Angelina is Fighting Sexual Violence

By Paula Kweskin
 

Armed conflict continues to fill the news, and with it, stories of a grim humanitarian crisis, both among refugees and local civilian populations.

 Though warfare affects everyone it touches, it has the potential to unleash particularly catastrophic effects on women.  Vulnerable to sexual aggression – whether from combatants or unsavory elements in an unstable society – women are at special risk.  And when women live in honor societies – where even their victimization renders them potential offenders of family and community honor – the horror of war-related sexual crimes is exacerbated by the threat of ostracism, physical punishment, or death.

I had the privilege and honor of attending the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict in London in mid-June.

Paula Global Violence Summit London

There, Willian Hague, British Foreign Secretary, and Angelina Jolie, actress and Special Envoy for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, discussed the severity of the problem and brought experts and analysts from around the world to brainstorm solutions and come together to make change.  

An impressive 1700 delegates from 129 countries attended to address the nightmare of sexual violence in conflict.  As UNICEF, the UN children agency, has determined that over 223 million children – 150 million girls and 73 million boys – are victims of sexual violence each year, this problem is not relevant just to small microcosms in far-flung places around the world.  It is an international epidemic.

There were dozens of events associated with the conference, on a wide variety of topics.  I appreciated a comment made by Angelina Jolie, who touched on the issue of honor in war-time sexual violence by urging women not to consider themselves disgraced by their victimization.  

 "We must send a message around the world that there is no disgrace in being a survivor of sexual violence,” she said.  ”That shame is on the aggressor.”

On a personal level, it was an electrifying experience being able to meet and speak with so many important, passionate, effective women’s rights advocates and activists.  Many of them expressed their support for Honor Diaries, and we talked about ways to support each other.

Among the special women I met during the conference was the intrepid Leyla Hussein, anti-FGM activist out of the UK – the emotion she bears for the work that she does is such an inspiration.  Baroness Hodgson of Abinger, a well-known Lady in the House of Lords and anti-FGM parliamentarian, expressed interest in our film and took a copy to review.

There is much, MUCH left to do.  This conference was only the beginning of making the change that so many women and girls need so urgently.  But I believe there is power in numbers. I believe there is strength in our common purpose.  And I believe that the unity between the passionate leaders and the grassroots activists will ultimately shatter the shackles which oppress too many.

Wishing all women and girls the utmost safety, freedom, dignity, and respect – and every other goodness they so richly deserve.

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Paula Kweskin is a Producer and Writer for Honor Diaries, as well as a human rights attorney and defender of humanitarian causes. She received her B.A. and J.D. from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and is a member of the New York bar.
Paula has worked on various human rights projects including micro-credit initiatives in Argentina, advocacy on behalf of victims of extraordinary rendition, and relief for victims of domestic violence. She is fluent in Spanish.

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CULTURE IS NO EXCUSE FOR ABUSE

Honor Diaries is a movement to inspire others to learn more about the issues facing women in Muslim-majority societies, and to act for change.

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