“It was a small village bordering Croatia and Serbia. Every morning the men from both sides would get dressed in their gear and head to the front lines of war. The women of these villages would go to the same front lines of the war and attach washing machines, exchange electricity and water, they would exchange food and supplies as needed, all the while, as the men threw bombs over their heads!” exclaimed political activist and writer Jasmina Tesanovic, speaking at a panel on Sunday at the Bangalore Literature Fest.
The panel Tesanovic was speaking at, titled “Women in Conflict Zones,” touched upon the different ways in which women are found on the field in conflict-torn areas. Tesanovic was joined by journalist-writers Barkha Dutt, Paro Anand, and Rashmi Saksena, each of whom brought to the table a particular perspective on the different masks donned by women in regions torn apart by war and conflict.
“Women began taking proactive roles, because they were pushed to do so,” explained Rashmi Saksena. This was not only limited to taking on bigger responsibilities within the household, but also with regards to the military infrastructure as well. Just like how the women of World War II in America took to the workforce to make up for the deficit in manpower. She talked about the women of Assam who too were forced to take up operations in place of men during times of war.
And it’s not just about the women “behind-the-scenes,” several instances show that women are often thrown to the frontline of battle, in armor and out of it.
Journalist Barkha Dutt talked about the difficulties of being a woman on the ground, covering these stories, “I found it difficult to convince the military at first. The reasons they come up with, [such as] we can’t give you special treatment, we can’t give you proper bathrooms.” She went on to explain that much progress has been made, where women once couldn’t even report without such hesitancy, now there were women in the fight, on the battleground.
Official laws against the rape of women were put into place once more women found their place in the battlefield. “It was finally considered a form of torture!” exclaimed Paro Anand.
A question posed by an audience member made me smile, “What was the difference between a male and female reporter covering these topics on the ground?” Paro Anand was quick to point out that a significant number of women covering areas of conflict focused on stories with a particular touch of humanity, whereas males generally were data focused.