Dr Helen Liebling, Lecturer-Practitioner in Clinical Psychology and Associate of African Studies Centre, Coventry University, was invited to present at the Isis-Women’s International Cross-Cultural Exchange discussion panel at the Global Summit to end Sexual Violence in Conflict held in London between 10-14th June 2014. The panel was entitled Survivor’s journey from abuse to healing: Mind, Body and Soul. It was chaired by both Helen and Ruth Ojiambo-Ochieng, Executive Director, Isis-WICCE. Also present were Harriet Nabukeera-Musoke, Programme Co-ordinator and Helen Kezie-Nwoha, Programme Manager.
Helen Liebling’s presentation highlighted the importance of understanding sexual violence within its cultural context and as gendered, occurring within non-conflict, conflict and post-conflict settings and affecting whole communities. As her research with Bruce Baker has found (Liebling & Baker, ‘Justice and Health Provision for Survivors of Sexual Violence’, LAP Lambert Academic Publishing, 2010, p.52):
Sexual violence is experienced simultaneously as a violation of the survivor’s body and rights and therefore leaves survivors in need of both a health and a justice response. Therefore, as the two are connected in the experience of the survivor so they need to go hand in hand in terms of service responses required.
Survivors spoken to during research desired a holistic response; including physical and psychological treatment as well as justice for the atrocities committed against them. Although an end to impunity is desired, in the absence of effective state provision, social justice was deemed a more effective solution for survivors. The panel presented examples from research and training carried out in northern Uganda, Southern Sudan and Liberia of how their model of healing survivors and capacity building of professionals was working in rural settings. There was a lively discussion with the audience that highlighted the pressing need to provide a model of care for staff working with survivors in conflict and post-conflict settings, who often have their own experiences of sexual violence, the importance of strategies to deal with stigma and engaging survivor’s perspectives in continuing to improve sensitive service responses.
Isis-WICCE also launched their recent publication Forced to Flee: Voices of Congolese Women Refugees in Uganda and the panel was joined by Jessica Horn, Board Member, and Fareen Walji, Urgent Action Fund who launched their report entitled Our Right to Safety: Women Human Rights Defenders: Holistic Approach to Protection.
Helen also participated in a steering group meeting of the Sexual and Gender Based Violence Learning Hub co-ordinated by Tearfund and Sexual Violence Research Initiative during the week, which is a unique international initiative to greatly expand on the knowledge and already substantial contribution of local faith communities to community service response development in this area.