I am ashamed to admit that the main reason I became aware of the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict was Angelina Jolie. The use of rape as a weapon of war is a cruel reality that should be of human interest without anyone’s help but, like so many of us, I had chosen to distance myself from the uncomfortable thoughts it created.
But walking around Excel London yesterday, going from one discussion to the next and talking to people who had travelled half way across the world just to be there, I realised that being involved feels a lot better than turning a blind eye to the world’s inhuman face.
The talks, performances, screenings and exhibitions presented an overwhelming amount of information on a subject many of us ignore. It was as amazing as it was reassuring to discover the number of charities and organisations (Made Equal, Women for Women and Wasaani Mataani, to name but a few) that have made it their mission to help women who have been victims of sexual violence in war. And it gave me hope to see how many people, of all ages and colours, found their way to there to show their support.
Some were working at the summit, others came out of personal interest, or simply because they were with a friend. I spoke to Farhana Chohan, a British biochemistry student, who was there to educate herself, Pierlvigi Catilli who wanted to learn more about his wife’s field of work, while Kalombwa Chikoti was representing an organisation supporting women who had been victims of rape.
Regardless of their reason for being there, their presence made a difference to those who know what sexual violence in conflict really means. "People's interest made me feel connected to the world," said Ni Ni Myint, who had travelled from Myanmar to attend.
It is hard to avoid feeling a chill down your spine listening to the testimony of those who work on the front line, or to survivor’s tales, or to Angelina Jolie declaring that "there will be no amnesty for rape". And it’s not just because of the exposure to some truly horrible facts, but also due to the warm sense of solidarity that filled ExCel London.
There is a lot to take in. Attending a summit doesn’t make people experts, but it does make them more conscious, involved and active. We need Ms Jolie's awareness raising role, because she has a way of making ugly things seem more accessible. But let’s not forget that change cannot happen without the rest of us. The Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict is on until tomorrow. I urge you to go.