Angelina Jolie was in Vancouver yesterday for the U.N. Peacekeeping Defense Ministerial Conference. Jolie was one of the keynote speakers, and her speech was about the subject she’s devoted so much of her time to in the past decade: sexual violence in conflict. Through her work with the UNHCR, she’s seen first hand how rape and sexual assault are used as weapons of war. She’s seen how women are chronically undervalued in societies around the world, and how that chronic undervaluation leads to systemic disenfranchisement, inequity and a cycle of abuse, violence, poverty and the collapse of countries. She addressed all of that and more in her speech, saying in part:
“Sexual violence is everywhere – in the industry where I work, in business, in universities, in politics, in the military, and across the world. All too often, these kinds of crimes against women are laughed off, depicted as a minor offense by someone who cannot control themselves, as an illness, or as some kind of exaggerated sexual need. But a man who mistreats women is not oversexed. He is abusive.”
Jolie called sexual violence “a critical obstacle to achieving women’s equality and our full human rights,” adding that it is often used as a weapon of war. “It is cheaper than a bullet, and it has lasting consequences that unfold with sickening predictability that make it so cruelly effective,” she explained.
Outside of Hollywood, the actress pointed to female Rohingya refugees seeking asylum in Bangladesh, saying that almost every woman there “is either a survivor of sexual violence or a witness to multiple incidences of sexual assault, rape or gang‑rape.”
She also noted the Democratic Republic of Congo, where she said last week a trial opened “for 46 alleged cases of the rape of children by militia fighters, who had been told that blood of virgins would grant them supernatural protection. Some of the victims were 18 months old.”
Jolie went on to say that recognizing sexual violence as a weapon of war is not enough. “Even if we accept that sexual violence has nothing to do with sex, that it is a crime, and that it is used as a weapon, many people still believe that it is simply not possible to do anything about it.”
Fighting against sexual violence is “hard, but it is not impossible,” she said. “We have the laws, the institutions, and the expertise in gathering evidence. We are able to identify perpetrators. What is missing is the political will.”
I’m sure there will be some people who accuse Jolie of merely taking up this cause because of everything that’s happened in the past two months. Those people are idiots – she’s been working on this for years. That’s why she knows this is a unique moment to make this kind of speech – as a society, we’re now trending more towards “believing women” and “believing the victims” like never before. There is broad work (or, work on behalf of broads!) to be done at every level of society, from sexual abuse and exploitation in refugee camps to rape in war zones to sexual harassment in supposedly “first world” environments.