Sexual and Gender-based Violence (SGBV)

Operationalizing Advocacy

In 2006, OCHA invited Dr. Denis Mukwege, the director of Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, Democratic Republic of the Congo, to come to the United States to raise awareness of the problem in eastern Congo. Dr. Mukwege is on the front lines of the struggle against sexual violence. In his words and deeds, he is a courageous advocate for the victims of this crisis.

OCHA also asked anti-violence activist and playwright Eve Ensler to lend her powerful voice to the issue of sexual violence in DRC. In December 2006, both attended “Healing the Wounds of War”. The event was organized by OCHA in New York, in collaboration with Ms. Ensler’s V-Day project, which aims to eliminate violence against women.

Searching for additional advocacy opportunities, OCHA also invited doctors working with Physicians for Human Rights and the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (HHI) to the United Nations Headquarters to meet Dr. Mukwege. OCHA asked the doctors to create a programme to address some of the medical challenges facing Dr. Mukwege and his team.

These two initiatives saw OCHA operationalize its advocacy around sexual violence. It led to more concrete changes for women affected by this devastating scourge.

City of Joy

Several months later, Ms. Ensler visited DRC, where UNICEF and V-Day laid the groundwork for the City of Joy - a safehouse to be created at Panzi Hospital for women and girls. It allowed them to recuperate after surgery and gain skills in achieving financial independence.

At the groundbreaking ceremony for the City of Joy, the First Lady of DRC, Mrs. Olive Kabila, launched the campaign “Stop Raping Our Greatest Resource: Power to Women and Girls of Democratic Republic of Congo”. This was in conjunction with the women of eastern DRC, V-Day and UNICEF on behalf of UN Action. The campaign calls for an end to violence, and an end to impunity for those who commit these atrocities.

Building Capacity

Following a meeting in New York with Dr. Mukwege, HHI began working with Panzi Hospital to enhance its surgical capacity. Since an initial trip, HHI has sent several additional teams of surgeons and researchers to the hospital to perform gynaecologic surgery, set up training programmes and initiate research to address the root causes of this epidemic of violence.

On the research side, HHI is conducting field studies to evaluate the community dynamics of sexual violence in eastern DRC, including utilizing data from community-based surveys, hospital data and focus groups. HHI is also hosting an expert panel on gender and war, which includes participation of OCHA and several other organizations.

No Amnesty

The debate on the issue of sexual violence in situations of armed conflict was convened on 19 June 2008 by the United States in its capacity as President of the Security Council for that month. The debate was chaired by then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Following the debate, the Security Council passed resolution 1820. This groundbreaking resolution rejected the notion that those who perpetrate sexual violence could in any way benefit from amnesty after conflicts die down, and called on warring factions to ensure that civilians are protected from sexual violence. 

Most importantly, the Security Council acknowledged through this resolution that sexual violence is not only about individuals – it also seriously affects countries' security and stability. It is therefore well within the rubric of matters to be addressed by the Security Council itself, including through sanctions or a more robust response.