‘Women, War & Peace’ Highlights Changing Females’ Roles in Global Conflicts

October 11, 2011 at 12:00 AM EDT
"Women, War & Peace," a new five-part series co-produced by WNET New York, explores the changing role of women in conflicts around the world. This excerpt tells the story of an Army Female Engagement Team that reaches out to women in rural parts of Afghanistan.
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TRANSCRIPT

GWEN IFILL: Finally tonight, the experiences of women in wartime and peacetime.

That’s the subject of a five-part series produced by our PBS colleagues at WNET New York.

This excerpt tells the story of an all-female Army team reaching out to women in rural parts of Afghanistan.

The narrator is actress Geena Davis.

GEENA DAVIS, narrator: The U.S. military in Afghanistan realized it had made a crucial mistake. It was failing to connect with half the country’s population.

Rural Afghan women, though rarely seen by outsiders, hold the key to understanding life in the villages. By not fully engaging them, the military was missing out on a vital source of information and an opportunity to win hearts and minds.

SGT. 1ST CLASS ABBY BLAISDELL, U.S. Army: All right, let’s go, girls.

GEENA DAVIS: Army Sgt. 1st Class Abby Blaisdell leads a female engagement team, or FET, one of about 75 such teams now operating in provinces throughout the country.

SGT. 1ST CLASS ABBY BLAISDELL: We’re maybe going to get the word to go up and do some talking with some women or children. I want to see what kind of issues they may have in this area, whether it’s health care or if they need school for their children.

We just wanted to make sure that you saw that we brought the doctor back to help the women.

GEENA DAVIS: In tribal Pashtun areas, women are often forbidden from interacting with men unless bonded by marriage or blood. The all-female units give the military new access to a world that was formerly out of reach.

SGT. 1ST CLASS ABBY BLAISDELL: Actually, we are very well-received out here right now as Western women, because we don’t fall under the Muslim rules, and we’re not as imposing as the male soldiers.

We’re going to go right in here. Just have one guy stand here for security, sir, and we will be good inside.

Basically, it’s our goal to go out and engage the women within the population of Afghanistan and try to find out what their needs are and how we can assist them to improve their quality of life.

Are they healthy?

You got anything for something like this?

GEENA DAVIS: Sgt. Blaisdell, her medic and her translator check in with the village elder before moving on.

SGT. 1ST CLASS ABBY BLAISDELL: Ask her if the women that we visited with yesterday that our doctor treated if they were satisfied with the treatment they received.

WOMAN (through translator): All the women are very happy about it. Only the people who didn’t receive it were unhappy.

SGT. 1ST CLASS ABBY BLAISDELL: It’s very important that we all work together, especially as women, because we have a lot of good ideas. And, sometimes, the men don’t know to listen to our ideas. But if we all work together, we can probably bring some resolution much more quickly.

CYNTHIA ENLOE, “Globalization and Militarism”: When you start thinking about women and war, you really change your idea about what security is. Security becomes, is there water out of the tap, or is the well polluted?

You begin thinking about electricity and what happens to women’s security when electricity fails. How do they make a living in the middle of war? It makes you think about really a more realistic notion of security.

GWEN IFILL: The first episode of “Women, War and Peace” airs tonight on most PBS stations. Check your local listings for the time.