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Women’s perspective on war and peace in film series

June 27, 2014

Women’s perspective on war and peace in film series

As co-chair of the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict held in the UK earlier this month actor, director and humanitarian activist Angelina Jolie has put the issue of women’s suffering in war at the frontline.

A similar theme runs through a groundbreaking five-part film series telling the untold stories of contemporary women in wartime – from Liberia to Colombia and Afghanistan to Bosnia – which is coming to New Zealand through Massey University for screenings in Palmerston North and Wellington next month.

Titled Women, War and Peace, the series challenges conventional thinking that war and peace are a male domain, says Dr Sita Venkateswar, an anthropologist at Massey’s School of People, Environment and Planning. She secured the rights to bring the series to New Zealand with support from Graduate Women Manawatū, an affiliate of the International Federation of Graduate Women; and the Palmerston North City Library.

The series reveals how the post-Cold War proliferation of small arms has changed the landscape of war, with women becoming primary targets and suffering unprecedented casualties. Yet they are simultaneously emerging as essential partners in brokering lasting peace, and as leaders in forging new international laws governing conflict, the series’ website says. The films explore the depths and complexities of the stories of women in conflict zones, placing them at the centre of an urgent dialogue about conflict and security, and reframing our understanding of modern warfare.

Dr Venkateswar says the films offer hope by highlighting the courage of women affected by war, and of their attempts to rebuild their societies in the aftermath of war. She says the films will be of interest to the wider community, especially those concerned with human stories of survival and recovery.

“This series shifts the perspective on war to another gender. War is primarily the domain of men, but a high proportion of casualities are civilians,” she says. “It’s also timely, with the series launching just one month after the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict in London,” she says.

Touring internationally since it was launched by the US Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) in 2011, the series was produced by activist filmmaker and Disney heiress Abigail Disney, granddaughter of Roy Disney who co-founded the Walt Disney Company with his brother Walt Disney. Dr Venkateswar’s New York-based sister put her in touch with Ms Disney after speaking to her about a project on post-conflict scenarios in Nepal and Liberia.

Ms Disney began her film career with the documentary Pray the Devil Back to Hell, with Emmy award-winning director Gini Reticker, which opens the series on July 12.

The film tells the astonishing story of the Liberian women who took on the warlords and regime of dictator Charles Taylor in the midst of a brutal civil war, and won a once unimaginable peace for their shattered country in 2003. It will be introduced by Professor Caroline Ziemke, Director of the Centre for Defence and Security Studies in Massey’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences.

The closing night film, War Redefined, examines the big picture of women and war in the global context. It includes incisive interviews with leading thinkers, Secretaries of State and seasoned survivors of war and peace-making. Interviewees include former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee; Bosnian war crimes investigator Fadila Memisevic; and globalisation expert Moisés Naím.

Marnie Lloydd, from the European Centre of Minority Issues and the International Red Cross, and Massey University Professor of War Studies Glyn Harper will be among invited guests to discuss the film.

Jane Russell Bowen, president of Graduate Women Manawatü, says the series reflects the concerns of the International Federation of University Women (IFUW) that her organisation is affiliated to. The federation was formed in 1919 just after the First World War by two women who set out to foster friendship and lifelong education among women in the hope of preventing further catastrophic wars.

Other films in the series are:

I Came to Testify – the moving story of how a group of 16 women who had been imprisoned and raped by Serb-led forces in the Bosnian town of Foca broke history’s great silence – and stepped forward to take the witness stand in an international court of law. Their remarkable courage resulted in a triumphant verdict that led to new international laws about sexual violence in war.
Peace Unveiled – follows three women in Afghanistan risking their lives to make sure that women’s rights don’t get traded away in any deal with the Taliban. When the US troop surge was announced in late 2009, women in Afghanistan knew that the ground was being laid for peace talks with the Taliban.
The War We Are Living – in Cauca, a mountainous region in Colombia’s Pacific southwest, two extraordinary Afro-Colombian women are braving a violent struggle over their gold-rich lands. They are standing up for a generation of Colombians who have been terrorised and forcibly displaced as a deliberate strategy of war.

Films screen Tuesdays and Saturdays from July 12 – 26 at 7pm for a gold coin donation.

War Redefiined will also screen at Te Manawa museum in Palmerston North on continuous loop from July 27 to August 27; and at Victoria University (dates to be confirmed).

Find out more about the series here.


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