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UNHCR Special Envoy Angelina Jolie talks to the media and Syrian refugees at Za'atari camp in Jordan. Almost seven years since the start of the conflict, more than 6 million people remain displaced inside Syria and a further 5.48 million have fled to other countries in the region, creating the biggest refugee crisis since the end of the second world war. On her fifth visit to Jordan since the beginning of the crisis, Angelina Jolie visited families living in Za’atari camp, the largest refugee settlement in the Middle East, home to more than 80,000 Syrians. At a news conference in the camp, Jolie urged the international community to find a “principled end” to the war that respects the human rights of all Syrians and urged donors to help UNHCR support refugees by donating desperately needed funds.
Ivor Prickett/UNHCR
Girls & Women

Why Angelina Jolie Wants Her Daughters to Follow In Her Footsteps

Angelina Jolie is a woman of many talents. She’s an award-winning actress, a producer, and a director, but perhaps more important to Jolie than her Hollywood accomplishments is her humanitarian impact.

And while she’s passionate about both acting and helping others, it’s the latter legacy she hopes her children will carry on.

"I tell my daughters, 'What sets you apart is what you are willing to do for others. Anyone can put on a dress and makeup. It's your mind that will define you’," Jolie told former Secretary of State John Kerry in an interview for Elle. "‘Find out who you are, what you think, and what you stand for. And fight for others to have those same freedoms. A life of service is worth living.’"

Jolie is a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador and special envoy to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Over the years, she has conducted dozens of field visits to conflict-affected countries like Jordan and Iraq, and co-founded the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative, CNN reported.

Read more: Angelina Jolie Gave a Powerful Speech About Sexual Violence to the UN

Her exclusive interview with Elle is unusual not only because the interview was conducted by a former presidential candidate and White House cabinet member, but because Jolie has not starred in a movie since 2016. The candid interview is not part of some Hollywood press plan.

Jolie has no apparent ongoing projects to promote, except the advancement of women’s rights — perhaps the most important of her projects and an effort to which she has dedicated years of her life.

“I was quite anti-politics when I was young,” Jolie said. “I started working on human-rights issues and meeting refugees and survivors mostly because I wanted to learn...But at a certain point, you realize that’s not enough. You have to find the root of the problem.”

And in conflict zones, very often the root of people’s suffering, particularly women’s suffering, is tied to the systemic gender discrimination and a pervasive devaluation of women.

“I kept meeting refugees who were survivors of systematic rape—rape used as a weapon. Yet there were virtually no convictions. It fired me up to start working with governments and lawmakers,” she explained. “When it comes down to it, we still treat violence against women as a lesser crime.”

Take Action: Stop Sexual Violence in Conflict and Emergencies for the Yazidi Community

Kerry agreed with Jolie’s observation, noting that the lack of attention paid to violence against women is a long-standing problem that requires a holistic solution and the inclusion of more women in process of reforming such systems.

“When I was a young prosecutor, a lot of people didn’t believe that violence against women was a crime,” Kerry said. “We tried to chip away at that old thinking by expanding counseling programs for rape victims and hiring and promoting more women prosecutors.”

And that’s exactly what Jolie hopes to do now, challenge and change not just laws, but the way people think about women’s rights and sexual violence.

Read more: Angelina Jolie Just Gave a Powerful Speech on Ending the War in Syria

“I think of how hard women fought to get us to where we are today,” Jolie said, just weeks ahead of International Women’s Day on Mar. 8. “Everything counts, from the way you hold yourself in your daily life and educate yourself on your own rights, to solidarity with other women around the world.”

Global Citizen campaigns to protect women’s rights and in support of gender equality. You can take action here to help call for greater protections against sexual violence for women and girls affected by conflict.