IMA World Health/ Emily Esworthy

On October 21, more than 150 people gathered in the Falk Auditorium at the renowned Brookings Institution for a panel called “Preventing and Responding to Sexual Violence in Conflict: Next Steps in a Global Struggle.”

IMA World Health and The Brookings Institution co-hosted the event in honor of Dr. Denis Mukwege – a recent Nobel Peace Prize nominee and a partner to IMA through the USAID-funded USHINDI project – who was visiting the United States to accept humanitarian honors for his work to support survivors of sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

As the first panelist, Dr. Mukwege set the tone by stressing that rape in conflict is not an issue of sexual desire – “far from it,” he said – but one of power. He described rape as an “attack on the most intimate part of a person” that negates their personhood and is designed to intimidate or eradicate them. He elevated the importance of education and awareness at all levels of society, especially during times of peace. Sexual violence, he said, “destroys our greatest resource” and is an issue that should unite men and women in prevention and response, not cause division.

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Dr. Mukwege set the tone by stressing that rape in conflict is not an issue of sexual desire – “far from it,” he said – but one of power.

Dr. Mukwege also talked in detail about the need for a holistic response, much like the USHINDI project, both for victims and for “indirect victims” of sexual violence. While victims need immediate access to medical care within 72 hours in order to prevent becoming infecting with HIV, for example, services are also needed for emotional distress as well as for indirect victims such as children who are stigmatized for being born of rape and families who are forced to watch the rape of their loved ones. Sexual violence, he said, “affects people today, tomorrow and beyond tomorrow.” He also uplifted social and economic approaches that empower women to become leaders in the community, efforts to ensure justice and proper implementation of laws, and interventions for male victims to round out the holistic approach.

Additional panelists included Ambassador Melanne Verveer, executive director of the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and SecurityNancy Lindborg, USAID assistant administrator for the Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance; and Kathleen Kuehnast, director of the Center of Innovation for Gender and Peacebuilding at USIPBrookings Fellow Megan Bradley moderated the discussion.

The panelists discussed a broad range of prevention and response activities including legislation and policy; data collection and evidence; ensuring that women have a seat at the table; including protection and response as part of standard humanitarian response; engaging men as allies and more.

Following the panel, Dr. Mukwege stated that he was “encouraged” at the ways the panelists were making the prevention of and response to sexual violence in conflict a top priority, and that he hoped to see more coordinated efforts in the future.

A full transcript and audio recording of the panel are available on the Brookings website.