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Launch for Central African Republic sexual violence report

The voices of hurting women thousands of miles away were heard in the Houses of Lords last week

The UK launch of an important report on sexual and gender based violence (SGBV) during the recent conflict in Central African Republic (CAR) brought government officials and faith leaders together last week, thanks to a report co-sponsored by BMS World Mission.

The 8 December meeting provided leaders with an open platform to discuss findings in a new report, To Make Our Voices Heard, and explore ways of preventing similar atrocities in the future.

It all began with brave voices. The voices of survivors sharing stories of degrading abuse and heartbreak.

Christian anti-Balaka militias and Muslim Seleka rebels were both responsible for atrocities during the recent conflict and BMS and Tearfund carried out a joint study in April and May 2015 into sexual and gender violence used as weapons of war. It was the first research of its kind since the conflict began in the country.

One woman who was interviewed in the survey told of the impact sexual violence had had on her in the conflict. “It leaves physical damage and emotional scars. Sexual violence shatters the survivor’s life and the experience cannot be erased from your memory. These traumatic experiences become alive in your head for the rest of your life.”

A voice like this cannot be ignored and her story cannot be erased. The initial launch of the report was held in Bangui, capital of CAR in September 2015. But, some in the United Kingdom also heard their cries this week.  

The launch event was hosted by Baroness Berridge of the Vale of Catmose, a commissioner for the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission and former BMS volunteer in Trinidad and Tobago.

Government and representatives from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), BMS, Tearfund, members of Parliament and other organisations met to discuss humanitarian response efforts and how the government can best respond.

From the report and discussion it was clear that international humanitarian help could do more to engage faith groups in assisting survivors’ voices to be heard and community reconciliations to be achieved.

Leaders discussed the response of faith groups in countries of conflict. Religious groups provide a source of trust for communities and faith leaders can be instrumental in preventing conflict in the first place.

“There is remarkable potential for an interfaith approach,” says Chris Dain, Deputy Head of the FCO’s Central and Southern Africa Office. “It can diffuse tensions in conflict and the faith approach is a core strand of the total international community response.”

Moving forward, the report urges faith groups around the world to play a bigger role in responding to SGBV.

As the voices of these women challenge faith groups, they also challenge governments. Baroness Berridge brings a motion before the House of Lords this week. The goal is to challenge the government to place more pressure on UN humanitarian response not to forget to address important issues of gender and sexual violence in places of conflict.  

Even though these voices are thousands of miles away, taking a stand for them here in the United Kingdom is incredibly important.

“It’s a fundamental truth about mission that God cares about these people. God is passionately upset by what happened to these women and he calls his Church into action to pursue justice and mission within the world,” says Steve Sanderson, BMS Manager for Mission.

“I believe every BMS supporter that’s been involved in giving and supporting to BMS relief work is also standing alongside these women. BMS has not been silent. Everyone involved in giving, praying and supporting has not been silent either.”

Pray for wisdom for faith and government leaders within the United Kingdom as they seek to take action against sexual and gender based violence throughout the world.

*Photo credit: second and third photos from Sarah Baldwin/ Teafund.

This article first appeared on the website of BMS World Mission and is used with permission. 

BMS World Mission, 15/12/2015
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