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TV Documentary Series Elevates Women's Work to Stop Warring

by Ariel Dougherty


September 22, 2011

"The finest minds have always underscored the peacemaking role of women," Nobel Peace Prize winner and Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev said decades ago.

Now a new five-part TV documentary series, Women, War & Peace, illustrates this sentiment. The series airs on public television in the U.S. in October and November. The five segments, created by Abigail Disney, Pamela Hogan and Gini Reticker, tell the vital stories of women's rights activists, who often risked their lives to demand peace in their communities.

The series is remarkable, and tragic. The tragedy emerges in two ways. On one level, the peace-seeking women are neglected by the mainstream media. At another end of the spectrum, women and children are, increasingly, the targets of small armaments used as a strategy "to kill a woman's dignity."

The first four episodes of the series follow events chronologically on four continents. I Came To Testify covers 16 brave women who broke silence to describe systematic rape by former neighbors in Bosnia in the 1990s. Next, Pray the Devil Back to Hell, previously released, chronicles how Liberian women took on the brutal leaders and demanded peace in their war torn country in 2003. In part three, Afghani women struggle against traditions to become active participants in the official Afghanistan peace process in Peace Unveiled. In the fourth segment, Colombian women lead the resistance in a fight for resources in The War We Are Living.

The fifth hour, War Redefined, frames the history of stepped-up attacks on women and girls through experts, policy makers and advocates.

For the average viewer, the flood of new information is huge. I Came to Testify recaps the historic decision of the Hague Tribunal to declare rape a crime against humanity. The collaboration among women forges new ground -- the 16 women who testify, a historian who takes the first oral histories of women fleeing Bosnia, advocacy organizations and the staff of the tribunal.

Pray the Devil Back to Hell unfolds the story of how women in Liberia came together, organized, demonstrated and demanded an end to a decade of fighting that displaced as much as a third of the nation's population. The women, although not included in the peace process, held the negotiators accountable, forcing them back to the table to conclude an agreement.

Three Afghan women form the core of Peace Unveiled, which depicts women's struggle in 2009 and 2010 to have seats at the peace talks. Their quest against the bastion of traditional male dominance is formidable. The women are ultimately rebuffed by President Karzai and Taliban tribal leaders who frame the agenda, and thus far, women are not a part of the Afghanistan High Peace Council.

The mountainous Pacific southwest of Colombia is the setting for The War We Are Living, as the forty-year civil war shifts to a war for gold. The women in the Afro-Colombian population, able to more freely organize in wartime, become the backbone of the struggle to keep the land that has sustained their community for centuries through small-scale mining. Constantly threatened by "The Black Eagles," Clemencia Carabali, who has a wonderful repartee with community members, and Francia Marquez lead the community in fighting every eviction notice. Ultimately they are victorious.

War Redefined, part five, has a different focus as it analyzes the decline of the Soviet Union and the massive selling of its small armaments to state militias, para-militias and warlords across the globe. Here, more information about the history of women who advocated for women's rights and against gender violence would have enriched the segment. These actions, of course, laid the groundwork for other scenes, such as the declaration of First-Lady Hillary Clinton before the Beijing Women's Conference in 1995 that "women's rights are not separate from human rights," and the passage of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security in October 2000.

Surely not everything can make its way into a five-hour series. Untold stories could frame a second (and third) season of Women, War & Peace. For example, Tami Gold's Passionate Politics: The Life & Work of Charlotte Bunch could anchor a new season about women's peace initiatives. Other stories should be exposed to today's audiences -- the anti-cruise missile peace encampments of the 1980s run by women in Italy, England and the U.S.; the work of Women's Strike for Peace since the 1960s; and, the monumental launch of the International Women's League for Peace and Freedom 100 years ago. There are powerful ongoing stories, as well -- of women's efforts to resolve the Palestine-Israel conflict, engage in the recent Egyptian uprising, and struggle against daily gang warfare in Mexico.

Women War & Peace offers a rare glimpse into war's strife and the sheer will of women to ensure peace and justice in a new peace dynamic, something rarely discussed in major media. In addition to the public television airing, the producers have organized a series of public screenings across the country.

Gigantic cheers are due to the entire team on Women, War & Peace, and to the leadership and spunk of Abigail Disney, who along with visionary donors, ensured this production. The series is deeply moving, and enriches our knowledge of women's peace work in many corners of the globe. Now, let us make certain that more telling of these rich tales of women's peace efforts air again, and again.

Women, War & Peace, a five part TV series co-produced by Thirteen and Fork Films in association with WNET and ITVS, airs October 11- November 8, 10 pm ET (check local listings for airdates and times); created by Abigail Disney, Pamela Hogan and Gini Reticker.

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Ariel Dougherty, initiator of Media Equity Collaborative, writes about the intersections of feminist media, funding and women's rights.

Also see "Finding Hope: Reweaving -- Then and Now" by Pam McAllister in this edition of On The Issues Magazine.

See "Peace is a Human Right: Give Us Women Who Get It" by Cora Weiss in this edition of On The Issues Magazine.


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