War Is Not Over When It's Over: Women Speak Out from the Ruins of War
by Ann Jones
Reviewed by Curt Schleier
Minneapolis Star Tribune
Every morning as part of their ritual, some orthodox Jewish men recite a prayer thanking God that they are not women. After reading Ann Jones' War Is Not Over When It's Over: Women Speak Out From the Ruins of War (Metropolitan Books, 256 pages, $25), men of all faiths might want to make that part of their daily routine.
Jones is an expert in the field of violence against women, a subject she has written about previously. What she brings to the fore here is sadly often overlooked in discussions of the world politic: In some areas, men can subject women to barbaric levels of brutality with impunity. Women -- even infants -- are sadistically raped, beaten and murdered in ways that cannot be described in a newspaper.
However, the book raises a chicken-or-egg question that it doesn't answer. On one hand, Jones believes that war creates the problem. "When rape is used as a tactic of war, it becomes a habit hard to break, popularized by soldiers and civilians."
But she also writes "if men in peacetime routinely view their wives as indentured laborers in the field and in bed, why shouldn't soldiers in wartime also view women as slaves to be impressed for labor or sexual servitude?"
Does it make a difference which came first? Yes, if only because you have to know what causes a disease before you can cure it. And while the two -- war and culture -- are not mutually exclusive and likely feed off each other, most of the book seems to point to the latter.
A woman has her arm broken and is raped because she let her daughter go to gymnastics class. The husband of another stuck a carving knife in her belly because she did not promptly obey him.
Time magazine's recent cover photo of a woman, Aisha, who had her nose and ears sliced off by her Taliban husband, lends further testimony to the savagery many women face. She'd been given to his family when she was 12 years old to settle a blood feud. When she reached puberty, she was married to the Taliban fighter, who used her as a slave and frequently beat her. She ran away. He caught her and disfigured her in retribution.
How do you deal with something like that? Jones volunteered with the International Rescue Committee and participated in a project that gave digital cameras to women and asked them to photograph both the high and low points of their lives. The resulting photos provided a voice for women who'd previously been voiceless. Their photos were physical evidence of the abuse. In some cases, it led to husbands becoming more caring and village chieftains more involved in correcting these problems.
Because of fiscal and other restraints, it was a small project, with only a couple of hundred women involved. Still, they say the longest journey begins with the first step. War Is Not Over When It's Over is an important second step.
Curt Schleier is a book reviewer in New Jersey.