“We must ensure that the silence that hides pain and suffering is turned into voices of hope and a reason to continue to act.” – The Countess of Wessex
The Countess of Wessex is taking a stand against sex crimes in conflict zones, joining Angelina Jolie to work with the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative (PSVI). Her involvement in the initiative, as well as Women, Peace and Security (WPS) was officially announced at a Buckingham Palace reception today.
“As someone who firmly believes in the equality of men and women, I feel drawn to your cause and to do what I can to help raise further awareness of your work,” she said in a speech at the event, adding that she was “publicly committing myself to doing what I can to champion and support WPS and PSVI and make this a central pillar of my work in the coming months and years.”
PSVI, which is part of the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, was founded in 2012 by Jolie and former Foreign Secretary Lord William Hague of Richmond. It “aims to raise awareness of the extent of sexual violence against women, men, girls and boys in situations of armed conflict and rally global action to end it.”
The Countess of Wessex met Jolie, who is Special Envoy of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, last November at PSVI’s ‘Fighting Stigma Through Film’ festival in London.
Rape, sexual slavery, and forced marriages are all tactics used by armed groups during violent conflict. Due to a fear of repercussions, many victims don’t speak up, but other barriers such as social stigma or a lack of access to resources prevent those affected from receiving the help they need.
In honour of International Women’s Day, Sophie penned a piece for The Telegraph in which she wrote:
“Last November, I met Dr Denis Mukwege, the Nobel Peace Laureate for 2018. Dr Mukwege lives and works in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where as a gynecologist he has been treating hundreds of women and girls who are victims of sexual violence and abuse as a result of conflict.
He painstakingly pieces them back together after they have suffered the kinds of brutality we can barely comprehend, only to see them back in his clinic again months later. When I asked him what the biggest hurdle was for effecting change for the women whose lives he saves, he told me it was “the silence” from those who hold the power to create a pathway for peace.”
The countess went on to say she is helping to break this silence by getting involved with PSVI. She also called for more women to get involved in peacebuilding initiatives, noting “that between 1990 and 2017, women made up only 2 per cent of mediators, 8 per cent of peace negotiators and 5 per cent of witnesses and signatories in all major peace processes.”
This is a message the Countess of Wessex will champion as she also gets involved in the UK’s Women, Peace and Security, agenda which promotes the important role women play in building peace and stability, as well as preventing sexual violence.
During today’s reception, she delivered a speech and met with leaders in women’s peacebuilding including “representatives from government, NGOs, charities and academia, as well as grassroots peacebuilding campaigners from countries affected by conflict.”
“The survivors of conflict whether they be female or male or a child born of rape are at the heart of everything we all do,” she said in her speech today.
The countess also said she has been attending conferences and meetings over the past year to learn more about these issues, and has met those “who are devoted to doing what they can to tackle these issues from UK government representatives to the international diplomatic community, from academics to survivors.”
Last week, the countess attended a conference on the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative at Wilton Park, and she said in her speech today she will travel to New York this Sunday to attend the Commission on the Status of Women at the UN Headquarters.