During 2013 I have met, followed, photographed and interviewed a selection of women fighting in the alphabet-soup of rebellions. They were operating in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Their stories reveal not only the significance of their roles within the rebel groups of which they are a part, but also show the striking contrast between the danger of their liberation struggle and the almost mundane reality of daily life in an armed group in eastern DRC.
In contemporary African wars women continue to play a variety of crucial roles, and yet they remain invisible to the world. Only a handful of researchers and journalists have appreciated the importance of women in these conflicts, and the way in which gender stereotypes continue to mask their involvement.
“Even today, in mainstream thinking on war and violent conflict, women and men are still often positioned at opposite ends of a moral continuum, where women are considered peaceful and men aggressive, women passive and men active. As war is so often associated with these generalized images of masculinity and femininity, women have become associated with life-giving and men with life-taking. (…) But analytically, in trying to understand the complexities of these experiences, the male-female opposition seems an unnecessary limitation. (…) In modern African wars and violence conflicts women have shown themselves as capable as men of performing violent acts. Fighting women are frequently considered by their very existance to be transgressing accepted female behaviour, and the very act of fighting by definition makes women and girls less feminine and by extension “unnatural”.
“Young female fighters in African wars : conflict and its consequences” Chris Coulter, Mariam Persson and Mats Utas / Uppsala : Nordiska Afrikainstitutet, 2008