Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV)
Upholding the right not to be subjected to abuse, harassment, exploitation or discrimination
JRS strongly condemns the use of SGBV in any form and for whatever objective. We uphold human dignity, insisting on the right of security to each person, and freedom from sexual abuse, harassment and discrimination.

JRS is an implementing partner for the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) and other donors in projects aimed at preventing and responding to SGBV in situations of displacement. Such work includes legal and psychological services for SGBV survivors including refugees, internally displaced persons (IDPs) and victims of human trafficking. Educational initiatives and awareness-raising about SGBV are held for men and women in detention facilities, reception centres and affected communities.



  • Campaign
  • JRS position
  • In practice
Stop Rape and Gender Violence in Conflict

Rape and gender violence destroy individuals and families, entire communities and the fabric of society. These acts have increasingly become a deliberate tactic of terror in war and other conflict situations. Exile is a ramification of war, so there is synergy between the work of JRS and this campaign, particularly as SGBV is a constant and pressing issue in so many places like Colombia, DRC or Burma. I do believe that with enough of us working together we can make a difference in stopping these horrors and ending impunity.

Large numbers of refugees and internally displaced persons suffer sexual- and gender based violence in their homes, while they flee and once they arrive in their new host communities, be they urban areas or camps. Present in more than 50 countries worldwide, JRS teams are often witnesses to these atrocities on a daily basis, and membership in the campaign offers enhanced opportunities to raise awareness of these crimes and promote political action.

It is the priority of JRS is to spread the word about this new initiative and find innovative solutions to this heinous crime, affecting an ever-growing number of women and girls each year.

Following the 2011 decision by the 10 JRS regional directors to select sexual- and gender-based violence as an advocacy priority, the organisation has been seeking ways to raise public awareness of and public action on this issue.

Until now, commitments to end rape and gender violence in war and other conflict situations have been either seriously inadequate or simply not enforced. JRS supports the view that it is time to demand powerful, urgent leadership at the local, national, regional and international levels to:
  • prevent and stop rape and gender violence in conflict situations.
  • dramatically increase prevention and protection resources, psychosocial and physical healing for survivors, their families and communities, including a concerted effort to end stigma of survivors; and
  • justice for victims including prosecution of perpetrators at all levels of society, and comprehensive reparation for survivors.
As well as bringing the perspective of refugees and internally displaced persons to the campaign, JRS teams have large and diverse networks with which to share information on sexual violence, and a grassroots organisational focus on prevention and protection supporting women and communities. JRS teams provide psychosocial services and assist working groups and committees to develop appropriate advocacy and protection actions.

In more detail. The global cooperative effort was launched on 6 May 2012 by Nobel peace laureates, international advocacy organisations and groups working on conflict at regional and community levels.

The mission statement of the new campaign is to unite organisations and individuals into a powerful and coordinated effort for change and to demand bold political leadership to prevent rape in conflict, to protect civilians and rape survivors, and call for justice for all – including effective prosecution of those responsible.

Although the geographical focus is expected to expand, the campaign is currently focusing on Burma, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Kenya, because they represent places where immediate, coordinated action is most urgently needed. JRS has teams present in all of these countries except Burma, in which case the organisation is working on the Thai-Burma border.

http://www.stoprapeinconflict.org

JRS Working Paper on Sexual and Gender-Based Violence

Sexual- and gender-based violence (SGBV) encompasses a single act or a series of actions intended to inflict physical or psychological harm on a specific individual or group of persons primarily because of their sex (that is the biological distinction as male or female) or because of their gender (the social roles, identities and responsibilities created within the society). Sexual violence in particular, comprises any aggressive act of a sexual nature. Examples include rape (including mass rape), sodomy, indecent assault, forced incest, forced pregnancy, genital mutilation, sexual exploitation and/or abuse.

Gender-based violence extends to physical and emotional harm or the deprivation of one's rights or opportunities because of one's identity in society. Forced and early marriages, spousal beatings, oppressive child labour and domestic enslavement are widely witnessed forms of gender-based violence. In accordance with various international law conventions, protocols and resolutions, SGBV can be characterised as war crimes, genocide and/or crimes against humanity, depending on the extent and context of the commission of the crimes. Consequently, the perpetrators can be subjected to international criminal jurisdiction such as the International Criminal Court.

The increasing number of cases of sexual and gender-based violence in conflict, post-conflict and peaceful situations have jolted the United Nations, humanitarian agencies and governments to hasten their efforts in finding effective strategies to address this pandemic. In particular, the use of sexual violence has reached epic proportions – especially in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where it has been termed as the 'rape capital of the world' by Margot Wallström, the Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict for the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

Strong condemnation against the use of sexual violence in conflict situations has continued to gather momentum in the recent past. The UN Security Council Resolution 1820 adopted on 19 June 2008, noted the systematic use of sexual violence as a "tactic of war to humiliate, dominate, instil fear in, disperse and/or forcibly relocate civilian members of a community or ethnic group." 

The underlying purpose of SGBV is primarily to reinforce the stereotypical power dynamics over a person. In armed conflicts, sexual violence is often used as a means to subjugate or suppress the defeated population, especially where the population is forced to witness such atrocities. In other cases such as the rape of minors or virgins, the use of SGBV makes the perpetrator feel invincible or fulfil a mythical belief of being cured of illnesses such as HIV/AIDS.

Whichever way it is used, SGBV clearly perpetuates the deprivation of a person's fundamental rights and freedoms. It degrades the dignity and self-worth of an individual. For men whose wives and daughters fall victim to SGBV, the reality that they cannot protect them from this violence buttresses their incapacity to act as protectors of their households. Consequently, communities that experience a high number of SGBV cases become enfeebled and this results in the disintegration of the social fabric, which may be the objective of the perpetrators.

It is widely recognised that the majority of the victims of SGBV are women and girls, although reported cases show increasing trends of sexual violence directed against men and boys. Those adversely affected are victims who have some form of disability, single women and children. The obvious effects can be physical, resulting in sexually transmitted infections like HIV. The resultant emotional and psychological trauma is often much more severe, longer-lasting and sometimes difficult to overcome especially when compounded by stigmatisation and unwanted pregnancies.

Documented perpetrators of SGBV have included civilians, armed combatants allied to government or rebel groups, humanitarian workers and local authorities tasked with protecting civilians. Victims are attacked in or while en route to their homes, in public or social places, in displacement or refugee camps, during flight from their home countries and in their places or countries of asylum.

Impunity and lack of justice has fuelled the rise in SGBV incidences. Many SGBV cases go unreported because victims/survivors fear retaliation against them and their families, by the perpetrators who issue credible threats against them if they report the incident to the authorities. In many cases, victims are subjected to extortion by law enforcement authorities as a pre-condition to accessing judicial or health facilities.

Inaccessibility to the justice system has also been a contributing factor to the spread of SGBV cases. In situations where refugee/displacement camps that are located far from urban centres, gaining access to health or judicial systems is problematic and the victim is often forced to bear the cost of accessing them. There may be few – if any – courts, lawyers, magistrates or judges to prosecute SGBV cases as well.

For some of the cases reported to authorities, impunity has been rife, resulting in cases not being properly prosecuted. Reports of perpetrators colluding with corrupt law-enforcement authorities to evade justice and prosecution are common. Victims may also be reluctant to provide comprehensive testimonies against perpetrators, fearing reprisal, stigmatisation or ostracisation from their own families and communities. 

Involvement of JRS
The Jesuit Refugee Service strongly condemns the use of sexual and gender-based violence in any form and for whatever objective. JRS upholds the dignity of the human person, freedom from discrimination and right to the security of the person. JRS believes in reversing the discriminatory effects for victims in order to restore and reinforce their competence and self-worth.

Over the years, JRS has made tremendous contributions to the field of SGBV. In its projects, JRS supports access to health care, preventative education and legal justice for SGBV victims and survivors – either as individuals or as groups. JRS directly provides safe havens, mental health care services, psychosocial support for survivors and advocacy for effective durable solutions for those who are continually at risk. JRS has also been an implementing partner for UNHCR and other donor-funded projects aimed at preventing and responding to SGBV.

This includes providing legal and psychological services to SGBV survivors in displacement as well as to victims of human trafficking. Education initiatives and awareness-raising on SGBV have been given both to men and women in detention facilities, reception centres and in both post-conflict and non-conflict communities. JRS also contributes through collaborative research projects, conferences, publications, developing training manuals and tools on various SGBV-related issues.

Necessary changes
In order to subdue the prevalence of SGBV worldwide, the starting point is in recognising that it is not a short-term process. The time to strengthen weak social structures, enforcement policies and persistently to raise awareness on SGBV-related issues is long overdue. In addition, effective legislative, judicial and social systems, tied to strong political will by governments and civil society to address this pandemic is needed. 

Recommendations
To governments
  • Develop 'zero tolerance' policies for SGBV and enshrine these policies in each country's legislation, judicial (including military) courts and social systems.
  • Strengthen political will and promote rule of law and good governance to counter impunity.
  • Accord legal, social and health assistance and easy access to the justice system to victims through the provision of free legal aid/counsel, free mobile health services and mobile courts especially in remote areas and refugee/displacement camps. In addition, prosecute corrupt officials who facilitate impunity and evasion of justice.
  • Commit to the creation and implementation of policies that favour the rehabilitation of perpetrators; to a healing process for victims and their communities; and to the promotion of reconciliation and the restoration of human dignity.
  • Re-emphasise state responsibility and action through the combined use of national, regional and international conventions, treaties and protocols that identify, criminalise and punish sexual and gender-based violence.
  • Renew calls to donors to fund adequately and commit resources to NGOs, such as JRS, working on various activities aimed at assisting survivors of SGBV and preventing the spread of this menace.
To the donor community
  • Increase support and funding for programmes that respond to the physical, psychological, health and social needs of victims and survivors of SGBV.
To humanitarian agencies assisting survivors of SGBV
  • Constitute realistic and effective multisectoral projects which respond to the physical, psychological and medical/health needs of affected persons – such as promoting gender equality, social and economic empowerment for women and girls to reduce their vulnerability to SGBV in the community.
  • Include pastoral care and guidance for communities in tandem with established social structures which raise awareness and speak against the use of SGBV, in particular making societies aware that victims must not be rejected from communities.
  • Strengthen support mechanisms for victims, such as the provision of counselling, healthcare, safe havens or protection houses.
To the UN and its agencies
  • JRS welcomes progress by the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) in developing policy and guidance in the area of SGBV, in particular its new five-year SGBV strategy. JRS looks forward to working with UNHCR to ensure its effective implementation wherever we are implementing partners.
  • While the mainstreaming of SGBV programmes needs to continue, JRS calls on the UNHCR to confirm its commitment to stand-alone SGBV programmes. Such programmes will help build the SGBV expertise required to support successful mainstreaming.
  • JRS notes UNHCR's efforts to reduce the risk of SGBV through effective lifestyle programming which aims to make women less dependent on men, and encourage UNHCR to ensure that beneficiaries of these programmes can control their income. A specific priority area in preventing SGBV is to ensure safe access to cooking fuel.
  • Specifically in DRC, we call on UNHCR to ensure that the leadership of the protection cluster – which as in other countries plays a pivotal role in coordinating protection work – is adequately staffed and funded.
  • In peace-keeping operations, the UN must re-affirm its commitment to civilian protection against sexual violence during armed conflict
  • Actively to involve other humanitarian agencies through information-sharing and collaborative partnerships that will ensure better redress of protection-related concerns on SGBV cases.
  • UNHCR should establish and maintain 'zero tolerance' policies within its workforce. Staff members and peace-keepers must adhere to the Code of Conduct and effective measures should be taken when this Code of Conduct is breached.
General comments
  • Any form of sexual and gender-based violence constitutes a violation of the fundamental rights and freedoms of the human person, dignity and self-worth.
  • SGBV can constitute genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, which are prosecutable under national and international criminal law, for which each perpetrator will be held individually or jointly liable.
  • Re-emphasise the importance of accessing health, psychosocial and legal/judicial support from government authorities, community members and humanitarian agencies.
  • Consider the best interests of the victim in assessing necessary action steps, especially where the victim is a child.
  • Establish a community-based system to reintegrate the victim, while using participatory models by the victim, community members and where applicable, the perpetrator.
In practice – JRS responses

The Jesuit Refugee Service strongly condemns the use of sexual and gender-based violence in any form and for whatever objective. JRS upholds the dignity of the human person, freedom from discrimination and right to the security of the person. JRS believes in reversing the discriminatory effects for victims in order to restore and reinforce their competence and self-worth.

Over the years, JRS has made tremendous contributions to the field of SGBV. In its projects, JRS supports access to health care, preventative education and legal justice for SGBV victims and survivors – either as individuals or as groups. JRS directly provides safe havens, mental health care services, psychosocial support for survivors and advocacy for effective durable solutions for those who are continually at risk. JRS has also been an implementing partner for UNHCR and other donor-funded projects aimed at preventing and responding to SGBV.

This includes providing legal and psychological services to SGBV survivors in displacement as well as to victims of human trafficking. Education initiatives and awareness-raising on SGBV have been given both to men and women in detention facilities, reception centres and in both post-conflict and non-conflict communities. JRS also contributes through collaborative research projects, conferences, publications, developing training manuals and tools on various SGBV-related issues.

An illustration of these efforts is the participation of JRS in the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence, a global campaign seeking to mobilise communities around the world to end all forms of gender violence.

JRS supports access to and sometimes provides healthcare – including mental healthcare, psychosocial support and safe havens – and legal aid for SGBV survivors, as well as preventative education. JRS also advocates for effective durable solutions for those at continued risk.

In Malta, JRS has employed the services of a psychologist and a nurse to offer treatment and support to victims of SGBV. JRS Malta holds group sessions with SGBV victims who are in detention, and publishes information leaflets to raise public awareness.

As part of its mandate to empower refugees through non-formal education, JRS Ethiopia raises awareness about obstetric fistula (or vaginal fistula), a medical condition primarily affecting women and girls in developing countries, which is caused by factors contributing to complications in childbirth, child marriage, female genital mutilation and gang rape. Women with fistulas are often rejected and abandoned by their communities.

"We now see the extreme need to protect women from dehumanising acts and to stand up for their rights. We will make sure that we will protect women’s rights every day; protecting women means protecting society", said a refugee.