Over the course of 36 hours beginning on October 30, 2014, Sudanese army troops carried out a series of attacks against the civilian population of the town of Tabit in North Darfur, including the mass rape of women and girls. Khadamallah*, in her mid-teens, said that soldiers came to her home at about 10pm on Friday night: she was in the house with her younger siblings. Soldiers entered the house and Khadamallah took firewood and hit one of them. One soldier dragged her out of the room. Two of them held Khadamallah down while the other one raped her. Many others who were there were standing around. Eventually they brought her back to her room, tied her to the bed, and left.
Such despicable acts are enraging and heartbreaking at the same time, and they are commonplace in situations of conflict and disaster. Data on Gender Based Violence (GBV) in emergencies is hard to come by, but it is clear that it increases during such times. In contrast, the ability to prevent, detect and follow up on such cases decreases.
There is a clear will to tackle the problem. On September 25th, 193 world leaders at the UN General Assembly agreed to 17 Global Goals for Sustainable Development, to be achieved in the next 15 years. One of them - Goal 5 - is to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls. This includes eliminating all forms of violence and harmful practices against all women and girls.
The European Commission seeks to stop GBV in humanitarian situations in three main ways.
Firstly, by mainstreaming - integrating a gender approach into all actions in order to respond to the differentiated vulnerabilities and needs.
Secondly, with targeted actions. These include empowering people to challenge attitudes that condone violence, but also assisting survivors with medical care, psychological support and referral mechanisms.
Thirdly, capacity building to empower humanitarian actors and partners to better address GBV. In this context, it is particularly important that the Sendai Framework repeatedly refers to the importance of integrating a gender perspective in disaster risk reduction.
In 2014, the EU budget supported 40 projects that prevented and responded to GBV in humanitarian crises, contributing more than 12 million euro. The main locations for this support were Democratic Republic of Congo and the Syrian Crisis (Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan). We need to do more, and the EU is increasing its budget for external action, including for humanitarian aid.
I am also co-chairing the UN's High-Level Panel on Humanitarian Financing to address the growing gap between the number of people in need of assistance and resources available.
When we take stock in 15 years time, I hope we will have achieved all the goals set in New York this September. But I particularly want us to reach Goal 5, because every story such as that of Khadamallah is one too many.
*Name changed to protect identity.
originally published: https://plan-international.org/GirlsRightsGazette2015