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Warning: This briefing covers themes related to sexual violence, which readers may find distressing.

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.

Origins of the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative

The UK Government’s Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative (PSVI) launched in 2012. 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.

UK’s Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative strategy 2022

In November 2022, the Government launched a new PSVI strategy, pledging £12.5 million over three years.

This followed a new international development strategy in May 2022 and a pledge to restore aid spending on women and girls to 2019/20 levels, totalling £745 million in 2022/23.

At a two-day conference with global foreign ministers in London in November 2022, more than 50 countries signed a political declaration to “end the scourge of sexual violence in conflict.”

The UK’s new strategy aims to:

  • strengthen the global response to conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV)
  • prevent CRSV, including addressing harmful gender norms
  • strengthen justice for survivors and hold perpetrators to account
  • enhance support for survivors and children born due to CRSV

The commitment to reduce conflict-related violence against women and girls was re-emphasised in the Government’s March 2023 International women and girls strategy, which runs to 2030.

The Government states the scale of conflict-related sexual violence is “appalling” and, despite a decade passing since the PSVI was first launched, a stronger global response is needed. The Chair of the International Development Committee, Sarah Champion, has said the £12.5 million funding is a “drop in the ocean” in the context of reductions to broader funding for preventing violence against women and girls.

How does the PSVI work?

Led by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), the PSVI is a cross-departmental approach which includes working with UN agencies, and international and local organisations in countries affected by conflict-related sexual violence. It sits in the FCDO’s Office of Conflict, Stabilisation and Mediation.

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 PSVI is based on a framework (called a “theory for change”) for how to address conflict-related sexual violence through “diplomatic, development, humanitarian, and defence interventions.”

The UK also takes part in diplomatic initiatives and funds PSVI-related activities abroad:

How has the PSVI performed to date?

In 2020, the Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI) gave the UK’s original 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 pledged a three-year strategy. In a 2022 review of progress, the ICAI found there was good quality strategic work underway.

Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on PSVI, Anthony Mangnall, 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 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.

UN Special Envoy for Refugees, Angelina Jolie, who launched the PSVI alongside the Foreign Secretary William Hague in 2012, wrote in the Guardian newspaper in November 2022 that globally “not nearly enough” has been achieved to help survivors and deter perpetrators.

UK funding for PSVI

Funding for PSVI is split across government budgets and departments. PSVI-specific funding has dropped since 2014/15. The November 2022 pledge of £12.5 million new funding is towards preventing sexual violence in conflict over three years.

In December 2022, Leo Docherty, FCDO undersecretary, said the UK’s bilateral spending on addressing violence against women and girls is £27.6 million annually, and “remains a major priority”. A breakdown of this funding has not been published.

UK bilateral aid for women’s equality organisations and on violence against women and girls’ programmes mostly rose until 2019 when it fell from almost £69 million to £42.3 million in 2021.

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