Guest blog by Jenny Söderqvist, Political Attaché at the British Embassy in Sweden
This Sunday is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women – a UN initiative to raise awareness about this complex and serious problem. The date – 25 of November – has not been chosen at random, but marks the brutal assassination of the three Mirabal sisters, political activists in the Dominican Republic, in 1960. That was over 50 years ago. But sadly, still today, we see too much violence against women and girls. This is a global problem that takes many different shapes and is closely linked to wider security and development issues.
One worrying example is the widespread sexual violence in war. From Bosnia to the Democratic Republic of Congo, rape has been used as a terrifying weapon in conflict. To raise awareness Foreign Secretary William Hague launched his Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative (PSVI) with UNHCR Special Envoy Angelina Jolie in May. This initiative aims to increase the number of perpetrators brought to justice by supporting international efforts and co-ordination, to prevent and respond to sexual violence and helping states build national capacity.
The British government is working hard to raise awareness of the problem and design and pursue adequate long-term responses, driven by both women and men. At the Embassy we discussed this issue with Swedish women’s groups, policy makers and non-governmental representatives, when the Permanent Secretary at the British Department for International Development, Mark Lowcock, visited Sweden in September. They all had lots of good ideas how to deal with the root causes of violence against women. This meeting really underlined to me that although in many cases the victims were women and girls, they were also the key to the solution. As an (often vocal!) woman myself I know what powerful advocates of change women can be. Women and girls hardly ever fight the world’s wars, but they often suffer the most. It’s time we all took a stand to change this.