Women and War in Today's World

Despite the fact that today’s women serve on the front lines as soldiers, engage in diplomacy and lead nations, war is often still considered a man’s game. The effects of war, however, know no gender bounds.

This Tuesday, PBS aired the fifth and final segment in a new series titled ‘Women, War, and Peace’, which documents the lives of women suffering the devastation of war in their countries and overcoming the obstacles war puts in their path. Choosing to focus on modern, post-Cold War conflicts, the program highlights the proliferation of small arms and growth of informal groups, such as gangs and regional factions, fighting as opposed to traditional nation-states. With an estimated 875 million small weapons circulating the globe, small-scale, close-contact battles are the new form of war in many poorer nations. And as the program points out, the lives of women tangled in these conflicts are often more vulnerable than those of men.

Matt Damon, Tilda Swinton, Geena Davis and Alfre Woodard all lend their voices to the series as narrators, guiding viewers on a journey through four countries. Each story illustrates the struggles of women fighting to preserve their ways of life amidst violence and chaos. Peace Unveiled, which aired on October 25, chronicles the story of three Afghani women fighting to preserve women’s rights during the U.S. troop surge in 2009. October 18’s episode, Pray the Devil Back To Hell, follows Liberian women who rose up during civil war to protect their city from opposing forces by forming a physical blockade at the site of stalled peace talks and refusing to move until the conflict was resolved.

This week’s episode, War Redefined, featured interviews with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former Secretaries of State Condoleezza Rice and Madeleine Albright, Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee, Bosnian war crimes investigator Fadila Memisevic and Founder of Women for Women International Zainab Salbi. The episode gave an overview of the role of women in today’s current wars, explaining that many women and children are driven from their homes during warfare and become displaced refugees.

“It’s not just stopping wars, it’s stopping these heart of darkness activities that have too often gone on,” said Clinton. These activities, including rape, displacement, and murder, have only recently been recognized by the international community as war crimes, and were considered in many countries to simply be inevitable by-products of war.

These types of small conflicts have grown more and more common in the post-Cold War world. Unfortunately, we are unprepared to deal with the brutal reality that they bring. Military planners, too often men, focus instead on the traditional, “sexier” weapons of war, including nuclear weapons, rather than paying attention to the delicate measures that are needed to address the dirtier weapons of war, like rape.

Perhaps that’s why women have often been at the forefront of peace movements, seeking to change the focus of national security conversations from power to people. At Ploughshares Fund, we’re seeking to encourage greater women’s leadership in national security conversations. Through a partnership with the White House Project, we’ll be supporting a training for women leaders in nuclear security issues to be held in in Dallas in February, 2012. For more information or to apply, click here.

As mothers, sisters, and wives, women play an important role in bringing peace and security to our communities and to our world. “Women, War, and Peace” is an inspirational lens that gives us a glimpse of not only their hardships, but their incredible ability to rise above.

The five-part series can be viewed online here.


Photo by The U.S. Army on Flickr