GGP event recap: Enhancing accountability for women, peace, and security

by staff contributor Lesli Davis

Photo credit: Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace, and Security

On April 5, the Georgetown Institute of Women, Peace, and Security hosted a panel discussion on “Enhancing Accountability for Women, Peace and Security: Maximizing Synergies Between CEDAW and the Women, Peace and Security Resolutions.” The three panelists were Dr. Catherine O’Rourke, a Senior Lecturer in Human Rights and International Law with the Transitional Justice Institute at Ulster University;  Dr. Aisling Swaine, of GW, Associate Professor of Practice of International Affairs in the Elliott School of International Affairs; and Ms. Alison Davidian, a Transitional Justice Policy Specialist on the Peace and Security Team with UN Women. The three experts explored the state of the field regarding women in the peace and security arena and offered suggestions for the future.

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Sexual assault: it’s time to end the culture of victim blaming

by staff contributor Camry Haskins

From left, Prof Barbara Miller, Prof Aisling Swaine, PhD candidate Shweta Krishnan

On Wednesday, September 16, GGP hosted a back-to-back film screening focused on issues of rape and sexual assault. The films, India’s Daughter and The Hunting Ground, both highlighted specific incidents of rape, while also discussing the societal problems surrounding sexual assault as a whole. The event ended with an open discussion of the documentaries, the issues they highlighted, and what still needs to be done. Panelists included: Barbara Miller, Professor of Anthropology and Director of the Global Gender Program; Aisling Swaine, Professor of Practice in International Affairs; and Shweta Krishnan, PhD student in anthropology.

India’s Daughter is a film that came out after the 2012 rape and murder of a 23 year old medical student in Delhi. The film tells her story through interviews and news clips. The vast gender discrepancies are evident in the way that the sexual assault defense lawyers blatantly criminalize and demean the victim. Equating her choice to leave the house in the evening with a male friend to a spoiled flower left in the gutter. One of her convicted murderers in also interviewed and the nonchalant way that he describes the incident is chilling. His lack of remorse can be seen in his description of events and his belief that he is no different from many others.

Continue reading “Sexual assault: it’s time to end the culture of victim blaming”

Exploring an Expanded Spectrum of Conflict –Time Violence Against Women

by student contributor Laura Kilbury


On Tuesday, March 31, George Washington University Professor, Aisling Swaine, presented on her research to a room of thirty people gathered together by the Global Women’s Institute. The research presented on comes from a paper that will be released in August by the Human Rights Quarterly.

Dr. Aisling Swaine’s research began as an academic and passionate pursuit to figure out why violence against women was occurring.

In 2006, Swaine was in Darfur working with an International Organization delivering first response to sexually based past violence. There was an emphasis on the intimate partner violence as well as rape.

What was happening in this environment became the genesis for Swaine’s research on Violence Against Women. In these camps, there was outrage provoked when outside violence was emerged into the community by outside militia, but when violence towards women was acted out by someone of their own community then there was silence. This was a conundrum. What did this mean?

After her time working, she went for a PhD to search for this answer. In her research, she worked with Feminist Legal Theory and International Law to narrow it down. She realized that other harms were missing. Questions like, why was strategic rape the only one that is mentioned? What is the violence conducted for personal and private means? What actually counts as a conflict debate? What is and what is not Human Rights violence?

These questions led to a three year investigation of research being conducted. She used the case studies of Northern Irealnd, Liberia, and Timor Leste. And Primary and Secondary Sources. She particularly emphasized her usage of the work of Elizabeth Wood.

aislingThrough her research she began to focus more on the factor of opportunity. In the case of Northern Ireland, Swaine found it interesting that the national state actors were acting out against their own. What did this mean? Wood had already highlighted causal factors of sexual violence as instrumental as well as the differing implementations of sanctions against sexual violence. Swaine used these finding but added three of her own: impunity; reporting and naming; and availability of resources. These she recognized as variations to forms of violence themselves, which become visible under forms that take place.

Northern Ireland showed that acts of violence by paramilitary were occurring within their own community. What was fascinating was that in Northern Ireland refuge workers were telling women not to tell them because they didn’t want to have to report that violence.

Timor Leste was very similar. Liberia showed extraneous violence was part of rape, and at times included forced cannibalism, which made the warriors feel more powerful. Charles Taylor boasted that eating the hearts of warriors resulted in gaining their strength.

Aisling’s discussion ended with the question of: why does it matter whether violence is counted as conflict related? UNSCR resolutions list only strategic violence as a tactic of war, but what about political violence? Or private violence? According to Aisling this creates a hierarchy of harms.

Swaine asked the group, how do we create a space for women to talk about their harms and to have it addressed in the way it should be? This question still needs to be answered, and soon according to Swaine as there is something about this hierarchy of harms that she sees as worrying.

Look for Aisling Swaine’s paper in the Human Rights Quarterly, coming out in August.

Org Spotlight: SWAYAM



Swayam, meaning “oneself” is an organization based in Kolkata, India working towards ending violence committed against women and children. Swayam’s ultimate vision is that women and children will be able to live in a world where acts of violence will not be taken against them and that they can live their lives with a sense of confidence and security in themselves as empowered individuals. The organization is focused on support towards women who have violence committed against them. Focusing on an all-inclusive approach with women at the focal point, Swayam encourages women to become empowered by reinforcing tools such as, legal aid, child support, vocational training, and shelter, that promote independence and self- confidence. With a goal that looks far ahead into each woman’s future, the organization commits itself to the development of a fully empowered woman. Through its Public Education and Awareness Generation Program, Swayam is working towards creating a collective and focused discussion that will work towards influencing the accepted public opinion on violence against women and children. They are able facilitate this discussion by working with NGOs, educational institutions, judiciary systems, and the public at large. Swayam is working towards confronting norms and influencing policies that impact women in a collective manner with other organizations and movements that stand in solidarity with Swayam. In their fifteen years of existence, they have been working towards their ultimate mission of a violence free world.

Kudos to GW's Mary Ellsberg

Kudos to GW’s Mary Ellsberg

Mary Ellsberg

Mary Ellsberg, Director of the Global Women’s Institute (GWI), was recently quoted in the New York Times article, U.N. Reveals ‘Alarmingly High’ Levels of Violence Against Women. This article discusses several major obstacles that continue to stand in the way of gender equality. Some such barriers include: counterproductive laws, cultural norms, and the wage gap. Though there have been advancements in certain areas of gender equality there is still a long way to go.

“At the time of the Beijing conference there was a desperate call for more information. We have data from most of the countries in the world. That, in and of itself, is a huge accomplishment. The issue is, it’s very hard to collect this data”. Mary Ellsberg, co-author of Prevention of VAWG: What Does the Evidence Say?, which was featured in the special issue of the Lancet released late 2014, continues to focus on data as a way to incite change. Facts are difficult to ignore.

The next step in gender equality will be seen with the release of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the follow-up to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which come to a close this year.  The SDGs have many more gender specific goals than their  predecessor did, yet only time will tell how this strengthened focus will pan out.

To read the full article click here.

Documentary recap: A Path Appears

series3A Path Appears: Violence and Solutions

by Staff Contributor Camry Haskins

The third and final installment of “A Path Appears” tackles issues of violence against women around the world. Just in the United States alone, domestic violence affects 1 in 4 women, with one woman being killed every six hours. More than three times as many people died from domestic abuse than those killed in Iraq and Afghanistan between 2000-2006. Domestic abuse affects the entire family and leads to many residual affects. Abuse can be mental or physical, though often they are seen together. Women are left in a state of self-blame and self-denial. Victims of abuse often feel trapped and without their own power. Communities that often blame the woman for staying or for doing something that instigated the abuse in the first place worsen this.

The episode began in Atlanta, Georgia, where Nicholas Kristoff traveled with actress, Regina Hall, to an unlisted women’s shelter. The Women’s Resource Center is a 90-day program that takes in women and their children and helps them get back to a stable place in the community. Kristof and Hall spoke to residents of the Women’s Resource Center. While there they heard stories of women who were arrested for “false report of a crime” when taking back their statements against their abusers in the court. For women who are trapped in a cycle of abuse, they end up being the ones penalized by the legal system. The Women’s Resource Center helps these women work through their own legal struggles. Unfortunately this program is only a band-aid to the problem. There are too many battered women to accept, and so many are referred to homeless shelters unless their batterers are still actively pursuing them.

Another way that domestic abuse is being targeted in the United States is through groups like Men Stopping Violence. This organization is designed for convicted men to analyze their own behavior. Unlike women’s shelters, there is no confidentiality given to the men in this program. They are forced to look at their actions without giving themselves any verbiage that would divert their blame. Every man who has entered this program, started out believing that they were not abusers but they gradually come to realize that this is not the case.

Kristof leaves Atlanta with the message that in order to address violence against women you have to focus on men and boys. Shelters and laws are only a bandage on the problem. To truly address the problem there is a need to educate and change mindsets. This issue directly impacts and shapes men’s very existence, as well as, women.

After leaving Atlanta, Kristof travels to Kibera, Kenya with Mia Farrow. They visit Shining Hope, an organization that targets education, healthcare, as well as, any other issues that appear within the slum community. Kennedy Odede is a local man who became the driving force of change within Kibera. He started the Kibera School for Girls, with his wife Jessica Posner, an American girl who traveled to Kibera for school and changed her life path after meeting Kennedy. The Kibera School offers free education to girls in the slum in return for their parents/guardians volunteering five weeks a year. The Kibera School was ranked number one in the district on the government test to enter 8th grade. The girls who enter the Kibera School are empowered to develop powerful goals. Kennedy and Jessica fight for much more than education though. Fifteen percent of girls in Kibera are raped or abused before starting preschool. The episode follows two different stories. One is of a four year old girl who is raped by a boy just a couple years older than her while they are both left home alone since their parents work. The other girl had been raped by her grandfather for years before developing an infection and being able to no longer hide the abuse. In both cases, Kennedy and Jessica were at the front of the battle, fighting for justice. Just as in Atlanta, an overarching finding is that in order to successfully put an end to violence against women and girls, it is important to educate men and boys. Kennedy also runs a soccer program that instills values to the boys who join.

Cases of domestic violence are not private matters, nor are they are not personal matters; they are crimes against humanity and should be addressed as so.

February 16, is the last day to watch all three videos online from PBS. Click here to watch.

New report by Refugees International


February 4, 2015
Author: Marcy Hersh

Congolese Women: What Happened to the Promise to Protect?

Download the full report at (en français)

It is impossible to talk about the Democratic Republic of the Congo without talking about sexual violence. The widespread acknowledgement of gross levels of conflict-related sexual violence in the DRC spurred the international community to act in an unprecedented manner to protect women from these atrocities. In particular, there were two major investments by the United States and the United Nations, one with an unprecedented level of programmatic funding, the other with a novel coordination strategy.

While the U.S. and UN interventions yielded important results, both were built without the benefit of a strong evidence base to properly understand the context of gender-based violence (GBV) in the DRC. As a result, some policymakers in the U.S. and at the UN now believe that because women and girls continue to experience widespread GBV, these interventions have failed. In turn, some U.S. government policymakers feel that intervention is futile, and that the DRC is a bucket with the bottom removed, which no amount of funding can fix. Now, vital resources (both human and financial) are being transferred towards other competing priorities around the globe. The U.S. government is also considering new approaches that could jeopardize GBV survivors’ access to lifesaving care.

At the same time, the UN’s investment, a new approach to coordination called the Comprehensive Strategy to Combat Sexual Violence, created a five-pillared system co-led by the UN and the DRC government. After five years, this coordination strategy has largely failed to avoid duplication or generate momentum on addressing sexual violence, instead bogging humanitarian actors down with bureaucracy.

Policy Recommendations 

  • Donor governments, the United Nations, and humanitarian organizations should take on more gender-based violence (GBV) initiatives, rather than focusing on conflict-related sexual violence.
  • The U.S. Agency for International Development should reinstate funding for stand-alone, multi-sectoral GBV services that include medical, psychosocial, judicial, socio-economic, and prevention activities. This funding must support multi-year program cycles and include community-based organizations in implementation to build sustainability.
  • Donors should increase funding for programs that seek to address the root causes of GBV by empowering women and engaging men.
  • Donor governments, in particular the U.S., and the UN should pressure the DRC government to seriously address and prioritize GBV, particularly in the provision of sustainable health and social services to GBV survivors, as well as on issues of impunity and security sector reform.
  • The DRC Minister of Gender, in collaboration with UN Women, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), the UN Refugee Agency, and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights should overhaul the current National Strategy to Combat Gender-Based Violence and dissolve the pillared structure for coordination.
  • In the DRC provinces where humanitarian clusters are active, UNICEF and UNFPA should activate GBV sub-clusters.
  • The DRC Ministry of Gender, Family Affairs, and Children should develop a new national strategy to combat GBV that coordinates civil society, humanitarian organizations, and the UN.

Marcy Hersh assessed the humanitarian response to women and girls in the Democratic Republic of Congo in October 2014.

Download the full report at