Message from the Conference Chair

Dear Colleagues, Friends, Ladies and Gentlemen,

ClaudiaIt is my great honour and pleasure as Chair of this Conference to welcome you once again and to open this forum of the Sexual Violence Research Initiative. As I mentioned yesterday (and please bear with me as I will repeat some of my comments), it is the first event of its kind organized by the SVRI. And we certainly hope it will not be the last, but rather that it represents a beginning of a growing focus on research, knowledge building, action and sharing of ideas on how to address sexual violence.

I don’t think I need to tell this group about the problem of sexual violence, the dire statistics, the grim consequences to the health, wellbeing and lives of so many. We are all here because we know and we care about these issues, we recognize sexual violence has been neglected and we want to do something about this. We want to make sure that our health care responses are guided by the needs and concerns of survivors, that our prevention strategies tackle not just the immediate determinants but the difficult structural issues behind violence including gender inequality. And, as was highlighted by our keynote speaker last night that our policies and programmes need to be guided by evidence. Research is critical to highlight the magnitude of the problem, make the problem visible and bring attention to it, to help us understand the nature and causes and to guide our policies and responses. And that is the purpose of the Forum.

The Forum seeks to : a) promote research on sexual violence, b) highlight innovative work in the field and c) encourage sharing and networking in what is still a relatively young field of knowledge and knowledge building.

We have as you will have seen in the programme a very rich and varied array of oral presentations, roundtable sessions, poster presentations and some satellite meetings. The Forum presentations are structured around the following 5 themes:

  • Sexual violence and HIV
  • Sexual violence and mental health
  • Sexual violence and conflict and crises settings
  • Sexual violence and prevention
  • Health sector responses to sexual violence

These themes were selected based on an early exercise done by the SVRI when we started to identify research priorities, as well as the input and requests for support coming from Members of the SVRI through our email list-serve and our web discussion groups. We hope that the discussions during the next 3 days will inform us as a network, perhaps identify new research priorities, highlight areas needing attention, and help us to continue to shape and evolve a research agenda for the field that we can promote and advocate for among both researchers and funders.

We have 58 oral presentations focusing on the 5 conference themes and more. For many of the presentations, this will be the first time the findings are being presented in such an international forum. We will hear, for example in the next plenary, about findings from a study on men’s use of physical and sexual violence against women in Croatia, India and South Africa. We will learn about how health systems in a variety of countries across Africa, Latin America and Asia are responding to rape. Some sessions will address rape as a threat to global security in contexts of conflict and crises, and others will focus on child sexual abuse which we recognize is an important determinant of subsequent perpetration and experience of violence. We had submissions of excellent quality that allowed us to put together a strong programme but we have deliberately kept the sessions with 3 – 4 papers to ensure there is time for discussion. We will be identifying key issues arising from each of the sessions and will be synthesising these on the last day of our meeting.

A very wide range of organizations, both non governmental, and multilateral as well as national ministry officials are represented here and I will not attempt to name all of them, but we have people who have done significant work in the field and who are among the world experts. So I encourage you, in addition to the formal program, to mix and mingle and ask questions and develop contacts so that we can all come out of the Forum not just with what we have heard in the presentations, but with new friends, new sources of information and support, new resources and new learnings that we can take back to our own settings.

I want to bring to your attention that on Wednesday 8 July the SVRI Forum will host a gala dinner at the Carnivore Restaurant for all delegates who want to take the opportunity to share and network with experts in the field. As mentioned yesterday, the Conference will end with a prize giving session (so don’t leave early). Awards will be given to the best poster and the best oral presentation. The Forum will also award the best junior researcher in order to promote research and build capacity in the field of sexual violence research.

We look forward to some exciting and productive exchanges over the next few days. We look forward to working with you on shining a spotlight on sexual violence as a profound violation of human rights and a major public health problem that requires urgent action. That is why we are all here, because we care and because we want to see this change. So thank you very much for being here and have a productive and enjoyable time.

Dr. Claudia Garcia-Moreno
Conference Organizing Chair – SVRI Forum 2009
Senior Adviser Gender, Violence and HIV/AIDS
Department of Reproductive Health and Research
World Health Organization