The sight of British Foreign Secretary William Hague and Hollywood A-lister Angelina Jolie touring refugee camps in the DRC this week might -at least initially – have seemed a surreal one, but the issues they were very successfully highlighting could not have been more pressing.
This unlikely pairing came about as a result of their commitment to tackling mass rapes in conflicts: crimes which for centuries have been seen as a tragic, but inevitable by-product of war. That ‘inevitability’ is now being challenged.
Mr Hague is using his political clout, and Ms Jolie her star-wattage, to not just raise awareness of the issues, but also to force action – by putting pressure on local politicians, funding women's clinics and dispatching forensic experts to the DRC, Syrian borders, Libya and Mali.
Others are also taking action. The International Rescue Committee says that, over the last year alone, it has provided care for more than 2,500 women and girls who have been raped or abused and it is distributing flashlights and whistles, along with cleaning kits, so that women do not need to wash in areas where there is greater risk of attack. Elsewhere, Freeplay’s Assist radios, which include a siren, are being used in refugee camps to offer increased security for women.
Improving women’s security is, however, a short term solution and it is the attitudes and actions of combatants and those who give them their orders – the generals and politicians – which must change.
Angelina Jolie’s film Land of Blood and Honey, which unflinchingly addressed rape in the Bosnian camps of the 1990s, inspired William Hague to use his political influence. He joined with Jolie to launch the current campaign in 2012 and will raise the issue during April’s meeting of the G8 in London. Let’s hope that the G8 does not just take notice, but also takes action.
What is urgently needed, as Angelina Jolie succinctly put it, is “An end to impunity”.