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Angelina Jolie and William Hague's fight against war rape

Maria Bell
By Maria Bell Published on 26 March 2013

They might not be a likely coupling but Foreign Secretary William Hague and international Hollywood superstar Angelina Jolie have teamed up to fight the global problem of warzone rape.

Angelina Jolie and William Hague's join forces to help to combat warzone rape

Although this might seem like a strange celebrity combination if you know anything about Angelina Jolie's campaigning history and William Hague's commitment to women's rights then it really isn't that surprising at all, in fact it's a brilliant partnership. Seriously if there are two people we respect more in the world right now we challenge you to find them.

Last Sunday they began their mission to highlight the issue of warzone rape by flying to The Democratic Republic of Congo to meet with survivors of rape, as well as with lawyers, doctors and local political leaders to discuss how to help victims and bring perpetrators to justice.

According to a 2011 report a woman gets raped every 4 minutes in the Democratic Republic of Congo and a UN report claimed it was the most dangerous place in the world to be a woman. Their next stop will be Rwanda.

As a result of this visit Mr Hague and Angelina Jolie will urge G8 members to agree landmark measures to secure justice for survivors and deter perpetrators of sexual violence. As this visit is timed only 3 weeks before the G8 meeting things are looking positive for change.

The problem:

Rape as a weapon of war has long been a problem that has been widely accepted as an inevitable consequence of war. As a result, rapists have escaped any form of retribution, local governments have bred a culture of acceptance and victims have been ignored by the international community instructed to protect them.

To give you an idea of how big a problem this is, it's estimated that 50,000 women were raped in Bosnia, yet there have been only 30 convictions. The Bosnian civil war only lasted 3 years from 1992 - 1995 - this gross injustice only happened twenty years ago.

In Sierra Leone an estimated 64,000 women have been raped, 200,000 in DRC and around 400,000 women in Rwanda. This is happening right now in Syria - the exact figures are not know but even estimations are likely to fall short of the real number of rape victims.

What William Hague and Angelina Jolie (and a lot of other organisations including Women Under Siege, Amnesty International and Women for Women International) are trying to highlight is that this doesn't have to be the case.

Which is why this year William Hague and the United Nations have made it their top priority for 2013 to eradicate sexual violence against women.

At the beginning of the year Hague said to The Times that rape in war does more damage than any tank or bullet.

"Inflicted systematically and sometimes to order from the highest levels, it is as much a means of waging war as are bullets or tanks. And more often than not it is carried out not by invading armies but by one group against another: deliberately to destroy, degrade, humiliate and scar political opponents or entire ethnic and religious groups."

The UK government has pledged £1m to help UN efforts to get justice for victims of sexual violence already. There is also a 70-strong team of police, lawyers, psychologists, doctors and forensic experts to help the cause.

The thing is, some will wonder what a Hollywood actress, an ex-Tory minister and a team of 70 can do to eradicate a problem that goes far beyond the situations of war. Rape being used as a weapon against women is as much about a culture of power and dominance of men over women and a positioning of women as 'other' and secondary in society.

In the after-math of war, towns can be rebuilt, lives repaired, but re-educating an entire generation about rape will be much harder. A hard task you might think?

But if you're worried that this is just another Hollywood profile to try and lampoon some short-lived spotlight to the issue you couldn't be more wrong.

Angelina Jolie, a United Nations special envoy is committed to the cause as anybody else would be. Take a look at her debut directing film In the Land of Blood and Honey, a film brutally showcasing the realities of the Bosnian rape crisis and you can see that Jolie is not just an empty celebrity shadow. It was actually after watching this film that William Hague was inspired to draft in Jolie's help and tackle the issue of sexual violence towards women, especially in war.

Jolie has also set up a collection of foundations and partnerships across the globe as well as visiting refugee camps in over 40 countries. Channel 4 presenter Cathy Newman, who is accompanying Jolie and Hague on their trip to Africa says no-one can be taking this trip more seriously than Jolie.

"If anyone wonders if she'll receive special treatment on this trip, I'm assured the answer is no. She'll be travelling without an entourage, and sharing the same accommodation and travel arrangements as the rest of us. Her mission, she's said in the past, is to raise awareness of forgotten emergencies, and to "move the ball" - spurring governments into action."

Let's be honest, it might seem like a needle in a haystack at combating such a deeply complex issue, but by Jolie and Hague getting the conversation out in the open instead of locked away in the shadows of war, it's a huge step towards combatting the problem. We can only hope their campaign helps to harbour change.

by Maria Bell