Angelina Jolie and the quest to stop women’s abuse

Let any celebrity join her in her fight to bring awareness of what happens to women in warzones.

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie in Kabul city, Afghanistan [Getty]
If you want to stop women being raped in times of war, you'll need a different kind of degree, writes Shah [Getty]

Recently The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) announced that Angelina Jolie is to be a visiting professor in practice as part of the MSc it offers in Women, Peacekeeping and Security.

The reactions to this were mixed, as many wondered whether or not this was an appropriate appointment.

Apart from the fact that Jolie is a celebrity, she hasn’t any of the academic credentials needed to be a university professor, although this isn’t strictly required for this kind of honorary appointment.

As far as publication goes, Jolie’s personal journals are available to read on her UN Page, which details her work. But her page appears thin in official mission reports, apart from rather official press releases, which students and researchers would have to draw upon when conducting their own study and work.

Besides talking about her life experience and work as a humanitarian ambassador, what framework, practices and theoretical knowledge will she pass on to the students? What will she teach them from her own experience that they can replicate in their careers?

On the other hand, Jolie has tremendous experience travelling the world as a United Nations ambassador and humanitarian. She has visited refugees all over the world, represented the plight of women at UN meetings and gatherings, and used her fame to highlight a problem that most would prefer to sweep under the carpet.

Who better than her, perhaps, to share this knowledge acquired from her unique experiences with students seeking to establish a career in global policymaking, research, or law that deals with sexual violence in conflict? And nobody can doubt Jolie’s sincerity in addressing this issue, nor her commitment to the cause.

The aim of the programme

Rather than criticising or applauding Jolie, though, we need to look more closely at the concept of an MSc in Women, Peace and Security. What does this degree really mean, and once you have it, what will you be able to do with it?

The Guardian article points out that the LSE launched a centre for Women, Peace and Security last year. Its aims were high, and laudable: the director, Professor Christine Chinkin, hoped to pioneer academic initiatives and partnerships that would help to bring together various partners, academics, researchers and law and policymakers working together in this vast field, so that women’s lives could be improved all over the world.

Individuals such as Jolie may be sincere, but countries are not, because leadership is still largely dominated by men, even in the developed world.


This year, reports The Guardian, the centre faces near collapse after only a year if William Hague doesn’t continue in a leadership position. The Global Summit to End Sexual Violence took place in 2014 to great media excitement over Jolie co-chairing the event with Hague.

Yet, the summit raised accusations of hypocrisy as women asylum seekers in the United Kingdom who had suffered sexual violence were being treated “shoddily”, according to the Refugee Council’s women’s advocacy manager, Anna Musgrave.

OPINION: The end of the refugee camp?

A year on, the summit has been called “a costly failure” with “negligible impact”, illustrating that glamour is antithetical to the reality of this kind of work, which is gritty, dirty, and deeply laden with shame.

Jolie has proved that she can get her hands dirty, but the very nature of her primary career as a Hollywood actor, with its attendant privileges and safety, will always be a distraction at the very least and a point of criticism for the most part.

The real fieldworkers

The real fieldworkers stay. The real fieldworkers live and die among the women they help. The real fieldworkers get death threats for their work. The real fieldworkers may have had a mother, sister, daughter, aunt or wife who was raped or killed.

These are the lasting connections to the women afflicted by sexual violence in conflict zones. These are the credentials that are not academic, but lived experience.

Furthermore, as much as we talk about UNSC Resolution 1325, which recognised “the inordinate impact of war on women” and “the pivotal role women should and do play in conflict management, conflict resolution, and sustainable peace”, the truth is that it is hardly implemented in any country.

OPINION: Why Hollywood is still so bad at diversity

In countries like the United States and the UK, task forces and committees have been formed, and recommendations have been published, but women continue to get raped, assaulted and murdered in warzones, targeted specifically because they are women.

Individuals such as Jolie may be sincere, but countries are not, because leadership is still largely dominated by men, even in the developed world.

Man-made world

Women are being violently affected by war, but men are still buying the bombs, the planes, the guns and the ammunition.

Women are being tortured and mutilated, but men are still the ones signing the peace treaties – and in some places, the women are the bartering tools.

Women are raped in war zones, peace zones, and refugee camps, but men are the ones doing the peacekeeping – as in some places, the peacekeepers were the rapists.

So let Jolie have her professorship. Let any celebrity join her in her fight to bring the awareness of what happens to women in warzones to the rest of the world.


The programme at the LSE will be filled, the classes will be packed to capacity, with standing room only. She will educate young women and men of a certain class and privilege about the ground realities of war.

Then they will go on to conduct research, teach, make policy and law about it. Some will go out to conflict zones, work with these women, and help them to overcome their wounds – psychological and physical. It is all important. And Jolie’s appointment at LSE is not a little thing, either.

But if you want to stop women being raped in times of war, you’ll need a different kind of degree: the one that teaches us how to stop war and how to stop women being used as its spoils. And I’m not sure there’s a university course out there that teaches that as yet.

Bina Shah is an award-winning Pakistani writer from Karachi. She is a contributing opinion writer for the International New York Times and writes a monthly column for Dawn, the biggest English-language newspaper in Pakistan.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.