Angelina Jolie, warzone rape, and the celebrity effect

MANILA, Philippines – Does the presence of a celebrity help drive people's attention toward or away from a worthy cause?

Participants of the #TimeToAct Google Hangout hosted by Rappler CEO Maria Ressa weighed in on this issue. 

Most of them are fresh from the Global Summit against Sexual Violence in Conflict in London, co-hosted by British Foreign Minister William Hague and Hollywood star Angelina Jolie, who is also the the Special Envoy for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. 

Jolie's husband, actor Brad Pitt, also graced the event to show support for his wife's cause. 

As part of the global effort to stop the use of rape as a tool of war, an international protocol was launched during the summit aiming to provide the best practice in the documentation of sexual violence.

In such a large conference that brought together stakeholders from over 100 countries, did the event need the participation of a celebrity such as Angelina Jolie?

For British Ambassador to the Philippines Asif Ahmad, Jolie was an effective co-host because she walked her talk. (READ: Jolie and Hague mobilize global action vs rape in war)

"Our experience has been positive for one important reason: this is not a part the actress is playing. This is something she is committed to and believes in herself," Ahmad said.

"The second reason is, in this day and age, just the voice from an ambassador, a minister isn't enough. You need to find someone who is willing to stand up and speak. Just as in this Hangout, we are all our own little celebrities in our own way. But we don't have to be celebrities to speak up," he added. 

The Philippines' Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, Secretary Teresita Deles, agreed with the British Ambassador.

"Why she was so effective is because you know she was not just reading lines and that there was passion there and she really thought out these messages," Deles said. 

Deles said Jolie's presence help draw in crowds that would not normally have paid attention. (WATCH: Closing plenary of the summit to end sexual violence)

"I think more than anything, it was this presence here that made this summit get projected beyond the conference venue. We thought it was very big. But it's not in the center of London. You have to travel quite a bit to get here. It would still fall through the cracks. People would not know how big it was. It's her who brought the message that this was big. Because if Angelina Jolie moves and talks, it will be times a million compared to if it were any of us in this panel," Deles added. 

'Faces and names'

It's all about putting "faces and names," said Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, government chief negotiator in talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

"Angelina was a face and a name and so all the other [participants] were also trying to find their names upfront so this thing about sexual violence can be recognized," Ferrer said. 

One of the booths in the summit contained the names of women who were victims of gender-based violence. Ferrer said she herself found her name there. 

"My name was actually there, as well as the names of other women who were victimized, arrested. The booth is putting a name to all the faces, victims and [shows a] new world for everyone. Angelina is one such face," Ferrer said. 

Putting faces to the names of victims and survivors is an important part of the reconciliation process in conflict and post-conflict areas, Deles said.

Deles cited as an example the ongoing claims for compensation being filed by victims of martial law during the Marcos regime. 

As part of the initiative, victims of the dictatorship will also be encouraged to tell their story, to become part of the narrative writing the history of that era in its correct version

"We should encourage the women, because I know, many of them – they are still active in civil society – never told their part about the story of martial law," Deles said.  

"It's part of the campaign 'Never again.' People forget how bad this was. It was bad, even more so, for women who got into the claws of martial rule. It may need to be spoken about now. They need to come out now and say it. It will have such a big impact," Deles said.

– Angela Casauay/Rappler.com

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