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Why is the Peace Movement Ignoring the Impact of War on Women?

Missing in Action

by LUCINDA MARSHALL

On March 17 I joined the wonderful surge of patriotic Americans who braved horrendous weather to march from Constitution Gardens to the Pentagon in opposition to the Iraq war. One of the dominant themes of the day in signage, t-shirts and speeches was to "Bring the Troops Home Now." But honoring the lives of those in the military and bringing the troops home now is only part of what is necessary. By focusing on this mantra that was framed by the Neocon "Support the Troops" drumbeat, issues such as the violence against women that occur as a result of militarism become all but invisible at events such as the March on the Pentagon.

True, there were women on the podium, including Cindy Sheehan and Cynthia McKinney. But their speeches did not acknowledge the terrible toll that war has on women’s lives. McKinney spoke of the torture of men. Yet as a recent report by the human rights organization Madre made clear, women have been tortured, raped, falsely imprisoned and assaulted with impunity since the beginning of the war by both Americans and Iraqis. Is their torture not every bit as much a violation of human rights as the torture of men? And what about the rapes and sexual assault within our own military ranks that were recently reported in both the New York Times and Salon, is this not torture too?

Yet the anti-war movement continues in complicit silence to ignore the human rights abuses against women that arise as a result of war. In September of 2002, when the invasion of Iraq began to look certain, members of the Feminist Peace Network (FPN) authored the "Statement of Conscience: A Feminist Vision for Peace." The Statement was written partially in response to the original Not in Our Name (NION) statement, from which conspicuously, all mention of war’s impact on women was missing. In the cover letter to the Statement, we wrote,

"FPN believes that, in order to effectively address the problems with the current U.S. military policy and the globalization of the so-called war against terror, the global pandemic of violence against women and children must be stopped. It is FPN’s contention that, if we are to truly create peace, we must first recognize the horrific violence endured by the women of this planet every day. And, most importantly, we must vow that ending violence " by definition " includes ending violence that specifically endangers women and children. Until we do that, there will not truly be peace."

Sadly, the years since the Statement was written have affirmed our concerns.

Despite the oxymoronic, self-serving and misogynist rhetoric of the Bush regime about "liberating" women, the situation for women in Iraq has deteriorated markedly and in Afghanistan as well, the human rights of women continue to be under siege.

But as the NION statement did in 2002, the anti-war movement continues to discount the lives of women. It cannot be said enough, until ending war also includes ending the attendant violence against women that results because of militarism, there will be no justice and there will be no peace. If we truly want peace, if we truly want to end the war, then those of us who support the anti-war movement, particularly the women who speak in its name such as Sheehan and McKinney, must insist that ending the war on women is a necessary part of the peace agenda.

Postscript: Not only must the peace movement clearly acknowledge that ending the war involves much more than bringing the troops home, we must begin to articulate a clear vision of what is necessary for lasting peace. In the Statement of Conscience we offered this starting point:

"We defy those who would limit our experience of life to the maintenance of a caste system that supports the pursuit of profit and personal aggrandizement at the expense of meeting basic human needs. We challenge world leaders to put an end to the terrorism of hunger, thirst, sexual servitude, racism, patriarchy, nationalism, joblessness, homelessness, ableism, homophobia, ignorance, child molestation and elder neglect that many of the Earth’s citizens face daily. When every child of this world is adequately nourished, clothed, educated and healthy; when every adult who wishes to work has life-sustaining employment; when women and children are free from abuse then human life on earth will have become so highly valued that terroristic activity will lose its attraction."

You can read the entire Statement on the Feminist Peace Network website We offer this as a beginning articulation of a full and inclusive agenda for peacemaking.

LUCINDA MARSHALL is a feminist artist, writer and activist. She is the Founder of the Feminist Peace Network, www.feministpeacenetwork.org.