By Maya Geira in Mogadishu
( IRIN) – Sexual violence against women and girls during conflicts is on the rise in northern Ethiopia despite decades of conflict. On Friday the United Nations estimated that of the 120,000 known cases of rape and sexual violence reported in the Horn of Africa country in 2017, only 5,200 cases were reported to authorities.
The latest accounts of the conflict’s impacts have emerged from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where a women’s alliance wants victims’ rights to be at the centre of discussion at the two-day UN climate talks that kicked off on Monday.
Concentrating women’s voices in negotiations
Ibrahim Abdullahi Mohamed, the focal point of the women’s alliance, said the rights of women during war need to be closely connected to the climate negotiations, which aim to reach an agreement at the two-yearly UN climate talks in Katowice, Poland, in December that would cap global warming well below the UN’s 2ºC target.
“There have been reports of worsening of food insecurity, conflict, famine, climate-induced phenomena, lack of water, and poor availability of sanitation and health services for people,” said Mohamed, a spokeswoman for the Alliance of Women Global Leaders.
Mohamed said the fight against sexual violence, which affects women in the country with the highest number of reported rapes every year after South Sudan, should start at the international climate negotiations, where a woman’s voice is rarely heard.
“There are women’s groups in negotiations. They go there with women’s issues and they never bring it up,” said Mohamed. “Women rarely have access to the negotiating table.”
According to the 2017 report by the UN, more than 90,000 cases of rape and sexual violence were reported between October 2015 and September 2016 in southern and eastern Ethiopia and in the states of Gondar, Harar, and Woldiya.
Many of the reports from 2012 to 2016 remained unreported to authorities, the report said.
In October 2016, the Ethiopian government announced that it would take “bold measures” to fight the effects of conflict.
According to Mohamed, there are now laws in place that empower women to protect their rights during conflict. But more needs to be done to ensure that victims get justice.
“Victims do not have access to any physical justice or victim’s advocacy,” said Mohamed. “There’s very little that can be done at the grassroots level.”
Speaking at a press conference on Thursday, European Commission Humanitarian Coordinator for Africa, Christopher Gray, highlighted challenges faced by Ethiopians during conflicts. “The people of Ethiopia face extreme hardships. They cannot provide their own security and safety, and they endure difficult living conditions,” said Gray.
“We therefore need solutions and solutions that are tailor-made to meet their specific needs.”
While improving governance in the region is critical, Gray also said those parties that are pursuing risky strategies, notably in the Middle East, Yemen, and northern Africa, must be held accountable for their actions.