FAITH groups should be brought together to combat the use of sexual violence in conflicts and challenge the values and cultural norms that allow such violence to happen, the Bishop of Derby, Dr Alastair Redfern, has urged in a House of Lords debate.
Peers discussed the findings of a Select Committee report published this year (News 15 April), which found that sexual violence is being used in conflicts in at least 19 countries. Although women and girls make up the majority of victims, rape is also used as a weapon against men and boys, occurring in 25 armed conflicts in the past decade.
Many victims are stigmatised and thrown out of their families and communities. While some are helped by churches and faith groups, in some areas faith groups also reject victims, and their own attitudes to women contribute to the acceptance of sexual violence as part of the prevailing culture.
Baroness Nicholson, who chairs the committee, described their investigations as opening “a Pandora’s box of horrors — Dürer’s descent into hell was as nothing to what we heard”.
“Sexual violence in conflict is a moral issue. It destroys the family, which is the basic unit of society,” she said.
The issue was given international recognition with the launch of the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative in 2012, by the UN ambassador and actress Angelina Jolie Pitt, and the then Foreign Secretary, now Lord Hague.
Dr Redfern was a member of the Select Committee. In the debate in the Lords this week, he urged the Government to bring together faith leaders. “A powerful government like ours could perhaps take a lead to convene faith leaders into a space where such questions as values, forgiveness, community cohesion, and cultural norms could be tackled. Sadly, the faiths do not seem to be stepping into that space on our own; so we may need a challenge,” he said.
Labour peers urged the Government to refuse to agree to any peace talks that do not have women present. The Prime Minister’s special representative on preventing sexual violence in conflict, Baroness Anelay, said that the Government would promote the involvement of women in talks with political and financial support.
She said that since the launch of the initiative, the Government had committed £30 million to projects combating sexual violence in countries including Bosnia, Colombia, the DRC, Iraq, Kosovo, and Nepal. She promised that the Government would continue to lead on the issue.