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Warning: This briefing covers themes around sexual violence, which some readers may find distressing.

The Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative 

Since 2012, the UK has had a Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative (the PSVI). It aims to raise awareness of the extent of sexual violence in armed conflict and “rally global action to end it.”

The PSVI is closely linked to the UK’s Women, Peace and Security Agenda, which includes goals around security and justice and gender-based violence.

In May 2022, the Foreign Secretary launched a new strategy for international development, including plans for a new Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict strategy. It commits to restore aid spending on women and girls to previous levels. An international conference on preventing conflict-related sexual violence is also due to take place in the UK from 28 to 30 November 2022.

This briefing situates the PSVI in the wider issue of conflict-related sexual violence, looking at the UK and international responses and how they have performed.

What is conflict-related sexual violence?

Conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV) is defined by the United Nations as “rape, sexual slavery, forced prostitution, forced pregnancy, forced abortion, enforced sterilization, forced marriage and any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity” that is directly or indirectly linked to a conflict.

Those working in the field highlight the increase in sexual violence from intimate partners during conflict and crises, and underlying gender inequalities that allow such violence to persist.

How does the PSVI work?

Led by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, the PSVI’s priorities are to:

PSVI experts are deployed to conflict-affected countries, mostly to support national and local bodies with medical, legal, security, and psychological expertise. They do not gather evidence or provide direct support to survivors.

The UK also takes part in diplomatic initiatives and funds PSVI-related activities abroad. The UK hosted a global summit to end sexual violence in conflict in 2014, which launched the International Protocol on the Documentation and Investigation of Sexual Violence in Conflict. This is a “tool” to document sexual violence under international law.

How has the PSVI performed?

In 2020, the Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI) gave the UK’s PSVI an ‘amber-red rating’, stating it “risked letting survivors down due to a lack of senior leadership, poor strategy, and cuts in funding.” The Government accepted most of the ICAI’s recommendations and has pledged a three-year strategy.

Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on PSVI, Anthony Magnall, has argued the PSVI had become less of a priority for the government. In a 2021 Commons debate he recommended a new funding arrangement for 10 years, a new international body to collect and keep evidence of CRSV and restoring responsibility for the PSVI to the Foreign Secretary. It currently sits with Lord Ahmad, the Prime Minister’s Special Representative on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict.

Funding for PSVI is split across government budgets and departments. PSVI-specific funding has dropped since 2016, however, UK bilateral aid for women’s equality organisations and on violence against women and girls’ programmes mostly rose until 2020 when it fell.

International approaches to conflict-related sexual violence

The UN, G7, African Union and other international or regional organisations have signed up to various frameworks and declarations to do more to prevent sexual violence in conflict. Thirty African countries have a National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security.

Interventions generally are ‘survivor-centred’, which means putting the needs of the survivor, the risks they face and their wellbeing at the centre of PSVI programmes. There have also been multiple calls to end impunity for perpetrators and improve evidence gathering.

At the UN in April 2022, Lord Ahmad launched the Murad Code, alongside Nadia Murad, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and UN Goodwill Ambassador.

The Code aims to improve the experience gathering evidence of systemic and conflict-related sexual violence for survivors.

The G7 has asked Foreign and Development Ministers to “consider how best to strengthen international architecture around conflict related sexual violence”.

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