18 months after Angelina Jolie's sexual violence summit, 2016 is the #TimeToAct
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Almost two years ago, I participated in what was described as the “largest gathering” ever on the topic of ending sexual violence in conflict. The 2014 Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict summit was hosted by UN Special Envoy and Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie and the then UK Foreign Secretary William Hague, and I am extremely privileged to have played a part in .
I still have fond memories of the summit, not just because I had the opportunity of meeting Angelina Jolie (which was awesome), but because, for some of us, it was an opportunity that made us realise that there was something greater than the sum of us happening. It was the realisation that we were part of a very promising summit.
In 2016, the issue of ending sexual violence and conflict is still very musan issue worth discussing, so I thought I'd share my experience of the 2014 summit:
The summit took place between June 10th and 13th at the ExCel in London. It saw a coalition of great efforts and great minds uniting to tackle an issue that has been addressed as a peripheral matter for long enough.
Sexual violence in conflict has traditionally been deemed to be an inevitable consequence of wars or conflict. This is because there are always casualties of war and that is just the way it is, right? The Swedish Pop group ABBA (very old school reference) sums it best in the title of their hit song: The Winner Takes It All. This mind-set is wrong, though, because even war has its rules.
After the Napoleonic wars of the Nineteenth Century major-general of Prussia, Von Clausewitz, wrote that "War is a mere continuation of policy by other means… war is not merely a political act, but also a real political instrument, a continuation of political commerce, a carrying out of the same by other means".
So war should be a last resort, when diplomacy fails. This is, at least, the ideal. One could elaborate on the chasm between the ideal and the reality on the battlefield, but to do so would not be entirely profitable because it is perhaps obvious. The 1949 Geneva Conventions is just an example of a provision in International Law governing conduct in war (it has minimal application in peace time).
The Lion King is my favourite cartoon of all time. Last year I had the opportunity to FINALLY watch the musical (I totally recommend it!). There is a scene in the cartoon where Timone tells Simba (the lead character) “look, kid, bad things happen and you can’t do anything about it - right?” Timone answers his own question in the negative. Timone’s right! There is something we can do and it’s not to turn our back on the world as Timone suggested. Indeed, one solution to the sexual violence epidemic is to unite the world and deal with the issue.
Sexual violence against women in particular has been in used in the past as a targeted and deliberate weapon of warfare in order to expunge an ethnic group (ethnic cleansing) – the Rwandan conflict springs to mind – and commit other atrocities that cannot be expressed in words. The agony of the victims cannot be imagined; during the summit, one such victim could only express her experience thorough a song. That was a moving moment and it was as if time had stopped ticking for a moment to express sympathy for her.
From diplomats to dancers, politicians to plumbers, journalists to janitors; people from all walks of life and all over the world, filled with a desire and passion for change, resolved that it was ‘Time to Act’ – which was the theme of the summit. To slightly paraphrase the exordium of Dr Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech: I am happy to say this will go down in history as one of the greatest demonstrations for freedom and justice in the history of humanity.
The objective of the summit was to ‘create a sense of irreversible movement towards ending the use of rape and sexual violence in conflict’. This would be achieved by delivering ‘a set of practical agreements that bring together, and focus on the efforts of conflict-affected countries, donors, the UN and other multilateral organisations, NGOs and civil society in an ambitious and cohesive programme for change’.
This was a huge undertaking, but it is history in the making. I really feel privileged to be a part of it. During the summit, I was involved in a hackathon event. A hackathon is an event where people (with different skills and experiences) unite to use address social problems with technological solutions. I believe that with technology, we can impact future generations in present times.
The hackathon, organised by Chayn in collaboration with the Embassy of Sweden et al, comprised of six teams, and each time comprised of several participants.
For three tiring days, I worked on a project with an amazing team. We had a psychology expert, a journalist, a graphic designer, a coder; I brought my knowledge of law and diplomacy to the table. It was truly as the Latin phrase goes, a consensus ad idem (a meeting of minds) –a meeting of great minds, a more perfect union and I am pleased with the technological solution we came up with by the third day. It was a novel communication device for victims.
Our challenge as ‘hackers’ to create a technological solution to combat sexual violence in conflict was described as “idealist, realist and activist”. It is idealistic because as the lyrics to Sam Cooke’s song goes we know ‘a change is gonna come’. It is realistic because technology can be a driver for that change. It is activist because we reject an awful status quo and advocate change – change we can believe in, as US President Barack Obama put it.
This summit issued a clarion call to the world, and the world is responding a year and a half later.
From the #bringbackourgirls campaign after the kidnapping of the Nigerian girls by Boko Haram (which arguably led the media to give more attention to the kidnapping than they mighthave done otherwise), to the unity March in France that demonstrated that the force of unity is greater than the unity of force, it is clear that the world has the capacity to care.
Perhaps in 2016, though, we could step it up. Let's not just care, let's care to take action about a cause we care about - whatever it is. It doesn't have to be life-changing. It might be about ending sexual violence in conflict, or maybe it's that there aren't enough pizzas in your hall of residence – perhaps, start a Pizza Appreciation Society!
In all seriousness, though, I leave you with a final quote by Descartes which is "I think therefore I am". Personally, I'm more inclined to "I do, therefore I am" - and in 2016, so should you be too.