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  • Visit of the United Nations Secretary Generals Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict Zainab Hawa Bangura

Visit of the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict: Zainab Hawa Bangura

Wednesday, 01 May 2013

ReBUILD Researcher, Sally Theobald recently presented at a special event welcoming United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict (UN SRSG), Zainab Hawa Bangura to the University of Aberdeen. The event was hosted by the Centre for Sustainable International Development (CSID) at the University of Aberdeen and was attended by a number of visitors including ReBUILD’s Suzanne Fustukian and David Newlands.

Madame Bangura outlined some key areas of her role and spoke compellingly about the need to persuade governments to address sexual violence in conflict. She introduced six focus areas in the fight against sexual violence: 1) ending impunity 2) protection of civilians, in particular women and girls, 3) mobilising political leadership, 4) strengthening coordination within the UN, 5) increasing recognition of rape as weapon of war and finally, 6) increasing national leadership to end impunity. During the question-time she responded insightfully to questions such as the question of whether quotas for women’s involvement should be introduced in peace talks and how her office collaborates with countries to achieve judicial reform. Her responses were enlivened by the many examples she used from her previous experiences as Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Health in Sierra Leone.

Following the lecture there was a seminar exploring health in conflict settings where Hilary Homans (CSID), Sally Theobald (LSTM) and Wendy Graham (Chair in Obstetrics & Gynaecology, University of Aberdeen) shared experiences of research related to health and conflict. Hilary spoke on her research commissioned by the UN on the role of uniformed personnel in gender-based violence in conflict settings. Sally shared insights from the ReBUILD gender and health theme on research focusing on building gender responsive systems in post conflict contexts and Wendy Graham explored aspects of her work on maternal mortality, to address whether disrespect and abuse in childbirth could be considered a form of gender-based violence. Sally’s presentation was followed by a number of questions from the audience and discussion developed around the importance of developing gender-responsive indicators. Sally emphasised the importance of maintaining creative and practical solutions for data-gathering given obvious constraints in conflict-affected settings. In her response to the presentations, Madame Bangura echoed the need for developing creative solutions in challenging situations.

The event afforded an excellent opportunity to learn from an inspirational global leader who is undertaking enormously important work related to ReBUILD research. A number of speakers, including Madame Bangura, mentioned a ‘sea change’ in the struggle against sexual violence. There is no doubt that with the appointment of the present UN SRSG on Sexual Violence in Conflict, there is new potential to realise such a change and new hope for those working to end impunity for sexual violence in conflict settings.