During the past year, the UK Government has become the lead advocate for a
perhaps surprising foreign policy goal: ending sexual violence in conflict. The
participation of government representatives from more than 120 countries in
a London Summit in June 2014 was the clearest manifestation of this project.
This article offers an early assessment of the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative
(PSVI) and situates it within the history of global action against sexual and
gender-based violence from UN Security Council Resolution 1325 onwards, with
a particular focus on three key developments. First, the PSVI has embraced the
already common understanding of rape as a ‘weapon of war’, and has stressed the
importance of military training and accountability. This has exposed the tensions
within global policy between a focus on all forms of sexual violence (including
intimate partner violence in and out of conflict situations) on the one hand, and
war zone activities on the other. Second, the Initiative has placed great emphasis
on ending impunity, which implicates it in ongoing debates about the role of international
and local justice as an effective response to atrocity. Third, men and boys
have been foregrounded as ignored victims of sexual and gender-based violence.
The PSVI has been crucial to that recognition, but faces significant challenges in
operationalizing its commitment and in avoiding damage to existing programmes
to end violence against women and girls. The success of the Initiative will depend
on its ability to navigate these challenges in multiple arenas of global politics.