Violence against women and girls is one of the most widespread and devastating human rights violations in our world today. Cord believes that everyone has the right to overcome trauma, access basic services, and engage with those in a position of authority.

In 2016 Cord Myanmar launched a new project through funding from the FCO’s Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative, which was established by Angelina Jolie and William Hague as part of the UK’s National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security.

The project – Protecting Women from Sexual Violence in Conflict – works in communities which have been affected by decades of intercommunal and interethnic violence.

Cord works with women’s organisations, lawyers, local authorities and community members to investigate, report and prosecute cases of sexual violence. In Myanmar, survivors of sexual violence often have little chance to seek justice through formal legal processes. Instead, customary practices are often used to ‘settle’ cases, which sometimes sees perpetrators and survivors pressured to marry, or cases being settled through money.

I recently spoke with the Cord Myanmar team about some of the key challenges that the project responds to. There is a high amount of stigma attached to victims of sexual violence in Myanmar, and in local cultures some people believe that they bring bad fortunes to their villages. Moreover, victims often lack the financial resources to access hospitals and clinics, and language barriers among ethnic groups makes it difficult for them to communicate with the police or access legal mechanisms.

A recent assessment conducted by Cord and its partners in 14 villages showed that 84% of interviewed households did not have knowledge of available justice processes, with knowledge particularly limited amongst authorities. Survivors of sexual violence reported facing blame and shame, and as a result some felt unable to report their experiences. Just 27% of respondents expressed views which regarded men and women as equal. The majority of women interviewed were not satisfied with customary practices, yet at the same time faced challenges with formal processes, including the length of time they take and having to recount traumatic experiences.

Cord’s project aims to provide greater legal recourse for survivors of sexual violence; to reduce the normality and complacency regarding sexual violence; and increase women’s participation in decision-making and influence over the justice processes which affect them.

Cord trains local actors on women’s rights, provides sub-grants and coaching on how to report and prosecute cases of sexual violence in line with international standards, and creates a safe space for survivors to share their experiences and for communities to learn and advocate against sexual violence.

Peacebuilding is a crucial part of the project. Sexual violence is a sensitive and highly personal topic and Cord supports local actors to engage with victims and perpetrators in a conflict sensitive, nonviolent way.

We’re already seeing an impact. Recently Cord and its partners supported a young girl who had been raped by providing a safe space for her and her family, advised on how to seek justice and negotiate with the village authorities, and provided education to communities on the implications of sexual violence.

Earlier this year, Cord and its partners held an awareness-raising event with 164 people on women’s rights, gender-based violence, CEDAW and human trafficking. Participants said that they learned more about sexual violence and trafficking, and the available laws and mechanisms through which to support victims, and wanted to attend more events. One male participant said that he thought the violation of women only concerned women, but now understood that it was also a male responsibility too and he shared knowledge with his sisters and friends.

Going forward, Cord’s priority is to strengthen the capacity of local actors to continue this work. We’re in the process of developing a local language user guide on the International Protocol on the Documentation and Investigation of Sexual Violence in Conflict. We hope the guide will support communities to establish action plans and agree on roles and responsibilities for continuing to prosecute and advocate against sexual violence beyond the project lifetime.

Cord Myanmar is now an active member of the Violence against Women Technical Working Group, led by the Myanmar Women’s Police Force and Department of Social Welfare. It aims to take learning from its work with ethnic groups to support other vulnerable, marginalised women, including those who have been displaced in light of recent events.

On the 25th of November, International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and the following 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, please support us to do this by donating here and tweeting your support.

#16days #orangetheworld

Amy Dwyer Neigenfind, Programme Development Advisor, November 2017