The past year began with bad news: sexual assaults on women and girls attending New Year’s Eve celebrations in Cologne. Sexualised violence suddenly became a major topic of discussion.
Yet, instead of prompting an open-minded debate on the long-standing criticism of the loopholes in criminal prosecution, it provoked frantic political posturing focusing on the asylum laws. The second hastily passed asylum package included measures to ease deportation. This was followed in the summer by the long overdue reform of §177 of the German criminal code on sexual assault by use of force or threats; rape.
Simultaneously, populist factions were using the incidents in Cologne to incite hostility against refugees and migrants. In contrast, the women who had actually been assaulted were quickly forgotten. Meanwhile, the wars in Syria and Iraq continued unabated in 2016.
In Afghanistan, the number of civilians killed or injured in armed hostilities and terrorist attacks rose to a new high of 11,500. Armed conflict also continued in Southern Sudan, Ukraine and Eastern Congo.
In all of these conflicts, women are subjected to sexualised violence – by militias, government troops or other parties.
Yet, despite the many international agreements, political leaders are doing little to stop sexualised wartime violence and address its causes. Instead of promoting the development of adequate health care or organisations providing long-term effective support for survivors, investment in weapons continues.
Instead of actually addressing the root causes of the refugee crisis, Europe’s common migration policy is largely occupied with keeping refugees out. And instead of helping those seeking refuge by providing trauma-sensitive support, the debate is focused on deciding which countries can be declared “safe” countries of origin, to make deportation easier.
Yet, inactivity and resignation are not the solution! It is precisely because of these challenges that standing firm in solidarity with those forced to bear the brunt of these conflicts is more important than ever. Our local partner organisations, supporting survivors and working for women’s rights, are encouraging role models: for example, the women from Medica Afghanistan, who, alongside their counselling services, work tirelessly for the implementation of legislation to protect women against violence; or the psychosocial counsellors in Liberia, Uganda and South Kivu – the first point of contact for women and girls, who, day after day, have to confront the violence they have experienced; or the many people in Germany committed to supporting refugees.
The recent adoption in North Rhine-Westphalia of the concept to protect refugees against violence, which takes up our calls for needs-based accommodation and safe areas for women and girls, demonstrates that our political advocacy is, indeed, making an impact. All this is encouraging and demonstrates that we can achieve a great deal together, to ensure that women and girls are able to live in dignity and justice!