On the 10th of March WILPF attended an event hosted by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) celebrating International Women’s Day. The theme of the event focused on Hidden Wounds: The Long Lasting Consequences of Sexual Violence in Armed Conflict.

Held in the humanitarium at the ICRC headquarters in Geneva, the room was filled with members from permanent missions, NGOs and ICRC officials. Previous to starting the discussion, a collection of photos from ICRC collection were on display depicting women in conflict, these drew the rooms attention and fascination, a point which was carried on through the event.

WILPF and sexual violence in armed conflict

Sexual violence in armed conflict has long been a keen topic of WILPF. For this session of the Human Rights Council, WILPF is hosting our own side event on sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) on the 26th of March. Click here to view our Background Paper on Sexual Violence in DRC.

ICRC convened a panel discussion among four leading professionals in the field of sexual violence, each carrying varying expertise. Chaired by the deputy director of operations at the ICRC Pascale Meige, the panelists were led in a insightful dialogue about the differing consequences of sexual violence in armed conflict.

Psychological Impacts on Sexual Violence Victims

The first two panelists spoke about the psychological impacts of sexual violence on victims.

First to speak was Caroline Marquer, a clinical psychologist and mental health delegate for the ICRC. Caroline Marquer described through contextual and cultural situations, how victims endure mental heath reactions such as traumatic and acute stress and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) resulting from both the act of violence but also the repercussions experienced in their community.

The second panelist expanded upon the topic of stigmatisation within communities towards victims of sexual violence. Angela Veale, a lecturer from the University of York made the first mention of women who have conceived through rape passing the sigma along to their child.

Judicial Impacts

Cecile Aptel, Senior Legal Policy Adviser for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, gave an perceptive talk about judicial perspectives. Starting by mentioning how communities responses are typically to stigmatise victims rather then to persecute perpetuators.

By mentioning the importance of the International Criminal Court (ICJ) in its role in sexual violence through the prosecution of war crimes, Cecile Aptel similarly touched upon the importance domestic responsibility for prosecution as it is more assessable to victims.

Social Disintegration 

The last speaker was Caroline Eichenberger Fuhrer who works at the Camarada Centre for Integration and Training of Migrant Women. Caroline gave another perspective on the social integration aspects of women in Switzerland.

Caroline Eichenberger Fuhrer stressed the importance of language in society inclusion but spoke of the difficulties experienced by migrant women do to their varying degrees of education levels and types of employment that they take. This social disintegration led to the threatening to the status of their asylum visa in what she phrased this as the dehumanising process of asylum for victims of sexual violence.

WILPF thoroughly enjoyed the time spent at ICRC and is excitedly anticipating their next event, not only for the delicious apple tarts served after the panel, but the insightful and fascinating discussion.