Stopping Rape in Conflict: From Agenda to Awareness to Action

With Natalie Florea Hudson (University of Dayton)

Forthcoming from SUNY Press

Is it possible to “stop rape now” by mobilizing across borders? Following the landmark international policies to address women, peace, and security at the UN starting in 2000, transnational advocacy has sought to further implement solutions to conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV). Since then, the issue of CRSV has become the focus of documentaries, movements, advocacy organizations, celebrity humanitarianism, consumer campaigns, and social media. Yet, CRSV persists.  There is a gap between international action and women’s lived experiences. This project demonstrates how transnational advocacy on behalf of a human rights violation is not enough and can at times narrow opportunities for action even for issues that are recognized at the highest level of international community. Based on interviews with over 50 advocates within and outside of the UN system, this study of three transnational campaigns to stop sexual violence in conflict enriches our understanding of how advocacy is practiced. We argue that the uneven impacts of transnational advocacy on CRSV is explained by closely scrutinizing  the power dynamics across Northern and Southern actors, the circulation of multiple narratives, and gender constraints on access and story-telling.


Blending approaches from social movement, constructivist and feminist security studies, this projecy marshals the concepts of norm entrepreneurship, insider-outsider lobbying, and securitization to argue that awareness-raising is not enough and can even be problematic. We use an insider/outsider framing to identify and explain recent trends in human rights advocacy including the entry of new actors, such as celebrities, philanthropists, corporations, and diaspora activists, new outsider spaces, such as movie screenings and fundraising runs, and new modalities, such as shopping and cause-related marketing models. We still take seriously traditional international policy-making spheres and modes of advocacy focused on formal institutions and decision-making, but we also consider how these various processes diverge and intersect for transnational activism on CRSV in both limiting and transformative ways. Looking at these new trends with a feminist lens, we find transnational advocacy is creating new entry points and new approaches for the inclusion of women’s leadership and agency in security spaces. With its unique approach to studying advocacy across traditional and informal spaces, Stopping Rape in Conflict contributes to new actors, new outsider spaces, and new modalities in transnational advocacy for human rights in conflict-affected areas. Striking a note of hope in the contested terrain for human rights advocacy, the project underscores the role of women as activists on women’s issues and offers grounded research for why and how women’s engagement in advocacy matters to peace and security.         


Check out our published pieces:

2020 “Sisterhood Partnerships for Conflict-Related Sexual Violence.” World Development. Forthcoming.          

2020 Human Rights Center Blog: International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict: Spotlight on our Field Research

2019 Human Rights Center Blog: The Rise of Caring Capitalism in the Humanitarian Space

2019  Chapter: “When Advocacy Securitizes: New Actors and Audiences in the Securitization of Sexualized Violence in Conflict.” In Securitization Revisited: Contemporary Applications and InsightsEdited by Michael Butler. (London: Routledge), 91-115.