Empowerment of women and gender equality make a strong shield against sexual war crimes in conflicts.
Last week saw the largest ever Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflicts in London. For the first time issues related to women’s security and safety in war zones was raised as the main topic of a high level meeting, co-chaired by Foreign Minister William Hague of the United Kingdom and Angelina Jolie, Special Envoy for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. The conference speakers represented all corners of the world and every sector relevant to the topic, and the message emerging from them all was very clear: the time to act is now.
Pekka Haavisto, Finland’s Minister for International Development, delivered a speech highlighting the importance of empowerment of women, and the vitality of equal participation of women in political processes as the best preventive measure to stop sexual violence. This is Finland’s priority and field which the Finnish development aid has been focusing already in since 2009.
Sexual violence is widely and deliberately used as a weapon of war in conflicts. In spite of being horrendous crimes against humanity, sexual war crimes are too often left without consequences to perpetrators. Sexual crimes have a devastating impact on victims' lives and on whole society. The stigma of the crime is carried by the victims, not the criminals.
Sexual violence can no longer be ignored by the modern world. Criminalizing sexual violence in the war zones and ending the impunity, supporting the victims of the sexual crimes, and moving the shame from victims to criminals were discussed in the summit to end sexual violence in conflicts. The victims should be also guaranteed reliable access to report the offense, and they should be given a chance to take the case to the court free of charges.
Finland is a pioneer of gender equality, which gives the country a credible background to help other countries to empower women. Tradition in equality has long roots in Finnish history. Finnish women were the first in the world to get the full political and voting rights in 1905, and nineteen women were elected to the Parliament in the elections in 1907. Active participation to society has been the key in the fight for equality.
Finland stands for its values, and this year two million euros from the development cooperation funds are given to support United Nations' Stop Rape Now -initiative. Officially named as UN Action against Sexual Violence in Conflict, initiative helps the survivors of sexual crimes in conflict zones, and finds ways to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon. The initiative also helps the process of the survivors to get their case heard in a court. Zainab Bangura, Sierra Leonean politician and social activist, is leading the Stop Rape Now, which unites the work of 13 UN entities.
This year the main focus of Stop Rape Now is to empower women. The aim is to change women's mindset from victim to survivor, and onwards to help them to be influential people in the society. To gain gender equality, it is important to have women in every step of decision making processes and in the peace negotiation processes. Women should have an access to every top stages of society.
Finland also supports financially International Criminal Court’s (ICC) Trust Fund for Victims, UN Team of Experts on Sexual Violence in Conflict and Justice Rapid Response -mechanism, to get the most serious crimes against humanity to the court. JRR maintains a roster of experts who are in the readiness to go to the conflict zones to collect the evidence of the crimes to make justice happen.