Angelina Jolie's Mission: To End Treatment of Women 'As Second-Class Citizens'

The star's passionate focus on improving the lives of women around the world is part of her evolution as a longtime activist

When Angelina Jolie first approached UNHCR over 18 years ago, it was to learn about the world firsthand, to meet the people who were the innocent victims of war in an effort to understand their plight and hopefully one day, be a part of finding solutions.

Only 24 at the time, she was already a Hollywood superstar — an Oscar-winner who had just completed a major blockbuster, Tomb Raider. Stirred to action by what she saw and the people she met, Jolie signed up to be a Goodwill Ambassador for the world’s largest refugee agency, and from 2001-2012, when she was named Special Envoy, she took over 60 trips to war-torn locations.

From those early trips, her activism has both broadened and deepened, and last Friday, she addressed the U.N. Peacekeeping Ministerial—a gathering of the world’s Defense Ministers—for the 3rd time.

In her speech, Jolie asked that the member nations consider expanding the role of female peacekeepers in their troops, and, just as crucial, that as peace negotiations in places like Afghanistan begin, that women be allowed at the table.

Angelina Jolie addresses the UN about army conflict
Timoth A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images

“Women and girls are still the majority of the victims of war,” Jolie said. “Women are at the absolute epicenter of modern conflict, in the worst possible sense. But more often than not they are still on the outside looking in when it comes to politics and decisions about their future… As long as we continue to put almost every other issue ahead of women’s rights and participation, we will remain stuck in a cycle of violence and conflict.”

Jolie’s U.N. speech was really a culmination of 18 years of experience and immersion in foreign policy.

Today, her work is really focused on four big projects:

1. The Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative (PSVI)


3. Women, Peace and Security Master’s program at the London School of Economics

4. A global current affairs children’s program in partnership with the BBC

Jolie co-founded PSVI in 2012 with former U.K. Foreign Minister William Hague, and in less than seven years, 156 nations have pledged support.

“There is now a lot more awareness and discussion and many more countries have made commitments,” says Jolie. “For example, 156 countries have pledged not to include amnesties for rape when they are negotiating peace agreements. It is hard to believe, but peace treaties routinely grant immunity to people who’ve carried out the most disgusting violent crimes against civilians. So we have to make sure all those countries live up to that commitment.”

In November, Jolie and Hague plan to reconvene the member nations for a conference (the first was in 2012) to continue to come up with concrete solutions to combat sexual violence in war zones.

While progress is being made, Jolie says it isn’t time for anyone to rest on their laurels.

Angelina Jolie (L) shakes hands with Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina following her visit in Dhaka. STR/AFP/Getty Images

“If you look across the world there are far too many women and girls who are not only not seeing progress, their rights are slipping away from them,” she says. “We have to change laws that treat women as second-class citizens. But we also have to enforce them. So one of the things we are putting forward now is a proposal for a permanent international body to investigate war crimes, including mass rape and other sexual and gender-based violence.”

She adds, “Unless you immediately gather evidence and testimony that can stand up in court, there is no chance of having successful prosecutions. At the moment it takes months and even years to start proper investigations when there has been mass rape carried out against a civilian population. We want to create a permanent body of experts, lawyers and investigators who can do this immediately.”

In addition to Jolie’s work on PSVI, she is a visiting professor at the London School of Economics, at the Centre for Women, Peace and Security, where she is expected to return for more lectures later this year.

Since January 2018, she has been working with NATO as the organization works to fight against sexual violence in combat zones, and to better care for victims.

Later this year, Jolie— inspired by her children: Maddox, 17, Pax, 15, Zahara, 14, Shiloh, 12, and Knox and Vivienne, 10— partners with BBC to produce a children’s English language television program that will focus on current affairs.

“We enjoy reading the kids pull out of the New York Times and look at National Geographic,” she says. “But as a parent, I felt there wasn’t that one vetted and reliable internationally-minded news program tailored for children that we could sit down and watch together each week. That is what I hope this will be for our family and other families.”

Jolie will also be making a much-anticipated return onscreen, when Maleficent: Mistress of Evil hits theaters Oct. 18. The follow-up to the 2014 hit, which raked in $750 million, also stars a returning Elle Fanning as Princess Aurora and Michelle Pfeiffer as a new character.

RELATED VIDEO: Angelina Jolie (and Some of the Kids!) Make a Surprise Appearance at the Survivor Finale

“I love my horns,” says Jolie. “It is such a pleasure to play her and I hope the audience enjoy her as much as I do. It was wonderful to work again with Elle and to have a chance to work with Michelle.”

Jolie is also producing an adaptation of the Newberry Award-winning children’s book The One and Only Ivan, about a gorilla named Ivan who lived in a cage in the mall.

For that, Jolie tapped pal (and Survivor contestant) Mike White to write the script. The starry cast includes Oscar-winner Sam Rockwell and Emmy-winner Bryan Cranston.

“It was Shi’s favorite book a few years ago,” says Jolie. “I love its hopeful message about the environment and conservation.”

BESTPIX - Premiere Of Disney's "Dumbo" - Red Carpet
Angelina Jolie with her kids Knox, Zahara, Vivienne, and Shiloh at the premiere of Disney’s “Dumbo”. Kevin Winter/Getty

Meanwhile, Jolie will always be a strong advocate for UNHCR. In February she traveled to Bangladesh to meet with Rohingya refugees who have been persecuted in Myanmar. And this June, she will once again participate in World Refugee Day, as she has for nearly two decades.

The organization changed her life in many ways, including providing her a lifelong circle of friends.

“The second UN mission I went on, to Cambodia, I met two women from England and France who were working with UNHCR,” Jolie recalls. “Loung (Ung, the author ofFirst They Killed My Mother, the book Jolie adapted into a film in 2017) was there as well.”

She adds, “Most of my friends are women I have met and worked within the field. Over 18 years our lives have taken many turns. Good and bad. We have grown older, most of us mothers now, still committed to shared goals. feel very blessed in my work to have the opportunity to meet so many extraordinary people who spend their lives dedicated to others.”

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