Celebrating heroes: Angelina Jolie

Nothing would mean anything if I didn’t live a life of use to others

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Angelina Jolie in Chad, Africa ©Per-Anders Pettersson

It was International Women’s Day recently and it got me thinking about the inspirational women around the world. Malala Yousafzai, Angelique Namaika, Bogaletch Gebre, Edna Adan, Dafroza Gauthier…. women who you may not have heard of, probably because the don’t get much attention in the press and if there is an article about them it’s usually tucked away somewhere.

We unfortunately live in a celeb obsessed culture where people can become famous for doing nothing of value. Instead of promoting good role models we’re bombarded with selfies of skinny, ‘perfect’ looking celebs and taught that beauty is only skin deep.

There’s one ‘celebrity’ though that puts her money where her mouth is, using her insane amount of fame to make a big difference in this world.

Most people probably don’t know a lot about Angelina Jolie’s other life. The majority of what we read about her is the tabloid fodder about ‘Brangelina’. With this article I want to highlight the stuff we should be reading about and the stuff we should know her for.

It’s probably unfair to call her a celebrity because as well as being an Oscar-winning film star and mother she is also a humanitarian – in fact she spends more of her time devoting it to others, giving a voice to the voiceless, than she does to making films.

©Per-anders Pettersson

Angelina Jolie in Chad, Africa ©Per-Anders Pettersson

She has worked for the UNHCR (United Nations Refugee Agency) for over ten years now, working tirelessly to highlight the plight of refugees and internally displaced persons in over 30 countries including Sudan, Afghanistan, Syria, Haiti, Somalia and Thailand. On all of her field missions over the years she has covered all of her costs and shares the same working and living conditions as the UNHCR field staff.

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Her inspiration came from her own mother Marcheline Bertrand, a woman who never had an unkind word to say to or about anyone. On International Women’s Day in 2003, Bertrand produced a benefit concert for Afghan women refugees in conjunction with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, of which Jolie is now a Special Envoy. Sadly, Bertrand died in 2007.

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Jolie and her mother Marcheline

Jolie says about her mother that “she was very clear that nothing would mean anything if I didn’t live a life of use to others. I didn’t know what that meant for a long time,” she said. “I came into this business young and worried about my own experiences and my own pain. And it was only when I began to travel and look and live beyond my home that I understood my responsibility to others.” In November last year Jolie was awarded an honorary Oscar, the Jean Hersholt award, for her humanitarian work.

Jolie’s acceptance speech

Here are some of the many reasons she’s an inspiration:

She puts her life on the line for those in need

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On a recent trip to Afghanistan she revealed that she had written a farewell letter to Brad Pitt after being warned she was a target for attack.

She explained: ‘I had moments where I’ve been in a house and people have pounded on the doors and screamed at you and said, “We know she’s in there and we want her passport,” and I’ve had moments recently when I went to Afghanistan, and I’ve got off the plane thinking, this is fine.’

‘And then I got there and they said, “The people are very angry with you. They are angry that you are a woman and you are American and you are with UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), so you are the target”.

‘And so they gave me a briefing and they said everybody needs to write their blood type down.’

She added: ‘There’s a guy outside with a bulletproof vest, he put his passport in the vest, because he would be the one to take me out. I wrote a note to Brad in the process and figured if anything happens he’ll find it.

‘I was fine, but then two weeks later they did attack the UN and they killed everybody in the bunker.’

Angelina has set up and financed many charity organisations
Jolie in Ecuador ©Gettyimages

Jolie in Ecuador ©Gettyimages

In 2003, she founded the Maddox Jolie-Pitt Foundation (after her first son, Maddox, who she adopted from Cambodia) which is dedicated to community development and environmental conservation in Cambodia.

In 2007 Jolie joined forces with economist Dr. Gene Sperling, Director of The Centre for Universal Education at the Council on Foreign Relations, and founded the Education Partnership for Children of Conflict, which funds education for children affected by man-made or natural disasters. Of the partnership Jolie said “Education can make the difference between whether children of conflict can turn to violence and despair, or whether they become the can be the new leaders of a better future for their families and nations.”

In 2008, she worked with Microsoft to set up the Kids in Need of Defense, a group of law firms and volunteers who have committed to giving legal counsel for immigrant kids in the US.

She spends millions of dollars of her own money helping others

Both Angelina and Brad dig deep when it comes to charity, with the pair donating millions and millions of their own money each year. Records from 2008 show the couple gave over $8m to charitable causes and in 2009 they gave at least $7m.

Jolie and Pitt in Bosnia

Jolie and Pitt in Bosnia

When Brad and Angelina’s twins, Knox and Vivienne, were born the couple sold the first images of the babies to People and Hello! for $14 million, using the entire amount to help fund the Maddox Jolie-Pitt Foundation.

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Last year Jolie announced that she had opened an all-girls primary school outside of war-torn Kabul, Afghanistan. The school educates between 200 and 300 Afghan girls, many of them refugees whose homes and villages have been destroyed in the years since the Taliban regime came to power. But now that the Taliban’s stronghold over the country has collapsed, people are hoping to resume normal life. Getting kids back to school every day is one way to do just that.
Jolie in Afghanistan

Jolie in Afghanistan ©Marco Di Lauro

To fund this venture, Jolie has released a personal jewellery collection, designed alongside jeweller Robert Procop, through Kansas City-based, high-end jewelry shop, Tivol. The collection is called Style of Jolie and 100% of the proceeds will be donated to her foundation, The Education Partnership for Children of Conflict.

jolie_Tivol_jpg_330x330_q85“Beyond enjoying the artistic satisfaction of designing these jewels, we are inspired by knowing our work is also serving the mutual goal of providing for children in need,” Jolie said.

“We launched this collaborative collection with the intent that 100 percent of the profits will go to charity,” Jolie’s long-time designing partner Procop said. “The beauty of these creations is matched by the beauty of spirit behind Angelina’s most heartfelt mission — to empower children in crisis.”

“Tivol, with their historic reputation and dedication to family values is a wonderful retail partner to launch our collection in the U.S.,” Jolie added.

If this business model proves successful, Jolie and Pitt, hope to fund more schools and educational initiatives in the places that need them most.

She uses film to educate about the horrors of war
Angelina Jolie directing on the set of “In the Land of Blood and Honey,” about the war in Bosnia. ©Dean Semler/FilmDistrict and GK Films

Angelina Jolie directing on the set of “In the Land of Blood and Honey,” about the war in Bosnia. ©Dean Semler/FilmDistrict and GK Films

Angelina used her directorial debut, In the Land of Blood and Honey, to highlight the horrors of the war in Bosnia. The war lasted from 1992 to 1995 and around 100,000 people were killed with up to 50,000 women being raped and 2.2 million people displaced.

Jolie and some of the cast of the film received threats due to making the film. At the movie’s premiere in Sarajevo, she said: ‘There were things sent to me, there were things posted online. The cast have never complained to me about these threats but I’ve heard through other people it was happening. One of them did have their windows smashed in on their cars and someone else had an issue when their phone was hacked and emails were sent out saying they were from them and saying they had been hurt.’

She gets involved in politics – and not in a bad way

Recently Angelina joined forces with William Hague to raise awareness about the use of rape as a weapon of war in conflicts. Hague had watched In the Land of Blood and Honey at the urging of his senior special adviser, Arminka Helic, a Bosnian who fled to the U.K. in 1992 to earn a Ph.D. Hague was struck by the power of the film. “I started this campaign with Angelina Jolie because foreign policy has got to be about more than just dealing with urgent crises—it has to be about improving the condition of humanity,” he said.

Jolie and Hague at the G8 in London

Jolie and Hague at the G8 in London

In Rwanda, up to 500,000 people were raped during the genocide 20 years ago. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, which Jolie and Hague visited a year ago as part of their campaign, there an estimated 200,000 surviving rape victims and the issue is still ongoing – it has in fact been called the ‘rape capital of the world’ and in 2011 it was estimated that around 1,000 women a day were raped. In Syria today there are thought to have been countless rapes but there are no approximate figures for this due to the taboo surrounding rape for Muslim women. Many do not report it or even tell their husbands or family.

They were recently at the G8 in London to talk about the £23million pledged towards tackling sexual violence in conflict zones around the world.

Angelina Jolie and William Hague in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Angelina Jolie and William Hague in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Their campaign, called the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative (PSVI), aims to end the shame that victims feel as well as the impunity that often follows such crimes.

At the end of last month they visited Bosnia where they to raise the awareness of the scale of rape during conflict. About 50,000 women, mostly Muslim, were raped during Bosnia’s inter-ethnic war in the 1990s and so far only 33 people have been convicted for the crimes by local courts and 30 by a UN war crimes tribunal ate the International Criminal Court in The Hague in the Netherlands.

Between 10 – 13th June, Hague and Jolie will host a four-day summit in London that will bring together governments from 141 countries. They aim to create irreversible momentum against sexual violence in conflict and promote practical action that impacts those on the ground (peacekeepers, police and the justice system).

Hague said that today “sexual violence is used deliberately as a weapon of war” in the conflicts in Syria, Central African Republic and South Sudan. He said: “I hope we can all work together to prevent the horrors seen in this region from being repeated in future conflicts anywhere in the world.”

She gives a voice to the voiceless

On World Refugee Day in June last year, Jolie did a report for CNN to bring to the attention the plight of the thousands of Syrian refugees. For many, being a refugee is like being in prison for a crime you didn’t commit, for you don’t know how long. Children in the camp suffer from diarrhoea, respiratory infections, high fever, ear infections and skin diseases, due to poor sanitation and hygiene. In winter the camps are constantly flooded due to rain and snow and in the summer the temperatures regularly top 100°F making living conditions in the dusty camp unbearable. Jolie yet again used her considerable fame to bring attention to a worthy cause.

She wrote about her double mastectomy in the hope that other women would benefit from her decision.

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When Jolie discovered she had the BRCA1 faulty gene, giving her an 87 per cent risk of developing breast cancer and a 50 per cent risk of ovarian cancer, she took the brave decision to have a preventative double mastectomy. She wrote a moving op-ed piece for the New York Times about her decision in the hope that other women would benefit from her experience.

Brad Pitt said of his fiancé – ‘She’s faced her problems head on and found out her options to make the smartest decision for her, and she’s shared that knowledge with everyone else.

‘It’s important that this testing is not available for everyone and it should be, and that there are surgical options and everyone should have these options.’

‘I always want her by my side. Life will go on and we’re taking care of business as usual. We’re on the other side of that.

‘It’s the bravest thing and I get a little emotional about the act she did for our family and telling her story to others. She’s a very special woman.’

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Angelina Jolie and William Hague visit survivors of sexual violence in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo

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Angelina Jolie and William Hague in the Democratic Republic of Congo yesterday ©AFP

Angelina Jolie and British Foreign Secretary William Hague visited the Democratic Republic of Congo on Monday to meet survivors of sexual violence as part of their campaign to tackle rape in war zones.

The number of women, girls, men and boys who have been subjected to rape in conflict zones numbers in the hundreds of thousands. 50,000 were raped in Bosnia, 64,000 in Sierra Leone, 200,000 in Congo and 400,000 in Rwanda. The UN has estimated that only 30 convictions have resulted from the Bosnian War.

Jolie and Hague spent time at the Nzolo Internally Displaced Persons camp, north of Goma and the Lac Vert camp on the edge of Goma. Their next stop is Rwanda.

The aim of the trip is to force the Group of Eight world powers to address the issue more seriously and the Foreign Secretary has said he will make the issue his priority when he hosts the annual meeting of G8 foreign ministers next month in London.

Hague has already put in place a 70-strong specialist team of police, lawyers, psychologists, doctors and forensic experts to help survivors and witnesses and has also contributed £1 million this financial year to support the Office of the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict.

Angelina Joile and William Hague in the DRC ©Telegraph

Angelina Joile and William Hague in the DRC ©Telegraph

“More often than not the international community looks away, the perpetrators of these brutal crimes walk free and the cycle of injustice and conflict is repeated. We have to shatter this culture of impunity,” Hague said. “It is time for real, meaningful action by the governments of the world to say that the use of rape as a weapon of war is unacceptable, to bring perpetrators to justice and to lift the stigma from survivors. This is my personal priority for the meeting of G8 foreign ministers.”

Jolie said on the trip: “This visit is about hearing first hand from people who have endured rape and sexual violence during the conflict in the eastern DRC. We want to learn the lessons that their experience holds for how the world can protect thousands of women, men and children at risk of rape in many other conflict zones. And we want to persuade governments around the world to give this issue the attention it deserves. Unless the world acts, we will always be reacting to atrocities, treating survivors rather than preventing rape in the first place.”

“It’s often that we speak about the drama and the pain and the horrors of the Congo but it’s also a wonderful place with extraordinary people. The big message is that this initiative started by the Foreign Secretary is extraordinary, but what we’re here to do is to try to scale it up and make this a worldwide focus. It’s been going on in every war, every crisis and it’s often an afterthought – and it’s due time to end this, and put an end to impunity, and they deserve it.”

William Hague and Angelina Jolie team up for campaign against rape in warzones

Foreign Secretary William Hague with Special Envoy to the UN High Commissioner on Refugees, Angelina Jolie, at the a Wilton Park Conference on ‘Preventing sexual violence in conflict and post-conflict situations’ ©fco

Back in May, Angelina Jolie was in London to lend her voice the British Government’s global campaign aimed at tackling sexual violence in conflict zones around the world. Today, she was back in the UK to listen to the Foreign Secretary give his keynote address at the “Preventing sexual violence in conflict and post-conflict situations” meeting at Wilton Park, Sussex. Hague joked ‘She assures me she is here to meet you and to listen to our discussion, but I also think she may be checking up on whether we have lived up to our promises’.

Following his announcement in May, that Britain would create a team of experts to be deployed to conflict areas around the world to support UN missions and gather evidence about sexual violence, Hague announced yesterday that a 70-strong specialist team of police, lawyers, psychologists, doctors and forensic experts is ready to head overseas to help survivors and witnesses. He said that each deployment will be tailored to meet local needs and circumstances and that the deployments will be based on ‘in-depth assessments of national and international responses in that country to date and how the British team could reinforce or complement existing efforts, as well as consultations with the authorities in each country’.

The Foreign Secretary also pledged additional funding of more than £¼ million over a three-year period to the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations and the Department of Field Support to develop policies, guidance and training for use by UN peacekeepers as first responders to incidents of sexual violence.

Angelina Jolie with Syrian refugees in Lebanon ©UNHCR

Yesterday Angelina Jolie, Special Envoy of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) added:

“I am delighted to be working with Foreign Secretary Hague again on the United Kingdom’s initiative on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict. In many conflicts, sexual violence is used as a tactic of war, intended to hurt not only a single individual, but their family, their community, their ethnic group”.

Jolie has been drawing attention to some of the worlds worst humanitarian disasters for over 10  years and has worked tirelessly to highlight the plight of refugees and internally displaced persons in over 30 countries including Sudan, Afghanistan, Syria, Haiti, Somalia and Thailand.

She further said that sexual violence has almost “become a rule rather than an exception, and we all must work together to combat the impunity and ensure justice for the victims.”

Angelina Jolie, Special Envoy to the UN High Commissioner on Refugees, at the a Wilton Park Conference on ‘Preventing sexual violence in conflict and post-conflict situations ©fco

Speaking about the conference, the Foreign Secretary said:

“I believe that a critical mass of public opinion has now begun to build up against the use of rape as a weapon of war in many countries.

“My experience as a politician leads me to believe that this is the moment to mobilise global public opinion and to rally the efforts of nations, in the same way that we have mustered the will to ban the use of landmines and cluster munitions, and are on the verge of securing an international Arms Trade Treaty.

“Shattering the culture of impunity for those who use rape as a weapon of war is the next great global challenge of our generation. It is a cause whose time has come.”

The 70-strong team of police, lawyers, psychologists, doctors and forensic experts will be deployed overseas by the end of the year.

William Hague’s speech can be found here.

Further information about the UNHCR can be found here.