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Women Speak Out from the Ruins of War

by Ann Jones

Pub Date: Sept. 14th, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-8050-9111-3
Publisher: Metropolitan/Henry Holt

A gripping, ground-floor look at the lingering ravages of conflict in some of the deadliest contemporary war zones.

Photographer and activist Jones (Kabul in Winter, 2007, etc.), an award-winning authority on domestic violence, turns her journalistic sights on women in areas where war and its grim aftermath have significantly altered their lives. The author recounts her experiences from 2007 to 2009 while volunteering with the International Rescue Committee in Ivory Coast, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Congo, as well as in Burmese refugee camps in Thailand and with Iraqi refugees scattered throughout Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. The IRC’s basic project was to enable women in these troubled areas to “examine their problems and present suggestions to improve their lives,” and they provided digital cameras to small groups of women, asking them to photograph some things they found pleasing, others they found problematic, and then gathered the women and other locals to exhibit and discuss the photos. It is difficult to choose the more powerful result: Jones’s intimate portrayal of disturbingly similar atrocities exposed in each region, or the self-awakening and solidarity the graphic recording of their living conditions occasioned in the photographers. For example, in the Congo, a renowned gynecologist reported surgically treating more than 10,000 rape victims from 2004 to 2008—“the oldest patient was eighty-three, the youngest nine months”; at the IRC women’s photo exhibition, one of the photographers explained why they had cloaked their subject in a sheet: “We covered her face because we did not want to show her identity—and she could be any one of us.” After describing the conundrum faced by Burmese refugees in Thai camps—“they can’t return to their own country, and they can’t enter this new one”—Jones wryly observes: “A photo is not always worth a thousand words. Sometimes you need the words to grasp the photo; without them, you would never know that the graceful lady with the rosy umbrella passing over the pretty river has no place to go.”

This searing exposé on war’s remnants convincingly makes the case that gender inequality may be one of the greatest threats to peace.