“From Russia With Love” will introduce you to victims of sex trafficking in Copenhagen. “Boys Will be Boys” rages against the UN Peacekeepers who use these victims themselves. “Ireland’s Fallen Women” confronts the atrocities committed by nuns of the Magdalen Laundries.
These are just three chapters from The War On Women: And the Brave Ones Who Fight Back, the work of video journalist Sue Lloyd-Roberts. Sue is angry, furious even, at the treatment of women the world over. And we as readers are invited to be angry with her. Page by page, we become complicit in her frustration and join her in her mission to bring to light the injustices endured by women over and over and over again.
In her work for the BBC and ITN Sue covered a huge range of topics, largely focusing on the issues faced by women all over the world. From FGM to forced marriage to sex traffiking, Sue’s backcatalogue is as diverse as it is challenging. Sue was the BBC’s “hopeless cause correspondent”, taking on issues that didn’t look likely to see any resolve or retribution any time soon. No detail or issue is shied away from, and the two chapters discussing the treatment of women in India, aptly titled “India: The Worst Place On Earth To Be Born A Woman”, is particularly disturbing to read.
Even so, Sue’s style is incredibly accessible. She moves between topics, interview subjects and her own thoughts with ease and takes you with her wherever she travels. Her fury is palpable within every word as the carries out unflinching critiques of the governments who have failed women time and time again.
Repeatedly Sue’s words reinforce the idea that “boys will be boys” is no excuse. She meets Faith, a survivor of brutal and repeated rape in her home of the Democratic Republic of Congo as a result of her attempts to speak out against rape as a weapon of war. Faith, who sought asylum in the UK, tells Sue three times that “in the DRC, men do not value women”. This idea of women as of little value, of being raised to be considered an inconvenience in comparison to their male counterparts, is evident in every case.
Although there is a huge amount of devastation throughout, Sue still emphasises the power and strength of the women that she has met. For every victim there is a woman able to fight, and Sue pays as much attention to the sense of hope as to her realistic portrayal of those without hope.
When I reached the penultimate chapter of the book, which opens with Sue discussing the pay gap in the UK, I felt bereft to read that Sue passed away mid-way through working on this chapter. She didn’t finish the book, and it became the task of her daughter to complete the chapter and the work that Sue had been so committed to throughout her life.
It is very rare that I ever refer to a book, film, or any cultural experience as IMPORTANT. I have always found that a somewhat verbose response to something. However, this book is the first that I have ever referred to as an “important” work of literature, and that’s something I stand by. Each chapter confronts the reader with a different heart-breaking reality for women.
I urge everyone to read this book. Even the most well-informed reader will have a new understanding of the issues discussed, and a huge sense of admiration for this woman and everything she accomplished. Sue was angry at the state of the world, at the treatment of women, as she should have been. As we all should be.