When we think of the roles women play in war-ravaged countries, it's easy to think only in terms like "victim" or "caretaker." That's why 23-year-old Elizabeth Herman travels around the world taking photographs and interviewing women about their wartime memories for her "post-conflict project," called "A Women's War" — to tell stories that go beyond the stereotypes.
"It wasn't just that the war started and ended when it did, and then they went home," she told the New York Times about the women she's met through her travels. "They had to reconcile the scars of the war and deal the trauma and how that has lingered in their lives." One interesting issue Herman brought up was how hard it was not to have her own agenda, even if she had the best of intentions:
"Going in, I was specifically not going to talk about women as victims - I was going to talk about them as warriors, as fighters," she said. "As I worked on the project more, I realized I was contradicting myself. Because I was trying to fight a rigid, singular narrative with a really rigid, singular narrative."
Because, of course, there are stories about rape and sexual assault that need to be told, some by women who, due to fear of being stigmatized, hadn't spoken about traumatic events that took place decades ago until they met Herman. For example, here's one heartbreaking story:
"Our villagers say that our respect and honor are gone. That we are bad because we talk about our rape publicly, and in doing so, we have lost our dignity and honor. We have no homes, no work, no food, and people tell us that we are bad women. Boys and men in the town, when they see me they say, "Look, this woman is bad, she was raped by the Pakistani military." We receive no respect anywhere. Freedom fighters earned liberation by arms. We fought with our dignity. They received remuneration, but we did not get anything. We want remuneration. We want recognition. We have very little time left, in some years we may die. As long as we are alive, we want our recognition."
"If you have a glorified narrative, if we have heroes who are going off to fight, there's no space for trauma, no space for individual experiences or ambiguity," Herman told the Times. Although her past projects have focused on 20th century wars, she's currently in Egypt, working with women who are still reeling from recent conflicts. Visit her website and check out the full Times piece to check out her incredible project.