This week’s End Sexual Violence in Conflict Summit, held in London, drew vast amounts of attention thanks to the presence of the actress Angelina Jolie. Jolie, a UN Special Envoy, is using her fame admirably to lead the campaign against the abject, widespread horror of sexual violence in war.
I’m inspired by Jolie’s amazing work and pleased that this issue is getting the attention it deserves. As Jolie says: “It is a myth that rape is an inevitable part of conflict... It has nothing to do with sex, and everything to do with power.”
Jolie’s words also apply to the problem of violence against women outside of war zones. Distressingly, sexual violence against women happens so often around the world that it’s viewed mistakenly by many as a similar inevitability.
Witness the latest horrendous attacks on women in India. As I write this, news arrives of yet another rape victim found hanging from a tree. Whilst the Indian PM appeals for help, his contemporaries reinforce the twisted perception that rape is just part of life. In politician Babulal Gaur’s idiotic words: “Sometimes it’s right, sometimes it’s wrong.” Boys will be boys? Not if you teach them that being male does not give you the right to rape.
This attitude isn’t a distant one. In the West, the culture of violence against women – in thoughts, words and deeds – is as endemic as it’s ever been. In the USA, a gunman goes on the rampage against “blonde women” after being rejected by one at school. In this country, a Sikh woman lies blinded in hospital in Essex after a frenzied attack by her father-in-law. A grandmother is found dead at home after a violent rape by her porn-addicted son-in-law. Schoolgirls are pressured into sending sexual photos to boys at school whilst gang members get together to rape their girlfriends. Twitter trolls threaten rape as a matter of course. And on it goes.
Violence against women in war zones and in everyday life are two causes that should run alongside each other. So I propose a summit next year that calls for an end to violence against women, full stop. The scale of violence against women across the world is everybody’s problem. Let’s deal with it.