UNHCR Special Envoy Angelina Jolie leads UN, U.S. Congressional leadership calling for prevention and prosecution of gender-based violence amid the COVID-19 pandemic

In a candid conversation just published by TIME, Angelina Jolie, Special Envoy for UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, describes the horrors experienced by survivors of gender-based violence she has met during her work with the UN Refugee Agency, and advocates the need to prevent gender-based violence and hold its perpetrators to account. Taking part in the conversation with her are Dr. Natalia Kanem, Executive Director of UNFPA, the UN sexual and reproductive health agency, U.S. Representative Chrissy Houlahan (PA-06) and Rachel Bowen Pittman, Executive Director of the United Nations Association of the USA (UNA-USA).

“I’ve been at these hospitals where the grandmother, the mother and the child all have been raped, all have been assaulted, and none have justice,” says Special Envoy Jolie. “What does that say to them? Does justice or accountability for the crimes against their bodies mean anything to us? Because our lack of action says everything.”

The timely conversation, convened by UNA-USA, coincides with Domestic Violence Awareness Month in the United States and precedes the 16 Days of Action to End Gender-based Violence, which the UN marks annually in late November and early December.

The panelists emphasize that gender-based violence happens in every country, religion and economic class, and describe the devastating impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on levels of violence against women and efforts to prevent it. 31 million additional cases of gender-based violence can be expected to occur if the lockdown continues for at least 6 months.

“With COVID-19, we have been sounding the alarm about a catastrophe that’s been compounded by major mobility and communication restrictions. People can neither escape their abusers nor report what’s happening,” said UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Natalia Kanem. “And there are literally millions of schoolgirls who have lost their only place of safety.”

UNFPA, the United Nations sexual and reproductive health agency, is mandated to protect and uphold the rights of all women and girls worldwide to live free from violence and discrimination. But as Representative Houlahan points out, it has not received funding from the U.S. government for the past four years.

“We, as the United States, have really abdicated our responsibility and the role that we have to play in ending gender-based violence,” says Rep. Houlahan. “And the voice that we have with helping organizations like UNFPA.”

In October 2019, Rep. Houlahan introduced H.R. 4722, the Support UNFPA Funding Act, in the U.S. House of Representatives, which would authorize an annual U.S. contribution to UNFPA, noting UNFPA’s work supports “United States national security and humanitarian efforts by operating in areas where medical infrastructure or services have been destroyed or limited by natural disasters, armed conflict, or other humanitarian emergencies.”

Special Envoy Jolie has been a longtime champion of refugees and women throughout her 20-year service with the UN Refugee Agency. In July of this year, she urged the UN Security Council to increase its investment in the sexual and gender-based violence prevention measures, noting less than 1% of humanitarian aid is dedicated to the issue.



UNFPA is the United Nations sexual and reproductive health agency. Our mission is to deliver a world where every pregnancy is wanted, every childbirth is safe and every young person’s potential is fulfilled. We work in developing countries and humanitarian emergencies to make sure women can access family planning, to end preventable maternal deaths and stamp out gender-based violence and harmful practices like female genital mutilation and child marriage. For more information about UNFPA and its work, please visit: www.unfpa.org

About the United Nations Association of the USA

The United Nations Association of the USA (UNA-USA) is a grassroots movement of Americans who support the vital work of the United Nations in U.S. communities, colleges, and Congress. For more than 75 years, UNA-USA and its national network of 20,000 members and 200 chapters have promoted strong U.S. leadership at the UN through advocacy campaigns, youth engagement, outreach programs, and public events. Learn more.

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