Women still first victims of sexual violence in conflicts

Women still first victims of sexual violence in conflicts

Wars are still being fought on and over the bodies of women and girls”. Ahead of the annual International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflicts, the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative highlighted that although the scourge of sexual violence does not spare men and boys, women and girls remain the major targets of sexual violence in conflicts worldwide.

The United Nation’s landmark Resolution 1325 (adopted in 2000) called on member states and parties to armed conflict to “take special measures to protect women and girls from gender-based violence, particularly rape and other forms of sexual abuse, and all other forms of violence in situations of armed conflict”.

But almost twenty years later, much progress is still needed to prevent and reduce cases of sexual violence in conflicts. A new resolution adopted earlier this year, Resolution 2467, introduces a new survivor-centered approach to help combat this type of violence.

The terms of the resolution include guaranteed justice for survivors and their children and the ending of impunity for perpetrators of conflict-related sexual violence. In this resolution, the UN also called for “greater attention to the physical and economic security of survivors, which includes mental, physical, and sexual health.”

However, the United States vetoed part of the draft language contained in the resolution – which had said that wartime rape victims should have access to sexual and reproductive health services – on the basis that this implied access to abortion. The resolution was ultimately adopted without this language. Amanda Klasing, acting women’s rights co-director at Human Rights Watch said that the veto can be seen as a threat to women’s rights: “The Trump administration’s extreme position on sexual and reproductive health and rights is pervading all aspects of its foreign policy in ways that escalates a global erosion of women’s human rights.

Sexual violence against women and girls has been under the spotlight in recent years as a widespread critical issue that needs to be addressed. The awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2018 to activists Nadia Murad and Denis Mukwege, who work on ending violence against women in conflict situations, was a testament to that. More broadly, the different forms of violence against women and girls were also brought into sharp focus through the recent #MeToo campaign.

More than a third of women living today have experienced either physical or sexual violence at some point in their lives and there is evidence that conflict situations increase women’s vulnerability to violence.

It is imperative not to become complacent about these issues or to assume that things will only get better for women – the recent negotiations over the language of Resolution 2467 highlight the need to remain vigilant. International Days like this one are important tools for fostering awareness and mobilising political will. As such, it is very important that these days are marked and that we, as global citizens, stand in solidarity with victims of sexual violence everywhere.




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Image courtesy of UN Photo/Staton Winter via United Nations Photo

The growing movement calling for the rights of intersex people

The growing movement calling for the rights of intersex people


Intersex is a term that refers to a range of medical conditions whereby the genetic makeup of an individual is different from their sex organs. For example, a person who is genetically female may have testes instead of ovaries or a genetic male may not have a penis. These medical conditions affect around 1.7% of the world’s population, an almost equal amount of people across the world as there are redheads, and yet it is a fairly hidden condition, unknown to most.


Intersex Surgery on Children
In 2017 Belgian model, Hanne Gaby Odiele, made headlines with a public announcement that she was intersex. In the video, she called for an end to “traumatising” surgeries which are performed on young children and infants in order to conform them to the binary conception of gender. She describes the traumatic process of countless surgeries that she underwent as a child in an attempt to “normalise” her, resulting in recurring physical ailments as well as psychological distress. Since the mid-60s doctors across the world have been routinely performing such “normalising” surgeries on children, long before they are capable of deciding for themselves whether they want these procedures.


The idea behind these surgeries is based on the work of Dr. John Money, an American doctor who specialised in gender identity and advocated that gender was a socially malleable construct. He was made famous by the tragic case of David Reimer. David Reimer underwent a botched circumcision as a child, destroying his penis. Dr. Money advised that the child undergo surgery to change his genitalia from male to female, his name be changed to Brenda, and he be raised as female. Brenda had many mental health issues as a child and was eventually told of her gender reassignment at 14. She transitioned back to her original gender and became known as David, once again. David continued to suffer from mental illnesses and eventually took his own life at age 38. Despite this tragic outcome, the surgery was hailed by Dr. Money as proof that gender could be socially constructed, a sort-of nurture triumphs nature viewpoint.


In May 2018, California became the first US state to condemn unnecessary surgery on intersex children. The state recognised that while certain surgeries on intersex children can sometimes be necessary from a medical point of view, cosmetic surgery can be “unnecessary, irreversible, often traumatising and carries a risk of lifelong harm” according to Human Rights Watch. Such surgeries have been condemned by the WHO, Physicians for Human Rights, Amnesty International, the UN, the FRA and the Council of Europe, Malta, Australia and many other countries and organisations. The practice is often likened to Female Genital Mutilation and there is a growing body of medical research which shows that such early, unnecessary surgeries can lead to physical and psychological harm or trauma for intersex people, including the risk of assigning the wrong sex. There also exists insufficient evidence demonstrating that a failure to have such surgeries leads to the individual struggling in society.


In Ireland, births and sex must be registered within three months. In exceptional cases, consent may be obtained by the Registrar for a period up to a year. Ireland is one of 21 European countries where “normalising” surgeries continue to be performed, although their frequency is decreasing. Consent is required once the individual is of a certain age with adequate cognitive abilities and the ability to decide, usually around 15, but this does not apply in the case of young children. There lacks any formal medical protocol when dealing with intersex children in Ireland.


What needs to change?
The Council of Europe and the Fundamental Rights Agency, alongside several other NGOs and lobby groups, have called for an end to “normalising” surgeries without the informed consent of the intersex individual. They also call for the establishment of international medical protocols for surgeons and medical staff when dealing with intersex patients. From a legal perspective, rights groups have called for the prohibition of such surgeries and, in Ireland, are currently lobbying for legal recognition of a third, non-binary gender under the Gender Recognition Act 2015.




Image courtesy of Claire Anderson at Unsplash

Gender and sex: An introduction

Gender and sex: An introduction

Claudia Nussbaumer begins her 8 part series, ‘Gender roles in indigenous communities,’ by breaking down gender and sex in society today.



When talking about gender roles, it is important to firstly establish what gender is and what makes it different to sex. What is commonly referred to as sex, is the biological distinction between female and male, in other words what type of biological characteristics a person has. Gender is the social aspect of difference and hierarchy between men and women; the social meaning of masculinity and femininity. The different ways in which we are ‘doing gender’ and acting out our societies perception of what it means to be a ‘woman’ and a ‘man’ is referred to as ‘gender performance’. It reinforces the ‘naturalness’ of gender roles and gender differentiation. So gender is something we are doing, rather than something we are.

Gender performance brings with it some problems. Most of all, it is limiting; you have to conform in order to be accepted, you’re not given the choice to simply ‘opt-out’. We are socialised into what we can and cannot do, what it looks like to be a girl or a boy and what characteristics are expected of us.

Under the umbrella of gender performance lies the concept of hegemonic gender. Part of sociologist, Raewyn Connell’s gender order theory is the term ‘hegemonic masculinity’, a practice trying to legitimise men’s dominant role and women’s subordination in society.  This model of gender; as something set in stone, defined by nature and something we have to obey to, is another aspect of gender negatively affecting society and especially non-conforming folks. Sexism, #metoo, the gender pay gap: these are all aspects of how the social construct of gender have manifested into toxic behaviour between men and women.

All of these terms, theories and concepts are part of the ‘western world’s’ perception of gender. When we come to our article series’s focus, Indigenous communities, we will see a spectrum of gender roles and gender identities. Some of them are very close to the ‘West’s’ idea, though, they are not as limiting. It is very often a case of ‘what is this person capable of doing’, therefore gender is mostly understood in terms of labour and who is able to bear children. It is generally not so important in other aspects such as appearance (clothing, hair, make-up) and behaviour.

We can learn a lot about gender, it’s fluidness and limits when looking at other cultures before they were socialised and introduced to the ‘western way of life’. Our series will look at cultures from all around the globe, in order to find similarities but also to underline the differences and contrast it with the hegemonic set of beliefs.

Imagine a society free from sexual violence

Imagine a society free from sexual violence

Above: Volunteers with the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre. Photo courtesy of the DRCC. 


In 2016 the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre:

  • Received 12,388 calls
  • Had 99 active volunteers
  • Performed 262 accompaniments with survivors


We sat down with Jordan Campbell to talk about the work they do, how to volunteer with them and what needs to change for sexual assault victims.

Q:What does the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre do?
The Dublin Rape Crisis Centre was set up in 1979, initially as a counselling service. We’ve expanded since then and now our mission is to prevent the harm and heal the trauma of sexual violence. We do that in a number of ways. In terms of services, we have the national 24-hour helpline. We would also work with around 500 people a year for face to face counselling.

A third service we provide is what we call an accompaniment service. Court in particular can be a bit traumatising for people all over again, because you’re rehashing the details and often questions come up about how much you have to drink. There’s a lot of victim blaming. People struggle to deal with that with their family members present and they may not want to involve them but they want some support there.

Q:Who do you work with?
We work with both male and female survivors. Everyone tends to think of us as a women’s organisation, but to our helpline – it varies from year to year – generally 15-20% of the contacts are male. Our view is it’s always good when people report or when people talk about it.

Q: Apart from counselling and accompanying, what other work do you do?
We’ve expanded beyond the services in recent years to look at actually preventing sexual violence. We’re saying that when it happens we want to make sure that whatever a person needs can be put in place for them but ultimately wouldn’t it be great if it didn’t happen at all? We want a society in which sexual violence does not occur and in which its not tolerated.

The work we do includes education and training work. We run a program called body rights, which is a train the trainer model. So if you’re a teacher, or a school guidance counsellor, or a chaplain or a youth worker, you might decide to do body right to incorporate that into some of the work you’re already doing with teens.

It’s about setting boundaries, respecting yourself, respecting your partner and being able to say no but also being able to say yes. We’ve trained about 500 people over 10 years but we’re really trying to get into more schools to say actually this approach is really working because it stays with young people well after that time.

Q: How can people volunteer with the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre?
We have a formal volunteer program for people that are 25 and over. We don’t want anybody that’s too young, that might be overwhelmed by some of the issues that would come up. People can apply two times a year and they go through an intensive training program, that includes a visit to SATU (Sexual Assault Treatment Unit). Some of them would then go on to be telephone counsellors overnight and some of them would be on rota to cover the rotunda for the SATU unit if somebody calls in. Volunteers generally that go through that program generally stay with us for 2 years and would commit to a certain number of hours per week.

Q: If there was one thing you could change tomorrow, for sexual assault victims what would it be?
I would want anyone that experienced sexual violence of any form, if it’s historic or if its recent, to know that however they respond is ok. That it’s unique to the person and there’s a lot of different ways that people react to it. But to know where they can go to get support and to give themselves permission to reach out for help, either from a professional service like the Rape Crisis Centre, like counselling, if they need it. Or also if they feel they don’t need it to know that that’s fine too.