For the past few weeks, PBS has been screening Women, War and Peace, a multi-part documentary concerned both with the hugely disproportional affect war has on women as compared to men as well as the novel methods of peace-making that women can offer in the aftermath of fighting. If you haven’t been watching this gripping and timely series, tonight’s finale is a fine occasion to start.
“War Redefined,” the fifth and final installment of the documentary, explores the ways in which the nature of conflict has changed since the cessation of the Cold War; specifically, from global battles in which large, state-aligned armies fight according to agreed upon “rules” to more localized, militia-based campaigns in which actors are much more erratically violent, especially toward civilians. The film’s key point is that, tragically, “civilian” all too often means “woman.”
In the course of the episode, we learn about the “small arms” race that fueled many atrocities like those in Bosnia and Rwanda. According to the film, there are 875 million guns in circulation around the world, 650 million of which are in the hands of civilians—and enough bullets to kill everyone on the planet twice. Frightening stuff, but fortunately, women are well-positioned to assist with disarmament (since it is their sons and husbands who have the guns); the men in control just need to start asking for help.
And they do want to help, as Leymah Gbowee, one of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize winners, points out. The women’s peace movement that she founded in Liberia to end that country’s civil war in 2003 proves that, when they band together, women can wield a great deal of power in influencing the decisions of their larger societies.
Overall, “War Redefined” presents a bracing and at times encouraging portrait of women’s changing position in armed conflict. The images of horrific oppression, rape and broken communities are tempered with tales of perseverance and successful activism, leaving one with the feeling that though women are increasingly the target of war-related violence, they may also be the best hope for finding new paths toward peace.
“War Redefined” airs tonight at 10:00pm on most PBS stations. You can watch the previous four episodes here.