What is the evidence of the impact of initiatives to reduce risk and incidence of sexual violence in conflict and post-conflict zones and other humanitarian crises in lower- and middle-income countries?

New research commissioned by AusAID highlights the urgent need for increased action to prevent sexual violence during conflict and after crises. Hundreds of thousands of women are affected by sexual violence during conflict, and many more are at risk.

The research reviewed 40 studies from across 26 countries and draws together evidence on how to respond to and prevent sexual violence against women during conflict, after conflict and in other humanitarian crises. The findings from the Systematic Review on Sexual Violence in Conflict come just ahead of Australia’s participation in the United Nations Security Council open debate on sexual violence in conflict in New York on 24 June. This meeting, to be chaired by UK Foreign Minister Hague, will focus on how the international community can work more effectively to prevent sexual violence in conflict.

According to the United Nations, hundreds of thousands of women were raped during the Rwanda genocide, as many as 64,000 internally displaced women experienced sexual violence by armed combatants during the conflict in Sierra Leone and between 20,000 and 50,000 women were raped in the Herzegovina war.

The Review identified several innovative practices that can be used in future interventions to address sexual violence in conflict. For example, in Uganda, traditional rituals have been included in rehabilitation programs for adolescents who were both survivors and perpetrators of atrocities during conflict. Similarly, three studies described how firewood distribution, patrols and alternative fuels reduced opportunistic sexual violence in refugee camps by minimising women’s need to leave camps to gather firewood. In addition to the distribution of firewood, portable fuel-efficient stoves, support for the construction of solar cookers and firewood patrols were used in two Kenyan refugee camps as well as a refugee camp in Darfur.

Importantly, the Systematic Review noted that strategies of anonymity for survivors of sexual violence increased the use of support services and diminished social stigmas. Interventions examined in the Congo have provided increased anonymity through the use of well-trained specialist providers and locating the services within hospitals, rather than as stand-alone easily identifiable services.

The debate at the UN on 24 June will focus on effective justice for crimes of sexual violence in conflict. The Australian aid program is working with the international community to support programs that help prevent and respond to sexual violence in conflict; and to increase the evidence base on what works.

This AusAID funded research is part of Australia’s broader support for international efforts to prevent and respond to sexual violence in conflict. The Systematic Review titled 'What is the evidence of the impact of initiatives to reduce risk and incidence of sexual violence in conflict and post-conflict zones and other humanitarian crises in lower- and middle-income countries?' will be a useful resource for future interventions to address sexual violence in conflict.