In October and November of this year, PBS aired a five part series, “Women, War & Peace,” in the United States. The series website explains: “Women, War & Peace spotlights the stories of women in conflict zones from Bosnia to Afghanistan and Colombia to Liberia, placing women at the center of an urgent dialogue about conflict and security, and reframing our understanding of modern warfare.”
Several of the episodes in the series focus on conflicts that Muslim women face and resist around the world: Bosnian women in I Came to Testify tell their story of war and rape at the hands of Serbian forces, and their courageous journey that led to rape to be considered a crime in international law. The award-winning Pray the Devil Back to Hell tells the story of this year’s Nobel prize winner Leymah Gbowee’s activism in the organization she helped found, “The Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace,” which brought Christian and Muslim Liberian women together to collectively promote peace in their country. And Peace Unveiled (sigh—another veil pun title) looks at the political activism of the Afghan Women’s Network and their work to promote the rights of women in Afghanistan.
These women’s stories are difficult to listen to—the violence, setbacks, and social norms they face seem immeasurable at times. The episodes highlight the complexity of how conflict affects their everyday lives. A Bosnian woman who testified at the Hague, Witness 99, shares her thoughts after the trial towards the end of I Came to Testify; the accompanying scene shows a Bosnian woman who visits the grave of a family member to offer her prayers:
“I was glad that everyone would answer for what they had done, but it wasn’t a very harsh sentence…You know that rape is the worst form of humiliation for any woman. But that was the goal—to kill a woman’s dignity.”
Another insightful segment from Pray the Devil Back to Hell describes how the collaboration between Muslim and Christian Liberian women came to be. Asatu Ban Kenneth, now the assistant director of the Liberian National Police, speaks up at a church where Leymah Gbowee had presented the work of the Christian Women’s Peace Initiative:
“I’m the only Muslim in this church…God is up. We’re all serving the same God. This is not only for the Christian women. I want to promise you all today that I’m going to move it forward with the Muslim women.”
The secretary of the organization explains that there were some initial concerns by the members of its newfound interfaith nature:
“But the message that we took on: Can the bullet pick and choose? Does the bullet know Christian from Muslim?”