are missing from policy discussions that directly affect them, the packed and emotional press conference was told.

The idea for the network, which is being funded and supported by the International Campaign to Stop Rape and Gender Violence in Conflict, emerged two years ago when the UK foreign secretary, William Hague, first launched his preventing sexual violence in conflict initiative.

Network members in London for the summit will hold a strategy meeting on Saturday. The network has already called for governments to allocate more funding to grassroots organisations working to prevent sexual violence and to provide services to survivors.

Shirin Ebadi, Nobel peace laureate and co-chair of the International Campaign to Stop Rape and Gender Violence in Conflict, said: "All too often survivors' voices are absent from national and international policy-making tables the missing link in the struggle to end rape and gender violence in conflict. With the creation of Survivors United for Action, we are moving the voices of survivors to the centre of our collective movement to end sexual violence in conflict."