Married off to a much older man when she was only 16, Amina (right) eventually escaped and returned home to her parents' house in a settlement near Aden, Yemen. Supported by Zonta International, the Global Programme to End Child Marriage helped her recover emotionally and learn the skills she needed to start a small business.

Zonta International statement on International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict 2021

Today on the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict, Zonta International recognizes the impact of COVID-19 on survivors of conflict-related sexual violence.

According to the United Nations, the term conflict-related sexual violence refers to "rape, sexual slavery, forced prostitution, forced pregnancy, forced abortion, enforced sterilization, forced marriage and any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity perpetrated against women, men, girls or boys that is directly or indirectly linked to a conflict. The term also encompasses trafficking in persons when committed in situations of conflict for the purpose of sexual violence or exploitation."

Because of stigma, insecurity, fear of reprisals and lack of services, there is a chronic underreporting of conflict-related sexual violence. This has been compounded by COVID-19 containment measures, such as lockdowns, curfews, quarantines, limited access to services and safe spaces, and more.

"Proactive measures to foster an enabling environment for survivors to safely come forward and seek redress have become more urgent than ever," the UN said.

The pandemic has highlighted the intersecting inequalities that afflict our societies, made worse by conflict and displacement.

"To recover from this pandemic and come back stronger, we have to seek gender equality, raise the voices of women and girls around the world and address the root causes of gender-based violence," said Zonta International President Sharon Langenbeck.

The UN said, "A gender-responsive global recovery from COVID-19 should not aim for a return to the pre-pandemic status quo, but instead promote a new social contract in which no one in power is above the law, and no one rendered powerless is beneath the protection of the law, with the ultimate goal of achieving true equality and justice."

In Yemen, one of the countries supported by the UNFPA-UNICEF Global Programme to End Child Marriage, a brutal civil war has pushed the nation close to social collapse. Rising inflation has caused basic necessities to be too expensive for most families, and violence has forced millions to flee their homes. With 80% of the population in Yemen dependent on humanitarian assistance, struggling families often turn to early marriage to feed their children and cover expenses.

Amina (name changed) lived with her family in a settlement on the outskirts of Aden, Yemen, where her father's job as a driver barely supported their family of eight. When she was 16, he told Amina he made a deal for her to marry a man twice her age in exchange for a small amount of money. After months of violent assaults from her husband, Amina eventually escaped and returned home. The Global Programme, which Zonta International has supported since 2018, provided her with counseling and training that helped her start a small business. Amina now earns a small income that allows her to help support her family, and she works as an advocate against child marriage in her community.

In all of the work we do at Zonta International, we are pushing societies toward a new social contract—aiming for equity and the end of violence. We encourage our members to continue their advocacy work and to join us in advocating to end gender-based violence by participating in the Zonta Says NO to Violence Against Women campaign from 25 November through 10 December. To help support our programs such as the Ending Child Marriage project, donate to the Zonta Foundation for Women.

19 JUNE 2021