Sexual violence is still being used as a weapon of war that destroys, destabilises, and demoralises individuals, communities, and societies around the world.
As well as physical harm, sexual violence leaves behind a social stigma — which can become a global problem lasting generations.
The UK is already making strides on the issue, through the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative, launched by former Foreign Secretary Lord Hague and UNHCR Special Envoy Angelina Jolie in 2012.
And now, they’ve brought the initiative to the big screen for the first time.
The “Fighting Stigma Through Film” festival arrived in to London last week — on Nov. 23, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and Nov. 24, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. at the British Film Institute.
Admission was free, and everyone was welcome to go along and watch a film, join a workshop, or see the exhibitions.
The festival aimed to harness the power of film and cinema to help fight the discrimination too often faced by survivors of sexual violence in conflict.
“Artists and human rights defenders often take significant risks to tell the truth about crimes committed against defenceless women, children, and men during war,” said Jolie in a statement. “The perpetrators of war crimes often go to extreme lengths to keep the truth from being told.”
“Stigma compounds the suffering of survivors of war zone rape,” she added. “It is an unbearable injustice on a human level, and it is a major obstacle to achieving justice for victims of these sickening acts of violence.”
“We need to examine and change the entrenched social attitudes that treat sexual violence as an inevitable consequence of war or lesser crime — including harmful attitudes to women,” she said.
Over the two days, nearly 40 films and documentaries were shown from around the world — including Syria, Myanmar, and Nigeria — sharing stories of survivors and the inspiring people working alongside them.
What’s more, over two-thirds of the films screened had been directed or produced by women.
Among the films being shown were: In the Land of Blood and Honey, Angelina Jolie’s 2011 film set against the backdrop of the Bosnian War; and the premiere of The Prosecutors, directed by Leslie Thomas, which explores the battle that survivors face in securing justice. You can find the full schedule of films here.
The festival is supported by Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon; the Prime Minister’s Special Representative on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict; Pramila Patten, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict; and Jolie.
Jolie also joined young filmmakers from conflict-affected areas and Commonwealth countries, including Yemen, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and Syria, who took part in a series of workshops designed to help build their capacity to tell their stories.
She also led a Q&A session with Congolese Nobel Peace Prize winner and activist working to prevent sexual violence, Dr. Denis Mukwege.
The festival marks the 1-year countdown to a PSVI international conference, to be hosted by the UK in 2019 — which comes five years on from the 2014 Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict.
It will celebrate the progress that’s already been made, and will address the challenges that still remain, as well as securing further commitments to action.
“Since launching the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative (PSVI) in 2012, the UK has continued to lead global efforts to end the horror of sexual violence in conflict,” said Lord Ahmad. “We’re calling on the international community to provide better justice for survivors and to hold perpetrators to account, strengthening global legal mechanisms needed to do so.”
"I went to the police in order to complain. There, one told me, 'You're too old, you can't be raped'".— Foreign Office 🇬🇧 (@foreignoffice) November 21, 2018
We must secure justice for survivors of sexual violence. It's #TimeToAct
Hear from survivors at our event this week:
“But alongside this, social change is needed,” he added. “Stigma is a global problem that entrenches poverty … That’s why changing hearts and minds is not only a moral imperative, but also a vital component of upholding international peace and security.”
Alongside the screenings, the PSVI film festival also displayed art installations and showcased the work of organisations working on the frontlines of the battle against sexual violence in conflict.
Workshops were also running throughout, led by prominent experts on various PSVI topics, and offering members of the public the chance to learn more about, and ask questions on, these important issues.