UN Commission Asked To Focus On ‘Horrific Violence’ Against Women In Tigray War – OpEd


By Caroline Mwanga

Julia Duncan-Cassell, Former Liberian Minister of Gender and President of the Brussels-based European External Programme with Africa (EPA), has highlighted the urgent need for action regarding the proliferation of conflict-related sexual violence in an Open Letter to the 68th annual Commission on the Status of Women (CSW68).

The CSW68 is the UN’s largest annual gathering on gender equality and women’s empowerment, taking place at the UN Headquarters in New York from 11 to 22 March under the priority theme, “Accelerating the achievement of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls by addressing poverty and strengthening institutions and financing with a gender perspective”.

Ms Duncan-Cassell draws the attention of CSW68 participants to the horrific findings of recent research, “Bodies as Battlefields” conducted by a woman academic who was trapped in Tigray, Ethiopia, during the two-year conflict there—from November 2020 to November 2022.

The research on Tigray armed conflict, which is based on interviews with survivors, found that the conflict-related sexual violence in her country included:

  • Mutilation of women’s genitals and other body parts;
  • Insertion of foreign objects into women’s vaginas;
  • Gang-rape of individual women, usually by three to 10 armed combatants;
  • Forcing of family members to witness or participate in the act;
  • Exposure of survivors to multiple incidents of rape, including sexual slavery, with survivors typically held for two to 35 days; and
  • HIV/AIDS being intentionally transmitted through rape to reduce the number of the targeted population.

Conflict-related sexual violence

These findings of the exceptional nature of conflict-related sexual violence in Tigray are echoed in the experience of women in other conflict zones, where there are also accounts of the blinding of women to prevent identification of perpetrators.

In addition to the physical, psychological and social consequences, the Tigray research found there were profound economic consequences for the survivors and the wider community.

The recommendations in the recent Tigray research include the strengthening of local, national and international institutions to protect women, and to provide justice and prevent further conflict-related sexual violence. In addition, it highlights the need for measures to counter the extreme economic exclusion of women who are ostracised by their community because of the abuses inflicted on them.

“Since the Tigray conflict, there have been recent harrowing reports of conflict-related sexual violence against women in the wars in Ukraine and the Middle East, which add to the urgency of our appeal to you to ensure that this subject is addressed by the CSW,” Ms Duncan-Cassell states.

Both of these subjects—institutional strengthening and economic empowerment with a gender perspective—are on the agenda for this year’s CSW68. But the EPA letter in partnership with LDC Watch and L’Observatoire PMA wants CSW68 to specifically address the position of women affected by conflict-related sexual violence.

Fresh impetus

Putting the subject on the agenda for next year’s CSW, will give fresh impetus to the global campaign. It will provide a beacon of hope to the hundreds of thousands of women affected by conflict-related sexual violence globally, and act as a warning to perpetrators that the international community will act on its commitment to eliminate this gross injustice.

Furthermore, it wants that the subject of women affected by conflict-related sexual violence be put on the agenda for next year’s CSW. “Eliminating violence against women in public life was included in the 2021 agenda: however, this did not include the issue of conflict-related sexual violence,” stresses the open letter.

The open letter admits that the international community has passed repeated resolutions, including 1325, 1888, 2106, 2467, condemning conflict-related sexual violence and setting out remedial action. There is a special UN Representative on sexual violence in conflict and an International Day for the elimination of sexual violence in conflict.

“But warm words have not provided justice for the women of Tigray, or the Rohingya, Uyghur, Yazidi or other women who have been targeted with grotesque conflict-related sexual violence. Nor has it prevented women in Ukraine, Gaza or Israel being subjected to extreme sexual violence linked to the conflict in their countries. Combatants continue to target sexual violence against women with complete impunity. Their military and political leaders either permit, enable or promote the violence, safe in the knowledge they will not be held to account.”

Co-signatories of the joint letter to CSW68 include EPA Vice President Kokob Gebru Kidanu, Ethiopia’s Former Minister for Women, Children and Youth, Filsan Abdi, and founder of the Horn Peace InstituteLord David Alton, member of the House of Lords, UK and member of the House of Lords select committee on international relations and human rights advocate, former Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Department for International Development, UK, Sally Keeble, and Mirjam van Reisen, Tilburg Unversity, The Netherlands.


IDN-InDepthNews offers news analyses and viewpoints on topics that impact the world and its peoples. IDN-InDepthNews serves as the flagship of the International Press Syndicate Group

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