Jolie Uses Doctor’s Story to Highlight Plight of Women in War-Torn Somalia

By Margaret Collins and Debarati Roy

To Angelina Jolie, the struggles of a Somali doctor serve as a reminder to the rest of the world about the fragile state of security in the African country.
The actress and United Nations goodwill ambassador told the story of Dr. Hawa Abdi, whose farm has been a haven for those fleeing war and hunger. Some of Dr. Abdi’s land may be confiscated as soon as today by local rebels, Jolie said. Somalia has had no effective central government since the downfall of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre two decades ago.
“Somalia has known only violence, more than two decades of murder, rape, kidnapping, disease and most recently famine,” Jolie, 36, said at the Women in the World conference in New York. “One million Somalis have died and nearly 1.5 million have been internally displaced.”
Jolie, who won an Academy Award in 2000 for Best Supporting Actress in “Girl, Interrupted,” made her debut as a director last year with “In the Land of Blood and Honey,” a film about the war that tore apart the former Yugoslavia. In her work as a UN ambassador Jolie has visited with refugees worldwide, including those fleeing violence in Syria and famine in Africa.
The event’s opening night yesterday highlighted some of the challenges facing women and governments worldwide. A representative of the U.K.’s Forced Marriage Unit said more than 500 British girls are forced into wedlock each year and a similar number of women, mostly between the ages of 16 and 20, call a helpline every month seeking to avoid being pushed into marriage by their families, often abroad. The U.K. is debating whether to criminalize forced marriages.

Sandberg, von Furstenberg

The three-day conference is being held in the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center. Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg, Rockefeller Foundation President Judith Rodin and others opened the event with readings composed by women from countries such as Bahrain, Vietnam and Afghanistan.
Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said the world needs more women in positions of power to help resolve conflicts. Women already in government and business leadership roles have a responsibility to further that cause, she said.
“There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other,” she said.

To contact the reporters on this story: Margaret Collins in New York at mcollins45@bloomberg.net; Debarati Roy in New York at droy5@bloomberg.net
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Joanna Ossinger at jossinger@bloomberg.net