The War on Women

And the brave ones that fight back

 by Sue Lloyd-Roberts CBE

(Simon and Schuster) Hardback £16.99

A review by John Gaye (first published in the Sherborne Times)


The late Sue Lloyd-Roberts was one of the bravest and most intrepid television journalists of recent times. Sadly she died in 2015 and this book, almost completed before she left us, was finished by her daughter Sarah Morris.

The War on Women documents some of the very worst atrocities inflicted on women that Sue witnessed during her 43-year career travelling the globe, frequently taking considerable risks to investigate and record activities that people did not wish to be known by the wider world.

The book is partly an autobiography of an incredible life but, in the telling of her story, it documents a whole litany of horrors and inequalities inflicted on women. It takes us from the now well-known inhumanities shown by the Catholic church in Ireland to young girls unlucky to have been born out of wedlock, through sex trafficking in Russia, female genital mutilation in various countries including the UK, right through to the use of rape as a weapon of war in both Bosnia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. It pulls no punches and in the telling of these tales Sue gives a voice to those few women brave enough to speak out about the horrors.

Although a few of the events outlined are now history, much of what is recorded is still very much current events. The war in DR Congo continues and although we hear very little about it in the press it has been, and is, one of the most brutal wars ever. Nearly 7 million people have died since the war began in 1996 and during that time it is estimated that about 8 million women have been raped. It is too easy to shrug that off as happening in a remote, albeit huge, corner of Africa about which we know very little. But it is also happened very recently much closer to home, in fact about 2 hours flying time from London, in Bosnia in 1994.

This book pulls no punches and Sue does not let the UK off the hook. The gender pay gap, inequality of opportunity and male domination of some unions are all well described. Sarah, her daughter, who followed her mother’s example in becoming a BBC journalist, completed the final chapter of Sue’s book providing chapter and verse to demonstrate those inequalities. But Sarah also makes the point that both she and her brother never felt abandoned or under-privileged as a result of having a working mother. The book provides her with the opportunity to say how proud they both are of all that their mother achieved while providing a wonderfully happy home for her family.

Lyse Doucet, BBC Chief International Correspondent, provides the concluding chapter of the book and in doing so outlines much of what Sue achieved through her work. It is a very fitting conclusion to an excellent hard-hitting book.

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