A World of Blood and Honey: How this Week's Global Summit Has Already Begun to Change Us All

A World of Blood and Honey: How this Week's Global Summit Has Already Begun to Change Us All

"If I have a hope, it is that people will see this... and begin to understand what sexual violence means, what it does, and its true impact. For it seems unthinkable that twenty years after Sarajevo, the same destruction of cities and of a nation should be occurring once again in Syria: far too often it feels like the global community is content to stand by and do nothing." Such were the calmly spoken words with which Angelina Jolie chose to close Day 2 of the End Sexual Violence in Conflict summit being held in London's Excel, prior to showcasing her oft-times brutal depiction of the Bosnian War, 'In the Land of Blood and Honey'.

Angelina's film (in every sense of the word, for she wrote, produced and directed it), like the stories being told at this summit, is unbearably honest: as too were the audience's reactions to it. Some who could not handle the shock of unforgiving rape scenes or seeing elderly women being forced to stand naked in a room of laughing soldiers felt the need to leave. Others like myself, covered our tear-streaked faces like children, too scared to see what was on the screen yet unable to move away: we wanted to learn, to see, to not be so afraid of what we were having to witness that it would impede our understanding of a pain we would never have to live through.

For everyone attending this summit or for anyone working with women survivors of sexual violence, these guttural reactions will sound familiar. Rape, the targeted violation of women and children, and the complete and utter dehumanisation of the female sex for political and economic gain, is a harsh and now daily reality that is difficult to stomach. Worse still, is the knowledge that nothing seems to have changed. From ancient Greece and Rome where the common practice of engaging in war rape was depicted in Homer's The Iliad and Herodotus' Histories, to the recent atrocities of Bangladesh , Rwanda , Congo, Sarajevo , and today's Syria, the strategic use of sexual violence to tear a country apart continues, whilst the international community tuts, shakes its head and if it can be bothered, maybe tweet. Rarely it seems, have our vast forces united to step in and stop these crimes from being committed in the first place or upon first hearing - unless of course, doing so will bring political or monetary bonus points.

So what can this summit do? How can it hope to break a historical chain of inaction and impunity for war criminals that stretches as far back as year zero?

Perhaps the clue is in a hashtag: the #TimeToAct hashtag of this summit signifies a breaking point. 'Ordinary' people have had enough. Frustrated with governments who speak but do not act, corporations who spout ethical policies but rarely live by them, and media platforms ruled by oligarchs of a new order uninterested in delving into the 'un-sexy' issues women and girls have to deal with (or from which they profit), are using whatever tools they have to hand to start fighting back.

Leesa Gazi, is one such woman. Co-writer and lead actress of Birangona, she has merged the platform of theatre with film to document the stories of just some of the 400,000 Bangladeshi women raped by Pakistani military forces during the 1971 war for independence. Following a spontaneous visit to Bangladesh in 2010 and an introduction to survivors, she has now made it her life's work to ensure their voices are heard by the world.

"Hundreds of thousands of women were raped during this war, yet where are their stories? So many people - too many - are completely ignorant of their existence, or the fact that they live on as outcast in their communities, having to watch their children and grandchildren suffer for their rapes. Their country silenced them. And unless we do something about it now, their stories will die with them. All they want is for the world to know what happened. For us to recognise their truth."

Truth, the gift of a global platform upon which to voice it and the chance for survivors, activists, government ministers, ambassadors, doctors, coders, lawyers, NGO's and students from around world to meet, unite, and forge new actions to stop more such truths from coming to be is the legacy this summit hopes to achieve.

Whether it will or not is up to us.

After all, as William Hague served to remind us, the halting of sexual violence "on the ground is no longer the sole preserver of a government. It requires networks of people, all acting together towards this one single goal." And judging from the global media coverage of a summit that may have otherwise have gone unnoticed, it also requires the face and voice of an unjaded and outspoken actress by the name of Angelina Jolie.


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