Despite many human rights gains seen over the years, gender violence remains a major challenge of the 21st century, according to the non-profit Sonke Gender Justice Network, an organization that promotes gender equality and seeks to prevent domestic violence across southern Africa.
In a statement released to mark World Peace Day at the weekend, Sonke says more still needs to be done to address issues of violence in societies as conflict continues to rage in countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan and Syria.
The organization wants the African Union and other regional bodies to support peace education programs that promote gender equality and challenge what it calls harmful stereotypes about men and women to eradicate sexual and gender based violence (SGBV) in conflict. “While most of the policy framework addressing SGBV prevention and response in conflict settings focus mainly on women and girls,” reads the Sonke statement, “there also needs to be a recognition of male and boy victims and the need to address root causes and drivers of violence.”
“With ongoing, large-scale atrocities being committed against civilians in conflicts such as the Sudan, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Syria, not to mention atrocities affecting civilians in conflicts occurring in Asia and South America, World Peace Day…should make us reflect on the fact that civilians are still the most vulnerable population during times of armed conflicts, and that sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) against women and girls, and increasingly against men and boys, is still widely documented during conflicts,” according to the statement.
The organization says international efforts to tackle SGBV should be increased, criticizing several United Nations Security Council and regional bodies’ resolutions on sexual violence in conflict “as nothing but high-flying promises without any real impact.”
The organization says to prevent SGBV in conflict, and to promote more peaceful societies, the world needs to move away from the simplistic view that “women are natural peacemakers” and that “men are inherently war-makers”, and start engaging men as agents of change and as women’s allies in achieving lasting peace.
World Peace Day was this year dedicated to the theme “Education for Peace”, calling it an excellent opportunity to recognize the education sector for its critical role in fostering more peaceful societies and addressing gender inequality, says Sonke.
“Sonke Gender Justice therefore calls upon the African Union, and regional bodies alike, to support peace education programs that promote gender equality and challenge harmful stereotypes about men and women, in order to eradicate SGBV in conflict once and for all, and to move closer towards world peace.”
One of Sonke Gender Justice’s project managers Wessel Van den Berg said his organization will continue to work in the region and elsewhere in the world as it tries to change norms that drive violence.
"We are committed to working on changing the norms that drive violence, for example the norms that equate masculinity with violence. We implement programs and policies that shift these norms,” he said.