Q&A with Ann Jones about War Is Not Over When It's Over
What led you to focus specifically on the effects of the aftermath of war on women?
When I went to work in Afghanistan in 2002, several months after the American invasion, I saw how deeply women had been scarred not only by Taliban rule but by two decades of unremitting conflict. It's common knowledge that modern warfare kills and injures far more civilians than soldiers, and most of those civilians are women and children. But the real extent of the damage done is inconceivable until you live among women who have gone through war. I wanted to understand it.
Out of all the war-torn regions around the world, how did you choose to visit the places chronicled in your book?
In 2007-2008, I volunteered a year's work to the Gender-based Violence unit of the International Rescue Committee, a very highly respected NGO that specializes in bringing immediate humanitarian relief to people in the wake of war. They asked me to work in the West African post-conflict countries (Ivory Coast, Liberia, and Sierra Leone) and in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and later in refugee camps in Thailand that for decades have housed ethnic-minority refugees from Burma. Of course, it's impossible to ignore the humanitarian disaster of the Iraq war, so when I finished my work with the IRC, I went to the Middle East on my own to talk with Iraqi refugees who had fled to Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon.
What inspired your decision to use digital cameras to give these women agency to document their own stories?
The whole GBV team at the IRC should be credited with the idea of doing a photo-documentation project. They had tried before to do something like it using disposable cameras, but using top of the line digital point and shoot cameras made a world of difference. The IRC team wanted to learn more about women's lives through their photos, so that they could design their programs for women to be of real help. But the larger aim of the project was to encourage women to seize the power to speak up for themselves, and that worked largely because the mere sight of African village women stepping out with Nikons in cultures where men reserve modern gizmos exclusively for themselves shifted the power balance right away. Not that we planned it that way. This project surprised us every day. Another surprise is that village men, once they got over their original shock, were very proud of the work the women did.
What was your process in entering these womens' communities and gaining their trust?
The IRC had already paved the way in most communities. They are very active in post-conflict zones with an array of projects to improve people's lives, and nothing brings a community together faster or more effectively than working with women. If women are the most common casualties of war, they are also the great survivors. It's women who take care of the children and the old people. It's women who put communities back together. Give them a chance to do something, and they jump at it.
Why do you think these ultimate consequences of war are so rarely discussed after a conflict has ended?
Because they chiefly effect women and children. Anyone who truly thinks about the consequences of war wants to prevent its happening again. But powerful men who profit from war would hate to see it stopped. Our own leaders have perfected a system of endless, multiple wars in part to prevent us from reflecting upon consequences.
What do you see as the next step in raising awareness and inciting change in these areas that so desperately need it?
I can only talk about my own next step. I'm writing another book—about what happens when our American wars come home.