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Eliminating Barriers to End Sexual Violence in Conflict

By Mia Zickerman-White
A crime that remains one of the greatest challenges to global sustainable development.

Perpetrated as a weapon of war, Conflict-Related Sexual Violence (CSRV) impacts some of the world’s most vulnerable individuals. Not only does it pose devastating long-term consequences for survivors, but it also ravages the social fabric of families and wider communities. CRSV is no longer seen as an inevitable by-product of conflict but is recognised as something preventable and punishable under international Human Rights Law, Humanitarian Law, and International Criminal Law.  


Caption: © UN Photo/Myriam Asmani. Women living in a remote community in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). This photo is for the purpose of illustration only. Persons featured in the photo are not necessarily survivors of CRSV.

The Women, Peace and Security (WPS) Agenda (SCR 1325) was inaugurated over 22 years ago with its unanimous adoption by the UN Security Council. One of the central pillars of the WPS Agenda was the directive to prevent sexual violence in conflict. Despite state and UN commitments to tackle this heinous crime, evidence suggests that at least 20-30% of women continue to face sexual violence in conflict.

What is CRSV?

The UN defines CRSV as “rape, sexual slavery, forced prostitution, forced pregnancy, forced abortion, enforced sterilisation, forced marriage and any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity perpetrated against women, men, girls or boys that is directly or indirectly linked to a conflict.”  

Primarily, CRSV is perpetrated as part of a wider strategy of violence, for political, military, or economic motivations to control territories or resources, and to inflict deliberate harm and trauma on civilians. CRSV is therefore always perpetrated in the unique context of conflict or fragility. 

The latest report of the UN Secretary-General on CRSV details a number of countries where incidents of CRSV have been reported, and names additional countries as situations of concern. These include countries such as South Sudan, Iraq, Libya and Somalia, all contexts in which CTG is supporting critical humanitarian operations. Many of these countries are victim to protracted conflicts sometimes spanning over many decades. In many cases, such conflicts lead to the breakdown of government infrastructure and the provision of essential services to its people. These conditions lend themselves to a culture of impunity, where war crimes such as CRSV are carried out without punishment or consequences. 

Caption: © UN Photo/JC Mcllwaine. A view of women on the way to collect water near the river in Rumbek, South Sudan. This photo is for the purpose of illustration only. Persons featured in the photo are not necessarily survivors of CRSV.

One of the World’s Most Under-Reported Crimes

CRSV is war’s oldest but most silenced crime. In 2021, the UN verified over 3,000 cases; this number however does not reflect its full scale and prevalence across fragile and conflict-affected contexts. Contexts of impunity, people’s lack of knowledge of support available to survivors and the social stigma attached to CRSV are only some of the factors that play into the significant underreporting of CRSV. Survivors often face discrimination and marginalisation by their families and communities in the aftermath, conditions which often exacerbate the physical and emotional turmoil they are already facing as a result of the incident.  

Some of the major root causes of CRSV include pre-existing gender-based inequalities, patriarchal social structures, misogyny, and discrimination.

How Can We Eliminate Barriers to End Sexual Violence in Conflict?

Driven by the prevention and response activities of the UN Action Network, the UN is making strides in helping to eliminate barriers to end sexual violence in conflict. However, everyone has a role to play. Some of the major root causes of CRSV include pre-existing gender-based inequalities, patriarchal social structures, misogyny, and discrimination. These are all conditions that any individual, organisation or institution can play a role in addressing.  

This is especially true of the private sector, which is increasingly being recognised as a major contributor to global sustainable development. According to the World Economic Forum, the private sector provides nearly 90% of jobs globally. This uniquely broad scope means that by taking action to minimise social risks and setting high standards of conduct, businesses and their staff, especially those operating in conflict-affected contexts, can become influential agents of change. 

Last year, CTG was honoured to have collaborated with UN Action against Sexual Violence in Conflict (UN Action) to publish a white paper highlighting how the private sector can help to prevent and respond to Conflict-Related Sexual Violence (CRSV). Titled ‘Addressing CRSV: Private Sector Opportunities for Engagement’, the paper set out a number of practical and straightforward actions that any private sector organisation can adopt to support the UN’s strategic goals. Despite this, many of the concepts and actions covered can also be replicated on an individual level as well as by other non-governmental organisations or entities.  

To mark the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict, we invite you to revisit our white paper to see what role you can play to help end CRSV.