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As thematic legal advisor for Geneva Call I cover the three main themes we work on currently: the ban on anti-personnel landmines, the protection of children from the effects of armed conflict and the prohibition of sexual violence and towards the elimination of gender discrimination.

The challenge of engaging Armed Non-state Actors (ANSAs) on GBV

In our direct engagement with ANSAs on these topics, the latter clearly poses the greatest challenge. As for society in general, for many ANSAs, the topic of GBV is taboo and even conflict related sexual violence generally remains an invisible phenomenon. Most groups Geneva Call engages with on the topic do not commit GBV as a strategy of war and in many cases the leadership either denies that individual acts of GBV exist or claim that sufficient measures are taken to hold perpetrators accountable and to prevent such acts. Once the legal standards pertaining to sexual violence in conflict have been discussed with the groups, these two positions often put an end to the attempts of Geneva Call to engage further on this topic.

Ideation workshop led by MENSCH
Ideation workshop led by MENSCH

Thinking “out of the box”

The two day “ideation workshop”, led by the innovation agency MENSCH was therefore a unique opportunity to bring together a variety of experts on this topic, both from the academic side as well as form the practitioners side, to discuss how to overcome this challenge and engage ANSAs in a meaningful way on the topic of GBV. The starting point of our discussions was that we assumed GBV exists, be it conflict related or not, and that we will look at the positive roles ANSAs can play to prevent it. Rather than assuming they are perpetrators, we will encourage them to be “gender champions” and “role models” for other ANSAs and for the civilian communities they are in contact with.

Thanks to the rich and very diverse experiences of the participants, many ideas emerged from the workshop and Geneva Call staff was encouraged to think “out of the box”. Having approached this topic from a very traditional, legalistic angle in the past, the diversity of possible methodologies to reach members of groups as well as their leaders, to encourage them to speak about the topic and take preventive measures, was an eye-opener. A leading academic expert’s input ensured that the discussions were informed by the newest research findings on ANSAs and conflict related sexual violence, and helped orient the participants towards those ideas that fill a gap and are likely to be successful. While choosing a few ideas amongst the dozens that came up in the brainstorming session and taking them further, special attention was paid to the “do-no harm-principle” and they were tested in small working groups, taking into account Geneva Call’s experience to evaluate their potential impact and feasibility. This also gave the staff from Geneva Call, who were very involved in the workshop, a chance to take some distance from their daily work on this issue, look at it from a different angle, challenge existing approaches, and explore new and creative methodologies.

Training session on the prohibition of sexual violence for combatants of an armed group operating in Iraq. November 2015 @Geneva Call
Training session on the prohibition of sexual violence for combatants of an armed group operating in Iraq. November 2015. Credit: Geneva Call.

Five innovative ideas on how to engage ANSAs on GBV

Despite the high complexity of the topic and its very particular field of application, the “innovators” from MENSCH successfully managed to focus the discussions towards concrete outcomes and in the end we reached five concrete methods, a few of which will, in a next step, be taken forward. The five ideas aim at creating positive incentives for members of ANSAs not to commit GBV and to take preventive measures by disseminating good practices amongst ANSA members through existing internal channels, by symbolically “rewarding” positive actions taken by a group or individuals within the group, by transforming negative views on sexuality into positive ones and by developing positive role models and by turning passive bystanders into active bystanders.

As organiser of the event, I had a chance to receive feedback from the participants and am happy to say that they felt the workshop was very interesting and useful, also for their own work on this topic, and that each of them expressed an interest in continuing to contribute and cooperate with Geneva Call in the development of these new methods. From our side, we are now looking forward to operationalising one or more of the above mentioned ideas and testing them in the field. We are confident that they have the potential to contribute to reducing GBV cases by ANSAs and in their areas of influence or control.

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