The War on Women: And the brave ones who fight back
Are women doomed to be just another hopeless cause?
Author Sue Lloyd-Roberts
This book kept me up nights. As a long-term reader of literature related to women’s rights, The War on Women is the first book to convince me that there genuinely is a world-wide, systematic and deliberate battle to dismantle women’s power.
Sounds far-fetched? The book’s opening chapter addresses the issue of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and the fact that practicing cultures often draw their reasoning from religious texts. For example, the Quran warns that “When the woman comes towards you…it is Satan who is approaching.” Similar to various interpretations of relevant Biblical passages, “the inference is there – that a woman is inferior and, in her sexual appetites, she is a threat” (p.17). As such, FGM is a means of controlling this threat. And what more effective a way to ensure a submissive, faithful wife than to subject her to not only the denial of sexual pleasure but often to constant accompanying pain that comes with being cut and, in some cases, repeatedly ‘re-opened’ for sexual relations and childbirth. While the broad concepts within the War on Women will not be unfamiliar to P and J News readers, the detailed case-studies of an experienced and passionate journalist such as Sue Lloyd-Roberts are what really pulls at the heart strings and evokes outrage at the plight of women around the world. The author shares insights from her interviews with women from the UK, Saudi Arabia, India the Democratic Republic of Congo and beyond. The common thread that runs through all of these countries, seemingly ‘developed’ and developing, is that women continue to struggle for basic human rights: the right not to be raped as part of a systematic genocide, the right to drive a car or to leave a house without a male chaperone, the right not to be forced into marriage, the right to make decisions regarding their sexuality and reproduction. So, what is the tone of the War on Women, the message that Sue Lloyd-Roberts wished to impart before she passed away in 2015? She clearly states in the preface that she doesn’t pretend to have an answer for the grave human rights violations she discusses within the book. Her intention is merely to share her experiences from more than 30 years of reporting – and these experiences make for a harsh reality check. The stories do not imply fairy tale endings and many chapters actually conclude with more questions. However, it is the personal stories and anecdotes that make this book compelling reading. For example, in the chapter Boys will be Boys: Where there are UN Peacekeepers there are traffickers, we meet Monica, whose boyfriend tricked her into leaving Moldova, telling her he had found them jobs in Italy when he had, in fact, sold her to a pimp in Bosnia. After 6 hellish months, she escaped from the brothel, at which time she courageously volunteered to remain in Bosnia for longer, in order to identify her abusers, which included international police officers and American UN Peacekeepers. She was taken in by Celhia de Lavarene, founder of the charity STOP, which works to rescue trafficked women like Monica from the sex-industry. However, before the cases came to court, Monica was abruptly returned home to Moldova by the authorities. Throughout this chapter and the rest of the book, horrific cruelty and injustice is laced with just a little bit of hope, in the form of women like Monica and Celhia, who are prepared to fight back, even under sometimes impossible circumstances.
The War on Women is easy to read, with each chapter dedicated to a certain part of the world, including chapters on the pay gap in the United Kingdom and religious persecution in the Republic of Ireland. There are also a range of photographs taken during Sue Lloyd-Roberts’ extensive reporting career. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is under the illusion that women and men have attained some degree of equality in this day and age. The War on Women is indeed alive and well, and it is imperative that we continue to keep informed and to join our sisters around the world in the fight for our basic rights.