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Fairbrother Lecture 2022

Faces of War: The Hidden Stories of Female Fighters

Francesca Baldwin, Department of History         Tuesday 17 May 2022 

Our strongest images of participants in war are often deeply masculine. Where women do step into view as armed fighters, they are painted as exceptional, at the extremes of violence and are often highly sexualised. Alternatively, if their contributions lie away from the battlefield, their efforts are dimmed as supporting roles in the story of the war. Historical researcher Francesca Baldwin explores what it means to be a woman in war and how history can warp our view of the contributions women make to conflicts.

As the Tigray War (2020–present) threatens to be one of the greatest humanitarian crises of the decade, Francesca explores the deeply gendered dynamics underpinning the current conflict in Ethiopia. Working from Francesca's research on women's lived experiences of the ongoing Tigray War in Ethiopia, with reflections on the hidden roles of women in war across history, this lecture explores the different channels through which women participate in and shape wars. It considers how their roles in conflict redefine what it means to be a "female fighter", the relationship between womanhood and war, and how many women's stories remain hidden so as not to disrupt familiar ideas of femininity in times of peace. A recording of the full lecture can be viewed above. 

The Fairbrother Lecture is a University public lecture named after Jack Fairbrother who in 1929 became one of the first students to be awarded a PhD from the University. The lecture is an annual event at which a Reading doctoral researcher presents their research to a wider audience. 

Further information: Dr Joanna John (