SVRI Forum 2009

SVRI BannerThe Sexual Violence Research Initiative (SVRI) recently hosted its first ever conference in Johannesburg, South Africa, SVRI Forum 2009: Coordinated evidence-based responses to end sexual violence. The conference which was aimed at promoting further research on sexual violence; highlighting innovation; and encouraging sharing and networking in the area of sexual violence brought together over 194 participants from over 28 countries.

“It was a unique opportunity for sexual violence researchers, policy makers, programme developers, implementers, rights advocates, activists and ‘agents of change’ at a community level to meet and share latest research findings, programme implementation and community responses, says Mmapaseka ‘Steve’ Letsike, advocacy and mainstreaming project manager at OUT LGBT Well-being in South Africa

Delegates were treated to an array of topics pertaining to sexual violence in the form of workshops and parallel sessions. Although some research findings such as the forced sterilization of HIV positive mothers in Namibia and South Africa and the levels of violent rapes in conflict areas reflected a dire reality for women, it also served as an eye-opener and a nudge for programme developers and policy makers to adopt a more rigorous and hard line approach to policy implementation.

“It’s important to learn new practices and have a diversity of ideas in terms of the implementation of policies relating to sexual violence and public health,” says Dr Alex Muhereza of Northern Uganda Malaria AIDS and TB programme (NUMAT). He added that public health services in conflict areas such as Northern Uganda, Liberia and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and in non conflict areas cannot be on the same level as these conflict areas are a constant emergency setting and need to be treated as such. “It’s one thing to adopt policy but it is very important to continuously adapt that policy to the prevailing circumstances,” says Juliette Kavabuha of the Burundi Policy Reform Progamme.

Although there was a consensus that policy reform was needed as a way forward, “a number of discussions continued to highlight the disconnection between human rights law and reality,” says New York University Doctoral student Kate Griffiths. The South African constitution, one of the world’s more progressive, enshrines ‘affirmative measures’ as the standard for government responsibility towards implementing gender equality. Yet the Medical Research Council’s (MRC) report: Understanding men’s health and use of violence: Interface of rape and HIV in South Africa” reveals that South Africa’s women are faced with some of the highest risks of violence and rape and contracting HIV.

SVRI Programme Officer, Liz Dartnall, is delighted with the success of the conference and the opportunities it has provided for networking, debating and sharing ideas on how to address sexual violence. This sentiment is shared by Abbie Fields, a researcher from Managua, Nicaragua, when she states, “Perhaps the most valuable aspect was the opportunity to meet colleagues doing similar work or sharing similar interests.  I am hopeful that these contacts will lead to collaborative projects in the future that will help further expand our knowledge about sexual violence.” For more information on the Forum please email or visit