There are stories so harrowing that they seem almost impossible to tell. Stories of darkness so profound that they defy our understanding of what it means to be human. Sexual violence as a weapon of war is a grim reality that lurks in the shadows of conflict, often hidden from the world’s gaze. As we observe the International Day to Eliminate Sexual Violence in Conflict, we invite you to reflect on this hidden horror, on the silence that surrounds it, and on the need for a collective awakening.

War is a brutal teacher. It lays bare the depths of human cruelty and the boundless capacity for suffering. Yet, within the chaos of battle and the devastation of conflict, there exists a particularly egregious form of violenceβ€”one that targets the very essence of humanity. Sexual violence in war is not a side effect; it is a deliberate weapon, wielded to terrorise, to dominate, and to destroy.

Our sisters live and work in 21 countries around the world, across 4 continents. Many of these are conflict zones, whether ongoing or sporadic. They have witnessed the aftermath of brutal civil wars, they have seen how ongoing violence displaces thousands daily. They have sat with women in churches, classrooms, halls and huts, offering a listening ear and a gentle touch to those who have endured horrific sexual violence. They have walked alongside survivors in remote areas, providing comfort and hope through counselling sessions under the shade of trees.

They have taught essential skills and provided education to empower women, helping them to reclaim their lives and identities. In every place they have been, they have prayed with these women, sharing moments of quiet reflection and resilience, nurturing the strength within each soul they encounter. Often, they collaborate with other organisations, pooling resources and expertise to amplify their impact. Through their ongoing work, they have touched countless lives, offering solace and solidarity to those who have experienced the unspeakable.

Think of the countless women and girls, their bodies used as battlegrounds in conflicts not of their making. Think of the men and boys who are also victimised, their suffering often ignored. These are not just statistics or headlines; these are lives irrevocably altered, souls scarred in ways that many of us can scarcely comprehend.

 

The Silence

 

Why, then, do we not hear more about these atrocities? Why does the world so often turn a blind eye? The answers are complex. Stigma, fear, and a pervasive culture of impunity create a wall of silence. Survivors are left to bear their pain in isolation, their stories untold, their cries unheard. Yet, in recent years, this silence has begun to fracture. Brave survivors are stepping forward, their voices rising above the din of indifference, demanding to be seen and heard.

It takes enormous courage to speak out, to lay bare one’s wounds in a world that so often prefers not to look. These voices, though, are vital. They force us to confront a reality we might prefer to ignore. They remind us of our shared humanity and our collective responsibility.

We cannot underestimate the importance of listeningβ€”not just hearing, but truly listening. We must listen with our hearts, allowing ourselves to be moved, to be changed. We must approach this issue not with prescriptive solutions or hollow platitudes, but with deep empathy and a willingness to understand.

The path to addressing sexual violence in conflict is not straightforward. It requires us to confront uncomfortable truths, to challenge deeply entrenched systems of power and oppression. It calls on us to advocate for justice and support for survivors in ways that are thoughtful and profound.

 

There is Hope in Solidarity

 

In thinking about the way forward, we can find hope in the power of solidarity. When we stand with survivors, when we amplify their voices and support their healing, we begin to weave a fabric of resistance against this violence. Legal frameworks and accountability are crucial, yes, but so too are compassion, understanding, and unwavering support for those affected.

We must also reflect on the role of education and awareness. By bringing these stories into the light, by talking about the unspeakable, we begin to erode the stigma and fear that allows these atrocities to continue. In our communities, in our schools, in our places of worship, we must create spaces where these conversations can happen, where survivors can find support and solidarity.

Change begins with awareness and empathy, with the simple yet profound act of bearing witness.

While not all of us hold sway in policy or international courts, there are some profound actions we can undertake in order to make a difference:

Raise Awareness: Begin dialogues within your community and social circles about the profound impact of conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV). Share stories, articles, or documentaries that illuminate this issue, fostering understanding and empathy.

Support Advocacy Efforts: Align yourself with organisations and movements dedicated to advocating for justice and support for survivors of sexual violence in conflict. Your voice contributes to a collective call for transformative change.

Amplify Survivor Voices: Honour the courage of survivors by amplifying their narratives with sensitivity and respect. By sharing their stories, you help dismantle silence and stigma, cultivating a culture of empathy and solidarity.

Donate or Volunteer: Extend practical support to organisations directly aiding survivors through donations or volunteer efforts. Your contribution ensures vital services and advocacy continue to uplift and empower.

Advocate for Resources: Advocate at local and national levels for increased resources dedicated to survivor support and prevention of sexual violence in conflict settings. Your advocacy amplifies the imperative for systemic change.

 

We are all able to embody a commitment to justice, empathy, and dignity as we strive towards a world where the scourge of conflict-related sexual violence is ended.