In Powerful Op-Ed, Angelina Jolie Asks NATO To Protect Women In Conflict Zones

"There is finally hope that we can change this. We owe it to ourselves — men and women alike — and to future generations."

In an op-ed co-written by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and actress Angelina Jolie, who is also the co-founder of the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative, the duo poignantly discussed how and why NATO must better protect women's rights around the world.

"All violence against women betrays the fundamental promise in the U.N. Charter of equal rights and dignity for women," the op-ed for The Guardian began. "It is one of the prime reasons why women remain in a subordinate position in relation to men in most parts of the world."

The op-ed goes even further and declares NATO must put an end to gender-based violence, especially as military tactic. "Despite being prohibited by international law, sexual violence continues to be employed as a tactic of war in numerous conflicts from Myanmar to Ukraine and Syria to Somalia," the essay stated. "It includes mass rape, gang rape, sexual slavery, and rape as a form of torture, ethnic cleansing and terrorism. It accounts in large part for why it is often more dangerous to be a woman in a warzone today than it is to be a soldier." 

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To many, the idea that soldiers are safer in conflict zones may be both startling and difficult to believe, but unfortunately Stoltenberg and Jolie are speaking from experience. "In our different roles we have seen how conflicts in which women's bodies and rights are systematically abused last longer, cause deeper wounds and are much harder to resolve and overcome," the pair explained via the op-ed. "Ending gender-based violence is therefore a vital issue of peace and security as well as of social justice."

According to the World Health Organization, situations of conflict, post conflict and displacement have been shown to exacerbate existing violence, such as by intimate partners, as well as and non-partner sexual violence, and may also lead to new forms of violence against women. For example, in 2016 the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo verified 514 cases of conflict-related sexual violence. All but four victims were women and girls. During the same period, the United Nations Population Fund reported 2,593 cases of sexual violence in conflict-affected provinces.

In Somalia, a country mentioned in the op-ed, the United Nations verified information on conflict-related sexual violence against 200 girls and one boy between January and September 2016.

In addition to believing that "Nato has the responsibility and opportunity to be a leading protector of women's rights," Stoltenberg and Jolie perhaps more importantly offered a plan of action regarding exactly how the organization can go about guarding said rights. Suggestions included  integrating women into positions of leadership within the organization, bolstering military training in human rights protection, and continuing to implement standard operating practices. "Stronger awareness of the role that gender plays in conflict improves military operational effectiveness and leads to improved security. Strengthening this culture can only benefit Nato's contribution to peace and security over the long term," the op-ed declared. 

The duo's plan also asked NATO to give greater recognition to the roles of gender advisers and female soldiers interacting with communities, and suggested they use data to identify patterns in conflict-related sexual violence. "It is humanity's shame that violence against women, whether in peaceful societies or during times of war, has been universally regarded as a lesser crime," the op-ed concludes. "There is finally hope that we can change this. We owe it to ourselves — men and women alike — and to future generations."

Cover image via PAN Photo Agency / Shutterstock.com.

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