International Conference to Our Classrooms: Joining the Conversation on Women in Conflict Zones
London can feel like a long way from a place like Nablus- the culture, language, and general layout are just the beginning of the differences between the two cities. But this week, there's a special connection between what's happening in the United Kingdom and what's going on in Palestine thanks to the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict- the largest gathering yet of world leaders, violence survivors, and key policy influencers to discuss the critical issue of conflict on women. Spearheaded by Angelina Jolie and British Foreign Secretary William Hague, the conference seeks to raise awareness about sexual violence in conflict zones, and encourage increased global attention on women's experiences in war. And while it remains a high-profile event, the convening is bringing to light some of the most silent issues that we regularly face in The Women's Group at TYO- crises like rape, sexual assault, and sexual abuse that are widespread in Palestine, but rarely discussed in public sector.
Amidst the conference's discussions and in-depth debates on best practices in prevention of sexual violence and prosecution of its perpetrators, there's also been some hard facts and release of major reports on the subject which directly relate to the work we're hoping to accomplish in Palestine.
- Referral System: In the landmark International Protocol on the Documentation and Investigation of Sexual Violence in Conflict Zones report released at the conference, there's a special section devoted to the need for referral systems to fight sexual violence- creating a clear, efficient channel of support networks for victims to transition to being survivors. This network includes shelters, medical care, psychological care, job creation support, legal assistance, and police protection- with professionals in each organization trained to sensitively work with, and ultimately empower, victims of sexual violence. At TYO, The Women's Group works with over 30 local organizations constantly focused on strengthening our partnerships and pipeline of services, ensuring we are in regular communication and guiding clients to the services they need, whether it's a women's shelter, legal consultation with a local advocate, or police protection.
- Ending Impunity: A main theme of the conference is ending impunity- and recognizing that until rule of law and justice are present, there will be no real effort to stop sexual violence. In speeches and in the aforementioned report, the discussion of why so few perpetrators of sexual violence are actually prosecuted in the developing world- whether it's in Bosnia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, or in Palestine, there's a significant amount of those committing the crimes who walk way without ever facing court- or receiving dismally low sentences. We see this daily in Palestine, where domestic violence perpetrators rarely face punishment, or local authorities entirely neglect cases of violences against women. At TYO, we work to ensure women are aware of their rights to seek prosecution- but also, have partners such as the Police and various lawyers come to deliver seminars on how to seek justice against violence, and who in the community can help them.
- Championing Survivorship, not Victimhood: We know there's a major difference between survivors and victims- and the biggest difference is how we stereotype the two. By constantly subjecting women who've faced violence to words like "victim", we're shorting their ability to recover, and shrinking their resilience. As a community, we know it's vital to champion women as survivors- capable of moving forward, being advocates for themselves and other women, and not being defined by their past traumas. The conference is bringing together survivors from across the globe- and from our classrooms in Nablus, we're equally championing survivors and their stories of hope.
So from England to the Middle East, we're thrilled to see this global chatter about protecting women in conflict zones- and as dignitaries continue their deep discussions on the topic this week, we're continuing ours in The Women's Group- and can't wait to witness the results of both.
-Cayce, Women's Empowerment Program Coordinator