The Other Side of War
"A century ago, 90 percent of war casualties were male soldiers," Zainab Salbi writes in the introduction to The Other Side of War. "Today, an estimated 90 percent of casualties are civilians, and 75 percent of those are estimated to be women and children." These chilling statistics are a sharp reminder of changing dynamic of war in the modern world, with the widespread occurrence of isolated civil conflicts in third-world countries where state militaries and militias fight unchecked by international humanitarian law. As Salbi, the founder and CEO of Women for Women International -- an NGO devoted to the rehabilitation of female victims of these kinds of civil conflicts -- points out, "In wars where rape and mutilation of women have been epidemic, as in the case of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Rwanda, Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, countless women live with physically and emotionally debilitation war wounds." As a society makes its way through the enormous task of rebuilding, these are the victims that go unseen.
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The Other Side of War is where we hear their stories and see their faces. With a preface by celebrated novelist Alice Walker, the book is divided in six parts -- Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Columbia, Afghanistan, Sudan, and Rwanda. Salbi introduces us to women she has met, such as Nadia, disfigured by rocket explosions at the age of 11, who worked as a man in construction labor in Afghanistan for three years until, at the age of 14, she entered into a sponsorship program by Women for Women International and now is training to be a lawyer. Or Marie, a victim of the conflict in DRC who today works with an association of rape survivors as a volunteer.
The images that accompany their stories, photographed by Susan Meiselas, Sylvia Plachy, and Lekha Singh, don't show victims, but survivors, and their work combined is both a window into the often unseen worlds of the nations finding their footing and moving forward after conflicts, and a testament to the strength of those rebuilding.
(The Other Side of War: Women's Stories of Survival & Hope, by Zainab Salbi, with photos by Susan Meiselas, Sylvia Plachy, and Lekha Singh. National Geographic, $28)