The Countess of Wessex joined a virtual United Nations panel on Friday afternoon on the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict, speaking about how the COVID-19 pandemic is hindering survivors of sexual violence from reporting crimes and moving to safety.
Sophie joined the UN’s virtual session, on the sixth annual International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict, to join the discussion on ways “to outline a number of implications and consequences related to the effects of COVID-19 on the lives of the survivors, as well as on the delivery of the conflict-related sexual violence mandate and the work of the UN system as a whole,” according to the UN’s web-television website.
The Countess’s speech in full reads:
“Despite the world having shrunk through the power of digital platforms like this one, we know that there are an extraordinary number of people who are more and more disconnected and vulnerable and that COVID-19 has compounded the issue.
“Since the pandemic began the number of cases of sexual violence across conflict settings and in domestic settings are very likely to have risen substantially. Women and girls once again are being affected disproportionately, with increased difficulties in accessing sexual and reproductive healthcare, higher numbers of maternal deaths and teenage pregnancies, closures of domestic violence shelters, closure of schools, reduction in aid work and funds for charities, delays in relief packages. COVID19 has amplified suffering with the restrictions imposed on Survivors.
“Time is against the victims and therefore it is imperative that National Action Plans are implemented or where possible even accelerated. But importantly in the course of our action we must ensure all responses are best geared to them.
“My message therefore today is simple, and I hope I may speak for all Survivors of Conflict Related Sexual Violence when I say: we must listen to the needs and wishes of all Survivors and we must act accordingly.
“Humanitarian Programmes and funding structures must be able to nimbly adapt in line with the thoughts and needs of all survivors amid this pandemic.
“I believe Civil Society is central to enabling real and meaningful global action. Local communities are able to share local knowledge and understanding. Let local realities guide global responses.
“So while we mark today as the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict and acknowledge the consequences of COVID-19, let us all respond by listening to the needs of Survivors and with the urgency that they deserve.
“Thank you for this opportunity to speak to you all today.”
Sophie has made the prevention of sexual violence in conflict a cornerstone of her royal work and has travelled around the world championing survivors and learning about what can be done to stop the violence.
In 2019, Sophie gave a speech about the work the UK is doing to combat this saying: “It’s our duty to continue to do all we can to break down barriers, encourage society to embrace those who innocently fell victim to others brutality and create an understanding environment to give people the confidence to come forward and seek support.”