The Dr. Denis Mukwege Foundation puts survivors of wartime sexual violence at the heart of its mission.
When survivors meet they recognise that in spite of their differences in age, culture and background, they share similar experiences and hopes. They also recognise the strength that comes with solidarity. With the support of the Mukwege Foundation, and the invaluable assistance of the Dutch National Postcode Lottery, survivors have created a global movement, coming together as activists to fight the root causes of conflict-related sexual violence and its consequences.
SEMA – the global network of victims and survivors to end wartime sexual violence – brings survivors from 21 countries and 6 continents together, representing more than 90 years of conflict. It creates opportunities for survivors to share and learn from each other, to fight for their rights, to raise awareness and conduct international advocacy together, and to influence policies and programmes which impact them. Its members’ call has been, ‘Nothing about us, without us’, and despite extraordinary barriers, they are already creating incredible change.
Survivors’ voices bring a human understanding of the consequences of wartime rape, and can explain the true needs of victims. They can propose concrete ideas for change, based on their lived realities, which have a compelling impact on all audiences.
The past two years have seen survivors from SEMA speak powerfully at numerous international conferences and events to advocate for their rights.
Since the start of SEMA in 2017, our team has centered and supported survivors in their journey of healing and advocating for change through this network, which now unites survivors from over 20 countries. As a global survivor network, SEMA enables victims and survivors of conflict-related sexual violence to act in solidarity, working more effectively together toward change at international, national, and local levels.
March 2018 – two of SEMA’s members received the #ChangeTheCulture award on behalf of the global network, given by Theirworld on International Women’s Day.
June 2018 – four survivors spoke at the 38th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, calling for justice and reparations.
January 2019 – two survivors from SEMA participated in an expert meeting on reparations in New York, discussing the potential for an international survivors fund and ensuring that survivors’ needs and voices would be at the core of such an initiative.
March 2019 – survivors took part in a side event the 63rd session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women, co-sponsored by the governments of Belgium, France, Senegal and Switzerland, calling for universal access to holistic care for all victims of wartime sexual violence.
June 2019 – the national survivors’ network in DRC and the Mukwege Foundation collaborated with Panzi Foundation DRC, the Lutheran World Federation and the Right Livelihood Award Foundation to submit an alternative joint report to the DRC government’s periodic review for the 73rd session of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).
October 2019 – the Mukwege Foundation accompanied survivors as they shared their perspectives on how to effectively manage trauma at a major international conference on mental health and psychosocial support in crisis situations, hosted by the Dutch Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation in Amsterdam and the Hague.
October 2019 – SEMA members took part in the launch of the Global Survivor Fund at the 10th Anniversary of the UN Mandate on Sexual Violence at UN Headquarters in New York. This moment was the culmination of the survivors’ advocacy, in collaboration with Dr Mukwege and Nadia Murad, and with the support of the Office of the Special Representative to the Secretary-General on Conflict Related Sexual Violence. Survivors gave compelling testimony about their realities and the pressing need for survivor-centred approaches to change.
November 2019 – survivors spoke at the Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs about the importance of reparations and the urgency of scaling up holistic care for survivors of sexual violence in conflict. SEMA was also invited to NATO’s Brussels headquarters, where survivor Tatiana Mukanire spoke to an audience of one hundred NATO ambassadors and officers.
March 2020 – SEMA launched its website and communications platform with secure and automatic translation between five languages.
June 2020 – on June 19, International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict, four statements from SEMA were projected in the Colosseum in Rome to pay tribute to all survivors who have experienced wartime sexual violence. See the photos and the video of the event here.
July 2020 – one survivor from SEMA participated in the online launch event of Forced to report: Mandatory reporting of sexual violence in armed conflict by the British Red Cross and International Committee of the Red Cross, and highlighted the importance of safe access to healthcare and explained the importance of a survivor-centered approach to ensure the support that survivors judge necessary.
Tatiana, a SEMA member from DRC, spoke at the annual discussion on women’s human rights at the 44th session of the UN Human Rights Council, urging member states to consult and involve survivors in the design and implementation of all policies related to the issue of CRSV and to promote holistic care and reparations for survivors by supporting the Global Survivors Fund.
September 2020 – two survivors from SEMA were among the 10 finalists of the 2020 Women Building Peace Award which recognises the vital role of women peacebuilders in conflict-related areas. SEMA took part in the 75th Session of the United Nations General Assembly high-level event hosted by the United Arab Emirates, Norway, and Somalia in cooperation with UNFPA, UNOCHA, ICRC, and NCA, calling for victims of CRSV to be included in the design of the programmes that are meant for them.
October 2020 – SEMA members had a crucial role in the high-level interactive online event co-organised by the Mukwege Foundation. In this discussion, panelists took stock of the successes and challenges faced by survivors who are leading advances on the front lines of transitional justice in their countries.
Esperande, a SEMA member from Burundi was selected for the fifth edition of the European Parliament’s Sakharov Fellowship. Due to Covid-19, the Brussels and Venice-based programme was turned into a remote edition, with once-a-week online sessions in October and November 2020. The focus was on ways to ensure protection of activists and respect of human rights in times of global crises and on how to address related challenges.
SEMA participated in the UK’s All Party Parliamentary Group for the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative (APPG PSVI) discussion on the importance of survivor-centered approaches, asking governments to invest in capacity-building for survivors to be part of discussions as key stakeholders.
November 2020 – To mark the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence 2020, SEMA and the Mukwege Foundation showcased survivors’ activism in 14 countries around the world. Together, we shared the activities of national and local survivors’ networks on social media, highlighting the activism of survivors who are fighting to end violence against women in their countries.
December 2020 – SEMA launched the survivor’s research advisory group to provide feedback on grant applications and research proposals to ensure more survivor-centred initiatives. With the creation of the research advisory group (RAG), research will be carried out ‘with’ or ‘by’ survivors rather than ‘to’, ‘about’ or ‘for’ them.
January 2021 – SEMA and the Mukwege Foundation collaborated with IICI and facilitated consultations with a group of survivors in Ukraine, DRC and Colombia to provide feedback on the Murad Code, a code of conduct for documenters of sexual violence in conflict to ensure a safer and more effective experience for survivors.