Panel Discussion Explores Women's Experiences in War


Imagine returning home after years of being held prisoner in brutal conditions, only to no longer be welcome in your own community. That's the situation faced by the protagonists of "I Am Not Who They Think I Am," a new documentary produced by ICTJ and MediaStorm that premiered in New York City on February 2nd. The film premiere was followed by a panel discussion on women's experiences in war and the responsibility of media in covering their stories.

I Am Not Who They Think I Am follows Janet and Stella, two of the thousands of women who were abducted by the Joseph Kony's Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) as girls in northern Uganda. During their time in captivity, Janet and Stella were forced to be not only soldiers, but wives and mothers too. When they escaped with their children, they faced rejection because of their time "in the bush." Today, Janet and Stella are fighting to end this stigma and obtain acknowledgement, accountability, and redress from the Ugandan government

A panel discussion between policy experts and media professionals followed the screening. It featured Abigail Disney, documentary filmmaker and producer of the Women, War and Peace series; Lauren Wolfe, Director, WMC Women Under Siege; Tanya Karanasios, deputy program director of WITNESS; and Sarah Kasande, the head of ICTJ’s office in Uganda. They discussed the situation the film presents in northern Uganda, while also delving into its implications for the global struggle for justice.

Kasande called for the Ugandan government to respond adequately to the full gamut of violations caused by LRA captivity. “Whereas the guns have gone silent … the enduring consequences of the lack of redress continue to affect these women,” she said. “The policy response to sexual violence has been very limited, targeting the actual violation but not really looking at the enduring consequences.”

Karanasios addressed the responsibility of film to cover these stories respectfully and provoke a policy response. “At WITNESS, a big part of what we try to do in video advocacy is to ensure that our partners’ stories are told and more importantly that we are thinking strategically with them about what change they seek,” she said. “These films play such an essential role in putting pressure on governments. The visceral reality of [war] is hard to ignore when you watch a film like that.”

Wolfe and Disney connected the situation presented in Not Who They Think I Am to experiences across the globe, and reflected on the power of media in presenting women's stories. “We need to not focus on the worst thing that ever happened to [women], but rather portray them as survivors of conflict, as people who took that horrible thing and moved into a state of strength and organizing for it,” Disney said. “The importance is depicting them as subjects, not objects.”

Wolfe added: "Consequences of rape in conflict are felt acutely around the world,” she said. “We can do something."

How do women experience war? And what role can media play advocating alongside survivors? Watch the full panel discussion below: