Abigail Disney

We know that the United States is currently engaged in two wars - one in Afghanistan and one in Iraq - and yet war’s impact on women goes unacknowledged.

Now for the first time a series is being created for (the US Public Broadcasting System) PBS that will look at war through women’s eyes. Thanks to filmmaker and philanthropist Abigail Disney, who produced Pray the Devil Back to Hell, about the role of women in Liberia’s 14-year conflict, this new series, Women, War & Peace, will focus on women's role in war and other conflicts.

After completing Pray the Devil Back to Hell, Disney, who is the granddaughter of Roy Disney, was struck by the fact that the story of Liberia's women was just one story of so many that hadn't been told. She wanted to make sure other similar stories were given a voice.

“The whole idea of looking at war through a woman’s eyes was never done before and was radical,” Disney said in a phone interview on Monday. “If you just alter the lens a tiny bit everything changes and the presumptions you bring to war and how you go about it are completely different.”

For example, she says, a term like “house to house combat” is a common expression that is used lightly. But when you consider that the houses have people in them or that if they don’t those families had to flee somewhere, the term takes on a new meaning. “War is something that happens in someone’s living room,” Disney explained. “If you go to a refugee camp and you think about what has happened to these families: How have they found work? How have they found food? Who have they lost? It undermines some of the language that we use in war and some of the presumptions about the nature of what we’re trying to accomplish.”

The justification for house-to-house combat is that it makes neighborhoods more secure. But when you see the results - death, fear, and upheaval- the tactics get called into question.

Looking at war through the lens of women has always been critical, yet it had never been done before. It’s especially important now that the Cold War is over, Disney explained, and most combat is between armies of varying strengths and abilities. These “asymmetrical” wars between countries or non-state actors have turned into “all-out, chaotic guerilla nightmares where women are right in the center of it in a way they never have been before.”

This has led to increased rates of rape and violence.

The language about rape and pillage needs to be addressed, she added. “We need to come to an understanding that rape is not inevitable or understandable. It is not a necessary part of war. Rape is not a side effect of war, but is the point of many wars.”

Women, War & Peace was filmed in Afghanistan, Colombia, Bosnia and the Congo.

In each country the series focuses on a story that goes against the stereotype. For example in Bosnia, we don’t just hear about the immensity of the rape crisis during the conflict. Instead the series introduces us to the women of Bosnia who rose above their situations and incorporated their history into their national experience.

Both Bosnia and Rwanda questioned the notion that countries and actors couldn’t be held responsible for rape in wartime. A major question that came out of the conflict was how to address impunity, Disney said: “These are not women who are lying by the side of the road waiting for someone to fix it for them. These are women who are damn angry.”

One of those women is Fadilla Memiseic, a history teacher from Xenica in Bosnia, who started working with the refugees who began flowing into her city. “Every single woman she saw was coming in with a story about rape. She realized this was historical and she started documenting all these women’s stories. Ultimately, she documented over 10,000 stories. If she hadn’t done this it is questionable whether there ever would have been any prosecutions.”

“These are not lumps under a burqa,” Disney added. “These are women who are threatened with death daily and they still fight. That’s what I live for. It’s empowering to bring these voices to light.”

Women, War & Peace will premiere in the US on  local PBS stations Tuesday nights from Oct. 11 to Nov. 8, 2011.