SEMA members speak out with one voice against stigma, violence, and impunity

SEMA, the Global Network of Victims and Survivors to End Wartime Sexual Violence, currently represents survivors of conflict-related sexual violence from over 20 countries ranging from Africa and South America to the Middle East and Europe. Working together, these survivors draw global attention to the continued use of sexual violence as a weapon of war, and call for the changes needed to end the violence and achieve justice. 

SEMA members join key international and national discussions on peace and security. They influence policies and programmes, by advocating for changes in how we address sexual violence in conflict. 

The SEMA network enables its members to share experiences, to learn directly from one another, sharing best practices. Members support one another, and strengthened are better able reach out to those still suffering in isolation. Every survivor in this network knows the weight and cost of the stigma they face, and this awareness continues to fuel their resolve to work in solidarity to break the silence, improve victims’ access to care, and end the impunity of perpetrators.

A young & active network

In 2017, survivors of sexual violence from 15 countries met in Geneva, at the first of a series of international survivor retreats. From the outset, the idea of working together generated enthusiasm and strong support from survivors. Their powerful call was clear: “Nothing about us, without us.” Today, their network brings together survivors who work with frontline organisations supporting them in their healing and advocacy journeys. By coming together and speaking out, they shift the shame onto the perpetrators, break the silence and the stigma, and call on the international community to take action and abide by its commitments to end the use of sexual violence in conflict.

Once victims, now survivors these women have expertise built on direct, lived experience. SEMA members want to themselves build awareness about the reality and consequences of conflict-related sexual violence worldwide. They want to be part of solutions that help reconstruct communities around the world.

SEMA members identified their key objectives

  • To raise awareness about the reality, causes and consequences of wartime sexual violence worldwide
  • To maintain a safe international platform for survivors to come together and shape the narrative on wartime sexual violence
  • To promote the holistic model of care for victims, integrating psycho-social, legal and livelihood development support with medical care
  • To advocate for the abolition of sexual violence as a weapon of war

SEMA members advocate with key players responsible for the design and implementation of policies that affect communities ravaged by conflict-related sexual violence. 

This means meeting with governments and international organisations to influence concrete changes in how sexual violence in conflict is addressed.

Some highlights of SEMA in action in the past 5 years include:

  • SEMA members have spoken at the UN Commission on the Status of Women in New York, the Human Rights Council and the UN General Assembly where they advocated for justice, holistic care and their inclusion in decision-making;
  •  SEMA has contributing to the draft Murad Code, a global code of conduct for documenters; 
  • • SEMA members have been invited by UN Women to participate in their training of female peacekeepers who will be deployed to peacekeeping missions all over the world to ensure zero tolerance for sexual exploitation and abuse, and better prevention of and response to CRSV;
  • SEMA members presented the key recommendations of a joint report submitted to the Universal Periodical Review of DRC to the Human Rights Council in Geneva. The report highlights the need to fight impunity, to address the lack of access to reparations and holistic care, and the urgent need to implement prevention and a proper strategy to achieve equality between women and men in DRC; 
  • SEMA members have participated in learning exchanges with survivors in Bosnia, Colombia, Iraq, Kosovo, South Sudan, Uganda and Ukraine; 
  • With Make Music Matter, survivors wrote and recorded the song ‘Little Bird’. They have performed it live at public events in Geneva and The Hague, and with the Luxembourg Philharmonic Orchestra;
  • Survivors participated in the launch of the Global Survivors Fund, the reparations initiative spearheaded by Dr. Mukwege and Nadia Murad, showcased during a United Nations event to mark the 10th anniversary of the UN Mandate on Sexual Violence in New York City, where survivors gave compelling testimony about their realities and the pressing need for survivor-centred approaches to change.