The Countess of Wessex visited Kosovo to find out more about the work being carried out to support survivors of sexual violence in conflict. This is the latest in a series of engagements and overseas visits for The Countess which have a focus on sexual and gender-based violence.
In January 2019, on International Women's Day, The Countess of Wessex publicly pledged her commitment to make two key areas a central pillar of her work: the #WomenPeaceSecurity agenda and the UK’s Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative.
In a speech at the UN Her Royal Highness said,
I am determined to use my position to break down the silence around sexual violence, and I will champion women’s full and meaningful participation in peace processes.
Since her pledge, The Countess of Wessex has had regular meetings with activists, academics, campaigners and peacekeepers as part of her day-to-day work and has undertaken a number of overseas visits to find out more about how the UN is working with other countries to tackle gender-based violence.
On The Countess's first day in Kosovo, she listened as survivors of conflict-based sexual violence spoke with courage and conviction about their stories and about the challenges they face 20 years on from 1998-99 conflict in Kosovo.
The Countess said:
Their stories are harrowing and their pain is still so evident, but it is their courage and determination not to be defined by their dreadful experiences that is so very impressive.
Read the speech in full here.
Later, Her Royal Highness viewed exhibition ‘Be My Face’ which challenges visitors to visualise survivors’ stories and consider the effects of living with trauma, in turn giving survivors a platform to tell their stories and find acceptance.
The Countess paid tribute to
The Heroinat memorial in Pristina is a woman’s face made up of thousands of pins – to represent the thousands of women affected by the conflict in 1998-1999.
Later, at the Palace of Justice, The Countess heard how the justice system in Kosovo is taking steps to support survivors and learnt about the challenges in securing successful prosecutions, 20 years on from the conflict.
On the final day of The Countess's visit to Kosovo, Her Royal Highness met with religious leaders, who are taking steps to challenge the stigma that surrounds sexual violence survivors. The Countess learnt about the important support given to those in need and advice about seeking justice.
The Countess heard how religious leaders are turning words into actions by signing a declaration in Kosovo to support survivors. ...and now expressing support for a worldwide ‘Declaration for Humanity’ to be issued by faith leaders at the #TimeForJustice conference in November.
The Countess later met British soldiers deployed to NATO force helping to support and maintain peace in the country. Her Royal Highness discussed the importance of women being part of the peacekeeping efforts and processes, now and in the future.