Review: The War on Women by Sue Lloyd-Roberts
After seeing how unbelievably high the reviews were for The War on Women, I knew it was going to be at the top of my birthday list. This is perhaps the best non-fiction book I have ever read, which is a bold statement to make seeing as non-fiction is one of my most frequented genres.
Sue Lloyd-Roberts was the UK's first female video-journalist, reporting alone from the bleak outposts of the former Soviet Union and China. With a 30-year-long career in human-rights journalism, she has travelled the globe and witnessed the worst atrocities inflicted on women. Observing first-hand the war on the female race, she's experienced and interacted with the brave ones who fight back.
It is hard to put into words how much I adored this book. I was initially concerned that perhaps the high reviews were from academics (or those book lovers that pretend they understand everything that's going on) and I would get too lost in worldly politics that I didn't know. Quite the contrary, this book was so unbelievably accessible in the way that it was structured and written, that the reader is able to be fully immersed in every devastating line. Every chapter goes through various horrifying things that happen to women all over the world. As a taster, here is a summary of each chapter:
1. FGM (female genital mutilation) I have heard about some of the trauma surrounding FGM from having friends or family members working closely with victims, however the statistics of how common FGM is, was what horrified me. One of Lloyd-Roberts interviews was with a young woman who had fled her village in Africa when she was told by her mother that she would become the next 'cutter' of the village. During the interview, she explained that she was being threatened to be deported and was terrified to return home. She also spoke about how it wasn't until recently that the laws in the UK regarding FGM only recently changed. UK officials wanted to be accommodating of the practices of other cultures, so it has only recently been criminalised.
2. Babies being taken away from their mothers in Argentina.
This is something I have never seen being reported on: women having their babies taken away from them immediately after giving birth and being given to military families. The mothers who try to speak out are then killed.
3. Enslaved women in Ireland.
In this chapter, we hear about the Magdalene Laundries - something I'd never heard about prior to this. Orders of Roman Catholic nuns ran the laundries for profit, and women and girls were put to work there, supposedly as a form of penance. The laundries were filled not only with “fallen women” - prostitutes, women who became pregnant out of marriage or as a result of sexual abuse and those who simply failed to conform - but also orphans and deserted or abused children.
4. Laws that apply to women and not men in Saudi Arabia.
This chapter covers women's rights to education, and even having their own freedom to be able to do things like drive. Without permission/finance from her husband to leave the house to see friends, driving offers a huge amount of freedom to those confined to a life without work.
5. Egypt - specifically some of the horrors inflicted on women during the revolution in 2008.
During the revolution in 2008, women understandably wanted to join in with the protests. In the crowds, women were targeted. Their clothes were ripped off of their bodies and were groped and molested by crowds of men. Egypt is also the country with the highest count of women who have been subjected to FGM, with cases reaching over 91%.
6. Russia, and Eastern European countries involved in sex trafficking.
Young women who come from small villages and are deprived of opportunities are looking to escape. They are offered bar/restaurant work and are then trafficked in the sex industry, being bought, sold and drugged.
7. UN peacekeepers that are molesting, raping and mistreating the women they are assigned to protect.
Lloyd-Roberts says in this chapter, that the treatment of women amongst UN peacekeepers is it's greatest downfall. In several countries, there have been reports of those who have been allocated to protect local civilians from whatever crisis their country has been subjected to (civil war, refugee camps etc) and abuse their power in various ways, many involving rape and assault.
8. Forced marriage.
In many countries, arranged marriage is common, but force is another word entirely.
9. Honour Killings.
Particularly in the middle east, it is common for fathers and brothers of women to take part in honour killings when a woman brings shame on their family. This could be in the form of refusing to go through with a marriage they have been forced into, or not abiding by the rules of the marriage e.g. defying their husbands commands or adultery. During interviews, many family members of these 'dishonourable' women said they had no other choice and these young girls had brought too much shame on their family to deserve life.
10. India - the worst place in the world to be a woman.
This was the most horrifying chapter in the book for me. In detail, we read about the horror of rape culture in India and the statistics of how likely you are to be attacked. There was extreme detail on the attack on Jyoti Singh in 2012. I will not go into detail here, as it is very upsetting. But this is the most violent case of rape I have ever read about or heard about. She died a few weeks after her attack, and was then known as 'The Daughter of India' causing massive protests all over the country.
11. Rape as a war weapon - specific examples used in Democratic Republic of Congo and Bosnia.
I have a family member that lived in Congo for a while so knew about how rape is a common weapon of war. Soldiers are heavily encouraged to rape women, in front of their children and husbands. Not only does this mentally traumatise the men, but ultimately breaks down half of the population. The descriptions in this chapter are also very graphic.
12. Sex inequality in the UK and the gender pay gap.
In this chapter, Lloyd-Roberts goes through not only the gaps between men and women's pay, but intersectionality between different ethnic minorities. Frankly, this chapter is a welcomed break. Something that would usually have been infuriated, but read like a walk in the park after everything else this book puts you through.
If any of these topics are of interest to you then pick up this book IMMEDIATELY (and if they have no interest to you, question why that is and then pick it up anyway and get interested). In the last few years, I have found my preferred niche when it comes to non-fiction: feminism, sexism, racism, activism, transphobia, homophobia - any act of discrimination against a group of people, often over something they cannot change, such as the colour of their skin, their gender or sexuality. This book had elements of intersectionality when it comes to race and sexuality, which I always appreciate as these injustices are all topics I am passionate about. But more than anything, this book will have you feeling fiercely angry at the injustices that women around the world face. Pain and sadness is objective, but equally it puts into perspective many of the issues we have to be considering when fighting for women's rights; not just those that we face in the UK, but troubling problems like the ones listed in this book that are ongoing all over the world.
Despite the fact I have explained an overview of each chapter, this is only a taste of the book and you need to read it to get the full impact. The context is very heavy, however the book is concise falling under 350 pages and is so clearly written. Please add this to your list now that you've finished reading this unbelievably long rant!
Initial Prediction: 5 stars
Final Rating: 5 stars
Publication Date: 11 August 2016 (my edition: 28 May 2017)
Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK
# of Pages: 336