Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie addresses AU Summit on violence against women
BY JOY BINTA
The African Union, meeting this week in Johannesburg, South Africa, had an unusual guest on Friday: Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie, a U.N. Special envoy on refugees, who addressed the Pan-African organization about the thorny issue of violence against women, especially during conflicts.
The actress shared a panel with African Union Commission Chairwoman Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, former British Foreign Secretary William Hague, UN secretary general’s special representative on sexual violence and conflict, Zainab Bangura, and other officials. In remarks aimed specifically at African men, Jolie told the audience: “I am pleading with you as leaders to live up to your promises and beyond. You as men can play a bigger role by arresting and prosecuting perpetrators, allocate funds for survivors of sexual violence and really help root out violence and discrimination in all forms.”
The actress stressed a reality all-too-well-known to the officials in attendance by also saying that there are more people displaced today by war than after World War II: “There are 15 million people displaced today due to conflict and half of them are women and girls. Girls are out of school and more vulnerable to rape.”
While acknowledging the universal nature of the rape of women by soldiers working in conflict—an issue that recently generated a wide-scale controversy in the Central African Republic with the alleged involvement of French soldiers in such practice—she hammered out the unique role men can play in ending the crisis: “Ýou can lead on this issue here in Africa. There is no [better] inspiring role model than a man who protects and fights for the rights of women.”
Jolie acknowledged initiatives in several African countries to stop gender-based violence, which is viewed as one of the major human rights violations of our time, and expressed her cautious hope that these initiatives will bear fruit: ”The crucial thing is whether these plans would be implemented and effected,” Jolie said, adding: “I plead with you, please think about what it would mean if 54 members states here, press together as one for the rights of women…not only for this great continent but for the whole world.”
Jolie, a co-founder of the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative, deplores the slow pace of progress: “Progress is slow, it is uneven, it is fragile and in some parts of the world it is being erased.”