‘Wicked women’ change the world, Angelina Jolie – but they pay the price for doing it too

Gita, a Sudanese doctor, was arrested and tortured for giving medical treatment to an opposition party member. There are stories just like hers all over the world

Gary Allison@POCappealfund
Tuesday 06 August 2019 15:14
Angelina Jolie for President? Actress says she 'will stay quiet for now'

“The world needs more wicked women”, says Angelina Jolie. “Women who won’t give up on their voice and rights, even at the risk of death or imprisonment or rejection by their families and communities.”

Writing in the September issue of Elle magazine, the actor adds: “Wicked women are just women who are tired of injustice and abuse. Women who refuse to follow rules and codes they don’t believe are best for themselves or their families.” Her comments are laudable but, as director of a human rights charity that supports those who pay the price of speaking truth to power, I know how little those words reflect the reality of being persecuted for standing up for what you believe in.

Imagine being a 14-year-old girl who is arrested, held in solitary confinement, violently abused and then given an eight-year jail sentence just for being a member of a party that promotes the cultural and political rights of the ethnic group to which you belong. This is what happened to Anya, a Kurdish girl in Turkey. Luckily she managed to evade the authorities and was smuggled out of the country to safety.

Or put yourself in the shoes of Gita, a female doctor in Sudan who was arrested at gun point, blindfolded and tortured for giving medical help to someone from an opposition party. Not only that, but the security forces also arrested and tortured her husband and her father.

There are thousands of “wicked women” all over the world who, just like Eva and Gita, stand up for what they believe in, but by doing so find themselves facing impossible choices.

Do they continue to stand up for what they believe in and put themselves and their families in danger? Or do they keep quiet and let the rights and freedoms of them and their loved ones be abused? If they are persecuted for their words and actions, do they stay and face the risks or flee into the unknown? Do they take their family with them or leave them behind? Either option is fraught with danger, poverty and emotional trauma.

We know exactly how difficult these decisions are to make. Prisoners of conscience the world over, both men and women, tell us dark and painful stories of threats to them and their families, of losing their jobs, being denied access to their homes, their livelihoods and vital services when they stand up for human rights or fight injustice where they see it. Most of them have been arrested and imprisoned, tortured and sexually assaulted. They have long-lasting physical and emotional trauma. Many do not live to tell us of their experiences, and sometimes neither do their family and friends.

As an actor of international renown with a global audience, Jolie could use her powerful position to call upon the rest of the world to support prisoners of conscience and to enable a world free from human rights abuses. It is our experience that people who have been persecuted for upholding human rights are often brave enough to continue making a positive stand if they are properly supported. But this support needs to come in a wide variety of forms, from the practical to the financial to the emotional. Jolie’s contribution would be just one part of that.

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Esin’s story is a case in point. She’s a Turkish women’s rights campaigner who was subjected to physical torture and sexual abuse as punishment for her work. She had to leave her family, friends and job in search of safety. With financial assistance, she has been able to rebuild her life and maintain her campaigning activities.

Prisoners of conscience, or Jolie’s so-called {wicked women”, need more than just words if they are to rebuild their lives and careers, and continue to make a positive difference to the world. So thank you for recognising their existence, Angelina. But that alone is not enough.

Gary Allison is the director of Prisoners of Conscience. Some names have been changed

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