"You can't compare people's experiences like that. You can't say that child recruitment or forced labour is somehow more or less harmful than SGBV," said Dr Maria Eriksson Baaz, senior researcher and associate professor at the Africa Nordic Institution, with many years of experience in the DRC. "Journalists, humanitarian workers, researchers all come to talk to rape victims. Survivors often only briefly describe their rapes, before presenting their most urgent concerns: the pillaging of their villages or hunger facing their children. Rape is frequently one of the many abuses of their human rights, but the international community tends only to see it as an isolated issue."
Recognising SGBV as a symptom of greater violence is an admission that humanitarian agencies and governments must be intentional about tackling root causes.
Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo is probably one of the worst examples of how the absence of law and order affects displaced and marginalised communities. Nearly three million internally displaced persons (IDPs) live in constant fear of armed violence, forced recruitment and rape. Moreover, in Congo, the combination of a weak judicial system and a focus on the survivors of sexual violence has created a conundrum. Funds are channelled to survivors – albeit in insufficient quantities – while prevention measures are all but ignored. Moreover, very few culprits are brought to justice; those who are indicted rarely receive a fair trial.
This story of ongoing violence and depravation is also common in South Sudan, where the latest outbreak of conflict has paved the way for rampant sexual violence.
Similarly, in the unstable Central African Republic, women are subjected to violence and exploitation.
"Community and family networks IDP camps in Bangui [Central African Republic] have been destroyed by the conflict and subsequent encampment policies. Parents are no longer the power brokers. They are no longer able to protect their families from sexual predators who take advantage of children's vulnerability," Isidore Ngueuleu, JRS West Africa Advocacy and Communications Officer.
Even in relatively peaceful regions, sexual violence remains a problem. In the more stable regions of South Sudan and in refugee camps in western Chad, forced marriage stops thousands of girls from attending school. In Chad, where domestic legislation in not in line with international standards, refugee women face large obstacles to finding protection. Both cultural norms and domestic law condone the marriage of girls as young as 13. Moreover, in cities, such as Nairobi, refugees –denied work permits – are frequently forced to rely on sex work for their survival.
South Africa is one of the few countries that has introduced legislation to protect all people within its borders from sexual abuses. Yet, in reality, refugee women in South Africa often face discrimination when they try to access healthcare or file a police report after abuse has occurred.