A research agenda for sexual violence in humanitarian, conflict and post-conflict settings - executive summary
Conflict-related sexual violence has been a feature of war for generations, and in many places around the world. In recent years, however, members of the international community including, United Nations Action against Sexual Violence in Conflict (UN Action), governments, humanitarian organizations, grassroots movements, and researchers, have challenged the notion that rape and other forms of sexual assault and abuse are an inevitable part of conflict, and that the needs of conflict-related sexual violence survivors are not a priority. There has been growth in the number and scale of programs to address the needs of female sexual violence survivors in humanitarian, conflict and post-conflict situations, as well as increasing efforts aimed at preventing sexual violence. Yet it is a complex issue, and the needs of both women and men, and girls and boys, who live with the health, social, psychological, justice, and economic consequences of sexual violence, and the challenges of preventing conflictrelated sexual violence, continue to outstrip available resources.
Agencies working in conflict and post-conflict settings are increasingly undertaking research on sexual violence, either on their own or with the support of academic institutions and researchers. The increase in research on sexual violence in these contexts has been driven by a growing concern about the scale of the problem; as well as the importance for prevention and response of having data on the magnitude and nature of sexual violence in conflict situations; the vulnerabilities of women and children in conflict; the risk factors for perpetration; the short, medium and long term service needs of victims/survivors; and the effectiveness of interventions to prevent and respond to sexual violence. In spite of the clear needs for and increased efforts to collect these data, the evidence base remains scant.
In order to advance the field in a more systematic way, and ensure that research efforts make the best use of limited resources, it is necessary to identify strategic priorities for research over the next five years. This will facilitate resource requests for research on conflict-related sexual violence, and help findings to be better utilized to inform programs and policy. As part of the knowledge building work of UN Action, the World Health Organization (WHO), in collaboration with the Sexual Violence Research Initiative (SVRI) has supported the development of this research agenda on sexual violence in conflict and post-conflict settings.
The process of developing the research agenda was multi-staged and consultative. First, WHO/SVRI created an advisory board consisting of 15 experts from UN agencies, NGOs, and academic bodies to generate ten key themes within conflict-related sexual violence that require additional research. Second, an on-line survey was used to gather the views of a wide variety of practitioners and researchers working on these issues worldwide. The survey was available in both English and French. A total of 176 surveys were completed, 156 in English and 20 in French. Participants in the on-line survey prioritized the ten key research themes, and identified specific research questions within each theme that need to be addressed in order to inform programmatic efforts to prevent and respond to conflict-related sexual violence.
At the same time, a review of the existing literature on these issues was undertaken, including both the key themes identified through the consultative process and other issues that have been described in published research findings and other reports. This paper summarizes the key outcomes of this process.