Three Sisters

Young Eritrean women like Commander Belainesh have fought in two wars - and been pioneers for women's rights. From the early 1970s, tens of thousands of girls from poor, conservative Muslim and Christian families - previously powerless in their communities - were enlisted by the Eritrean People's Liberation Front and integrated into the ranks as bona fide fighters.
A third of the guerrilla army were women. For 35 years they fought on the frontline and were treated as equals, serving as platoon commanders, tank drivers, barefoot doctors and engineers. By the late 1970s EPLF women fighters had come to personify an image of progress and liberation from oppressive traditions. But from 2002 on, thousands of them were demobilized.
Now they face life in villages where girls must be circumcised, wives must obey their husbands, and children are married off as young as 12. Reports suggest that half the women who fought on the front lines are now estranged from their families and live in abject poverty. Despite a new constitution intended to protect women's rights, the old ways - from bride prices to female circumcision - continue to be practiced.

Across the world, women soldiers like Belaniesh who've literally fought for their rights are struggling to hold on to their gains now that men don't need them. Their plight reflects a growing, controversial academic view that almost all 'liberation struggles' fail to realize their dream. On this count, Eritrea stands as a monument to the futility of taking arms to win rights which economic growth can more effectively fulfil.
For Commander Belainesh, it's time to decide whether her dreams of liberation have failed - and whether it's time to move on.

'Three Sisters vividly and effectively explores issues concerning women's emancipation in the context of the liberation struggle in Eritrea. By examining the lives of three women against the backdrop of poverty and patriarchy, this film critically and forcefully examines traditional practices, including discrimination, female genital mutilation, circumcision, child brides, as well as women's health issues. It has resonance for the struggle by women for equality all around the world. It is a powerful indictment of the role played by women in liberation struggles and their inability to achieve their own emancipation and equality. This movie is a very relevant tool for women and men all over the world who are concerned with gender equality issues, especially those within transitional societies.' Dr. Jeremy Sarkin, Distinguished Visiting Professor of Law, Hofstra University Law School, Member, United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances

'These women's dilemmas may be specific to their cultural situation, but they have been played out in various ways around the world as women struggle for social and economic equality. The film treats these issues with objectivity and sensitivity, which is a refreshing departure from others that filter such questions through the 'us-and-the-other' lenses. In the classroom, Three Sisters will provide rich material for multi-layered discussions about gender, cultural practices, and development.' Miriam Conteh-Morgan, The Ohio State University Libraries, Educational Media Reviews Online

'Life 6 is a wonderfully educational series that presents the viewers with the dilemmas faced by specific individuals in the socio-historical and economic context of their communities in the midst of an increasingly globalized world. The tremendous value of this series is that, in the brief thirty minutes that each episode lasts, it captures the complexities of the lives of those in it as they face Western influence that force them to reassert, defend, or challenge their local and/or individual identities, cultures, governance, wealth distribution, and practices of achieving justice and reconciliation--to name a few...Life 6 represents these issues in an objective and analytical way that will--without question--lead into a discussion and debate about them by academics and lay audiences alike.' Aniuska Luna, African Peace and Conflict Network


Main credits

Heer, James (film producer)
Heer, James (film director)
McCormack, Declan (editor of moving image work)
Bradshaw, Steve (host)
Bradshaw, Steve (editor of moving image work)

Other credits

Editor, Declan McCormack; music, Ken Myhr; series editor, Steve Bradshaw.

Docuseek2 subjects

Distributor subjects

African Studies
Conflict Resolution
Developing World
Gender Studies
Human Rights
Millennium Development Goals
Reproductive Rights
Social Justice
United Nations
War and Peace
Women's Studies


Eritrea, Eritrean war, Commander Belainesh, women's rights, Eritrean People's Liberation Front, guerilla army, platoon commanders, tank drivers, barefoot doctors, engineers, EPLF, women fighters, progress, liberation, oppressive traditions, female circumcision, FGM, poverty, new constitution, bride prices, liberation struggles; "Three Sisters"; Bullfrog Films