If you needed an illustration of why short-termism in politics is a very bad thing, look no further than the report from the Independent Commission for Aid Impact today into the UK government’s preventing sexual violence in conflict initiative. This is more popularly known as William Hague and Angelina Jolie’s drive to end rape as a weapon of war, and garnered huge attention when the pair launched it back in 2012. Their aims were noble: to bring to justice those using sexual violence in conflict, to prevent such crimes from happening in the first place and to reduce stigma for survivors.
But the report from the ICAI on whether those aims were realised makes miserable reading. The campaign didn’t meet its objectives and may have even harmed some of the survivors it worked with.
One of the main reasons for this is that Hague didn’t remain foreign secretary for much longer after he set up the initiative. The report says that after that, ‘ministerial interest waned and the PSVI’s staffing and funding levels dropped precipitously during this time’.
There was ‘no overarching strategy or theory of change’ and work was fragmented across the three main government departments involved. Because the Foreign Office tended to fund most of the projects on a one-year basis, it was very difficult to include survivors properly or support them for the length of time that they actually needed. The report added:
‘Delays in funding and unrealistic project timelines risk doing more harm than good to survivors who embark on lengthy justice processes extending well beyond the Initiative’s one-year funding cycle.’
Some government mistakes have nebulous consequences: delayed building projects or even staff leaving a sector in greater numbers than expected. But it is difficult to think of a worse outcome to a project aiming to tackle sexual violence than inadvertently harming the very people it originally set out to help.