As a long-time documentary producer, I’ve come across countless films about war and conflict. But few of those narratives captured the larger picture of warfare. War Redefined, the final episode of the five-part series Women, War & Peace (which airs tonight- check your local PBS listings), tells the story of modern war in its totality – and shows how women are at the forefront of conflict in ways that few of us realized.
After months of rigorous research into the contours of today’s global conflicts, patterns emerged that led us to the episode you’re seeing tonight. We noticed the disappearance of the so-called “frontlines” of war – men in uniform are no longer fighting men in uniform in distant battlefields. We saw, again and again, the dramatic influence of small arms in the post-Cold War era: their ubiquity, their volume, and how easily they are sold across borders. We saw that rape and violence specifically targeting women has become a systematic weapon of warfare and ethnic cleansing. But, perhaps most important, we observed the often underreported power of women in conflict zones. We were stunned by the courage with which women are fighting for justice, rebuilding their communities and participating in the efforts to sustain peace, often at great personal risk.
Ultimately, we focused on stories in four separate war zones: Bosnia, Liberia, Afghanistan and Colombia. And the shared experience we found most arresting and important for American viewers to grasp was that women are not just primary targets in modern warfare but are primary change-agents as well.
In War Redefined, the capstone episode of the series, we draw on the themes of the first four films and go beyond them. Through incisive interviews with leading thinkers, Secretaries of State, and seasoned survivors of war and peace-making, the film conveys the impact of small arms proliferation; articulates how natural resources are at the heart of some of these wars; reports on how international pressure helped bring an end to impunity for sexual violence; and relays the powerful stories of women restoring peace and justice to a society. The film also points to the importance of including women in post-conflict rebuilding. Nobel Peace Prize laureate Leymah Gbowee, for example, explains that disarmament is a process that is dominated by outsiders who don’t know who has the guns. You have to talk to the community, she says. “And who are those community members who are in the best position?” she asks, “some of the mothers who know that their sons were fighters.” Most strikingly, War Redefined is an episode that in its very title gets at the core mission of the Women, War & Peace series: To actively, thoughtfully redefine our conceptions of war, giving it new faces, new textures of meaning, new vocabulary, new dialogue.
For Americans, this fresh look is particularly important. I can’t count the number of times that friends and family – in hearing me talk about our plans for the series, and its progress – reacted to my stories with the phrase, “I had no idea.” As Americans, it’s true that we don’t really know war. We don’t experience war on our soil. We don’t live through war in the way that women on the ground in Liberia, Colombia, Afghanistan do. We don’t see the way that women serve –- as the human glue that holds their homes and communities together as war threatens to tear it apart.
We often say that soldiers serve in war – and they do. But women serve, too. And it is their service – as soldiers, as peacemakers, as mothers, as voters, as activists, as community leaders, and as witnesses – that turns our old-fashioned story of war on its head.
Nina Chaudry is the senior producer of Women, War & Peace and co-producer of the last film in the series, War Redefined. She oversees the Women, War & Peace website. As a senior member of PBS’s Emmy-winning foreign affairs documentary series WIDE ANGLE, she oversaw the production of more than 40 documentaries, covering issues such as the drug-fueled corruption in Colombia, the challenges to fostering democracy in Afghanistan, and efforts to reduce maternal mortality in sub-Saharan Africa. Below she reflects on her experiences working on the series as the final episode airs Tuesday night.
Check Local Listings for War Redefined, Tuesday, November 8 on your local PBS Station.