Telling Stories About Women, War and Peace

The 2011 debut of Women, War and Peace was a landmark: The documentary film shined unprecedented light on never-before-told stories about feminist activists and agitators advancing peace around the world.

Seven years later, the intersections of gender and conflict—and the unique relationship between women and peace-making—remains as relevant as ever. And on the heels of the Year of the Woman in 2018, which ushered record numbers of women into Congress, PBS is releasing four more installments. The first in the Women War & Peace II docuseries will air March 25.

“Historically, war is the crucible of patriarchy,” documentary filmmaker and philanthropist Abigail Disney told Ms. “No human activity is more gendered than war and violence, and while conflict is inevitable in human experience, violence and war are not. Wherever there is war, women are there—feeding, clothing, housing, finding healthcare and caring for the sick and the dead—and yet the story of war is still, in most people’s minds, a man’s story.”

Women, War & Peace II rewrites that story. An all-star ensemble of female directors bring activists from Northern Ireland, Bangladesh, Egypt and Israel-occupied Palestine into sharp focus.

“I have never been involved with a political party in my life,” an Irish activist confesses to viewers in the first film, A Wave Goodbye to Dinosaurs, which recaps the way that women were critical in the peace process between England and Northern Ireland and shows the revolutionary act of inserting themselves in the political field. Her comments highlight the monumental moments that spur women to advocate for themselves and their communities—and foreshadows the immense changes which inevitably always come next.

The second film, The Trials of Spring, brings viewers to the frontlines of the 2011 Arab Spring protests in Egypt. While that revolution swept the nation almost a decade ago, the fight is far from over—especially for Egyptian women. And they’re not done fighting, either. “It’s not hard to remember what I wanted in the revolution,” an Egyption activist declares on-screen. “What I wanted then is what I want now: freedom!”

A Journey of a Thousand Miles: Peacekeepers will follow, amplifying the work of women peacekeepers at the intersections of social justice and national security. The footage also exposes the particular binds that female peacekeepers navigate, given the gender norms still unraveling around the world. “I must have it all,” one Bangladeshi female peacekeeper explains, “the love and affection of a mother, and the firm resolve of a soldier.”

Naila and the Uprising, the fourth in the series, follows Naila, a Palestinian activist organizing against the Israeli occupation, and reveals the connections between feminism and women’s equality and the larger fight for human rights. “Women’s resistance,” she declares in the episode, “went hand-in-hand with national resistance.”

“When you look at war through a woman’s eyes, everything about it changes,” Disney told Ms. “That’s why we made Women, War & Peace. We want to shatter the dominant narrative about war and restore women to the frame. We believe that when you see women in all their agency, you will see the project of war for all of its complexity, nuance and consequence—and perhaps next time you decide to take your country to war, you will think twice and perhaps change course.”  

“Women, War & Peace” will air on PBS on March 25 and 26 from 9 PM to 11 PM.


Rosalind Jones is a writer and global feminist thinker with a focus on international women's liberation. Her goal is to use her writing and language skills to elevate the voices of gender equality advocates in all corners of the world. She is an Occidental College graduate with a degree Diplomacy and World Affairs and a contributor to Ms.