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PBS examines role of women in modern war

Published October 10, 2011 9:42 am

TV • "Women, War & Peace" documentary series is horrifying and compelling.
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The vice president of programming at WNET New York was sold on the idea of "Women, War & Peace" before he knew what the five-part documentary series would include.

When producer Abigail Disney "first pitched me the idea for this series, she said, 'One hundred years ago, 90 percent of casualties of war were men in uniform. And today, 90 percent of casualties of war are civilians — and 75 percent of them are women and children,' " said Stephen Segaller. "I said, 'OK, let's do it.'

"We had to do it. It's such a transformation of our understanding. We're sort of putting a marker down with this series to say the world has changed."

What emerged were three new documentaries about conflict in Bosnia, Afghanistan and Colombia, along with the 2008 documentary "Pray the Devil Back to Hell," shot in war-torn Liberia. In the final installment, prominent women —including U.S. Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton, Condoleezza Rice and Madeleine Albright, Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee and Bosnian war crimes investigator Fadila Memisevic — give their views on how women can change the world.

Individually, the documentaries are powerful. Shocking and horrifying, but compelling. Collectively, they weave a narrative that is both heartbreaking and inspiring.

"It's really important to emphasize that the series talks about the way in which we've underestimated the effect war has on women," Disney said. "And much of that is going to be incredibly negative. But there's the second piece of the equation, which is that women are stepping up to build peace and reconciliation."

The stories are ghastly, but people display unfathomable courage. Like Gbowee, the Liberian activist who on Friday was one of three women awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

"There were times that I felt like we were never going to win," Gbowee said. " It's easy to pick up a gun or pick up a knife and stab someone or shoot someone. But to use your body, your conscience, your words to confront evil is the most difficult thing. And when the peace talks were on and then the cease-fire broke down, I started losing confidence in the effectiveness of nonviolence.

"Thankfully, we had a whole group of women who understood that it was with time that we would succeed."

The conflicts in Bosnia, Liberia, Afghanistan and Colombia are not between countries, they're among neighbors. And "Women, War & Peace" offers a rather chilling warning.

"I think it can happen in any community," said Refik Hodzic, who covered the war in Bosnia and the war-crimes trials that followed. "It requires leaders who are willing to take this path and instill hatred and fear in people.

"It doesn't happen overnight. In Bosnia, it happened after six or seven years of relentless incitement of hatred by different leaders who, in the end, instilled so much fear in the communities that my entire family was taken to concentration camps by people who claimed that they were doing it as revenge for what happened in the Second World War, when neither those who were taking them to the camp nor those who were taken to the camp were born when that happened."


Twitter @ScottDPierce —

Five-part series

P The five films, which can be seen on consecutive Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on KUED-Ch. 7, are:

"I Came to Testify" (Oct. 11), the story of 16 Bosnian women who came forward to testify about how they had been systematically raped by Serbian forces.

"Pray the Devil Back to Hell" (Oct. 18), the story of Liberian women who took on the warlords and dictator Charles Taylor in the midst of a brutal civil war and won a once-unimaginable peace for their country.

"Peace Unveiled" (Oct. 25), the story of three women in Afghanistan who risk their lives to make sure women have a seat at the negotiating table.

"The War We Are Living" (Nov. 1), the story of two Afro-Colombian women fighting to stay on their gold-rich lands.

"War Redefined" (Nov. 8) challenges the conventional wisdom that war and peace are men's domain through interviews with leading thinkers, secretaries of state, war survivors and peacemakers.






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