I’ve been a die-hard feminist at the global summit fringe over the past week – there every day from morning until late evening, running around trying to fit everything in all at once. Though the fringe was smaller than I expected, with less integration of events in the real summit into the fringe than I would have liked, it was a terrific event. There literally was too much to do, and to attend every discussion panel and workshop, theatre and musical performance, film screening and Q & A would have meant splitting myself into five different people.
Stand-out points for me were the screenings of Girl Rising and Banaz: A Love Story – both films dealing with the deeper patriarchal roots of discrimination and violence against women. Whilst the summit has only focused on conflict, there was an atmosphere throughout events at the fringe of catalysing a more holistic change both in peacetime and conflict – which is exactly what’s needed in the long-term. More on this in a second.
From the performance stage, Musicians Without Borders, an NGO using musical expression to help refugees deal with the traumas of conflict, gave a fantastic performance mixing elements from Eastern Europe, Africa and the Middle East – with an Iranian guy on percussion I could have listened to forever.
Plan UK also ran several small talks and workshops; Dr Chris Dolan’s session on male victims of sexual violence in conflict was shocking and enlightening all at once. He drew attention to the fact that male survivors are comparatively sidelined to women and girls in terms of visibility, funding, training for humanitarian workers and programmes of support and rehabilitation. From the Refugee Law Project’s work in Uganda, screening of refugees revealed that 1 in 3 victims of sexual violence were MEN. Think on that statistic.
The talk on men returning from conflict and their subsequent violence continued this male focus, but was slightly overshadowed by the appearance of Angelina Jolie halfway through. And I was excited just to hear Laura Bates (of the Everyday Sexism Project) talk. Naila Kabeer gave an incredibly engaging argument for a sustainable post-2015 framework in a separate panel with Justine Greening MP.
On Thursday, the failure of Theresa May MP to turn up to her own talk on modern slavery and trafficking was met with unplanned protests against the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s policies of detention and refusal to grant asylum for survivors of sexual violence. Further protests also manifested outside the fringe later that afternoon, against the absence of Bangladeshi rape survivors’ voices at the summit (see below).
I think the rising atmosphere of discontent on the final day of the fringe reflected my own dissatisfaction at some aspects of how the event was organised, and indeed the summit.
Whilst the array of events on offer have been great in raising public awareness – I’ve absolutely gained some new knowledge on this issue – I wish that the summit itself had been more open. I want to know who exactly was involved in discussions, who decided who should be involved, and what weighting was given to each of those voices?
Particularly as I spent more time at the fringe, the absence of certain voices became more obvious. Where were the trans and LGB representatives? Why were there no groups speaking up for non-normative genders, sexes and sexualities? Largely the focus was on heterosexual violence against women by men, with a smaller emphasis on male victims sexually assaulted by male perpetrators.
So where are the queer voices? Perhaps it’s down to a lack academic interest in collecting differentiated statistics from refugee populations or those living in conflict – but that doesn’t seem like a valid excuse to me. If a new approach to ending sexual violence in conflict is about to be enshrined in international legislation, and ratified by nations across the world, the gender binary which exists in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and all it’s clauses defining what constitutes sexual violence, needs to be deconstructed – as this is what informs domestic legislature.
For the purpose of this Statute, it is understood that the term ‘gender’ refers to the two sexes, male and female, within the context of society. The term ‘gender’ does not indicate any meaning different from the above. (Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, Article 7, paragraph 3)
Put simply, if we only legally recognise two sexes (male and female) we risk making non-conforming individuals and communities, who have suffered sexual violence in conflict, invisible. Take for example, female to male transitioning individuals; rape can be used as a tool to degrade and deny that person’s transitioning identity as male, by reminding them in the most intimate way possible that they still have a vagina. Male to female transitioning individuals might alternatively be raped with the intention of degrading them as a ‘woman’, because they express a female gender identity and thus ‘deserve’ to be subordinated; or those with male genitalia might be assaulted on the premise that ‘male rape’ is impossible, and cannot therefore have been a victim.
These are just some of the circumstances narrated to me during my time in Bangalore, working with various sexual minority charities, and occurred during peacetime. Given that sexual violence increases during conflicts, it seems reasonable to estimate an increase in the number of victims not conforming to ‘male’ and ‘female’ sex categories, which begs the question, “Why are they being ignored?”
We must recognise the prevalence of sexual violence against men and boys in order to prioritise their needs alongside women and girls, but if this summit is to represent a landmark global change in attitudes and humanitarian response to sexual
violence in conflict, why are we ignoring certain victims? ‘One is enough’ as a motto for action should equally apply to the whole rainbow spectrum of LGBTQIA+ individuals as it does to women. Why would the international community choose to ignore certain groups for the next 10-15 years by failing to protect them in the legal framework? Legal provision can lead to implementation, which leads to programmes being delivered and survivors having their needs met. I don’t understand what would stop the world from wanting all people to be safe and supported, and I just hope that these voices have a say in what emerges in the post-2015 framework.