The unlikeliest of questions crept into my head at the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict when I watched William Hague give his opening address to the summit. Is William Hague a feminist? It isn’t often that I attempt to attach an alter ego to a Tory minister so this was a first for me but what do you call a man who uses his power to raise a female issue on a truly global scale? You had to be at the summit to see it. There were African army personnel dressed in their military regalia taking part in the discussions. Activists, scholars, judges, lawyers and victims had flown in from different parts of the world.
Discussions on sexual violence even encompassed the normally taboo area of male rape, something which most men ought to ponder upon when making sick rape jokes. Sexual violence in conflict areas is not just a female problem. The numerous fringe events and films screened highlighted real life testimonies about how men and children can be victims too.
The feminist movement loves it when a man takes on our causes. The less popular the issue the more kudos the man gets for championing it. The last time any man did this on such a large scale was when…I can’t remember. But here was William Hague tackling the issue of sexual violence. In a world where violence against women is on the increase, whether it is on the streets of suburbia or in war torn areas, and where misogyny is on the rise here was a man making it his business to do something.
This is not to say that there aren’t people working to solve the grossly inhumane issue of sexual violence in war. The summit bore testimony to the thousands of foot soldiers in the form of NGOs, charities, individual activists and small organisations that work tirelessly to ensure that the real life experiences of victims are not reduced to anecdotal evidence but are built up to reflect the structures of violence that exist during wars.
I sit on a committee myself that ensures UNHCR 1325 is reflected in the UK’s action plans. While all our efforts turn the stories of individual victims into a political discourse a platform was needed to remind States that a heck of a lot more needs to be done; and to warn soldiers and rebel movements that rape is not an inevitable act of conflict. Feminists have always maintained that the personal is political and I think the summit did just that. A woman raped in a rural forest area in Liberia is not an individual suffering alone. Her sad experience is a political one. Multiply this by the thousands of women, men and children who have been raped and it becomes a global political problem.
Some women whom I spoke to at the summit were disappointed that the causes of war (sales of arms, foreign policy etc) were not addressed. There is some truth in this. Also, as a Tamil I had hoped to see something about the situation of women in Sri Lanka post war; and the treatment of female refugees in Britain.
If William Hague isn’t a feminist then consider this. He positions sexual violence as a problem for the perpetrator, not the victim. Women have for far too long borne a stigma imposed upon them by society and it is time to shame the perpetrators.