Panel to launch the new publication:
Gender Perspectives on Disarmament
14 March 2001, United Nations
GENDER PERSPECTIVES ON DISARMAMENT
Women's International League for Peace and Freedom
(Presented by Merav Datan, International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War)
The historical links between feminism and pacifism are counterbalanced when women have embraced revolution with hope and war with enthusiasm. There has not been a consistent women's response to war and WILPF has always been pretty firm in a non-essentialist position, meaning that we do not believe that women and men are inherently peaceful or warlike, but that social and cultural structures value and encourage certain roles and behaviours expressed as masculinity and femininity. This is what is meant by gender - it is not about sex, or about men and women, it is socially constructed roles and behaviours that are labelled masculine or feminine that can be, and should be, deconstructed.
War, however, is a "gendered" activity. After childbirth war-making has possibly been the most segregated of activities along gender lines. The vast majority of the fighters are men. Armed forces and military factions are generally male institutions - in numbers and in culture. It's no surprise then that wielding weapons has accumulated social and cultural meaning. Alternatively, women as civilians are more likely than soldiers to be killed during armed conflict. While all civilians suffer when war breaks out, it is women and girls that face the most risk and danger - not just the risk of being killed or injured, but also of being raped, sexually assaulted, or abused. All at the hands of men with guns. Women, cast in a certain role, are also used as a symbol of justification for war. Women need protection as they are the nations most valuable possession, the principle vehicle for transmitting the nations values, bearers of future generation, are most vulnerable to defilement and are most susceptible to assimilation.
Yet, women are generally absent from official initiatives to end conflicts and their voices are missing from decisions on priorities in peace processes. When they do get to speak, disarmament is called for loudly. The women in Liberia demanded disarmament before elections because elections taking place under militarised conditions are not free nor fair. They took the weapons out of the hands of men and boys at depots all over their country. Two weeks ago, women rallied in eastern DR Congo and their first call was for disarmament because without disarmament they know that nobody is safe and that negotiations cannot begin. In Sierra Leone the Women's Forum met with Security Council delegates when they visited and they raised the issue of disarmament in terms of the demobilisation of women soldiers whose needs are not addressed in the demobilisation programmes that are generally designed for men, and they also called for the systematic disarmament of the RUF, a difficult task but essential if these thugs are to stop the violence. We know of the successes of disarmament in places like Mali - many of the weapons burnt in that famous fire were brought out of their communities by women. Also the women in Albania had a special interest in getting the weapons out of the communities. The development for disarmament deal has worked. A poll done by WILPF Albania in three small villages found that women experienced an increased level of violence and coercion because of the presence of weapons. They had been threatened with these weapons by their husbands, sons and brothers and along side the development promises, this was a major factor motivating the disarmament process.
As an organisation WILPF has asserted that the most immanent factor of military preparedness and the one which inevitably leads to war, is the creation of group interests which consciously and deliberately work for the increase of armament, whose purposes are furthered by creating the war hysteria. This group interest embraces all those involved in the manufacture and sale of munitions and in military equipment for personal gain and profit. During the Cold War in capitalist and socialist states alike, enormous sums of money and great numbers of people are dependent upon the production of weapons. In each kind of state this situation was "justified" by ideology that emphasized the threat posed by the other kind of state; the moral argument is that amassing arms is necessary to protect a beneficial way of life. The ideology heightens the sense of conflict and fear, which in turn stimulates greater emphasis on defense, offense, and weaponry. This vicious cycle guarantees its own continuation. Military spending is back to 90% of Cold War levels.
However, while the economic implications of miltarisation are enormous, an economic analysis alone leaves untouched some of the most powerful ideological and private processes that perpetuate militarism.
Time and again, we have seen that an increasingly dominant militarism reinforces a macho culture. Violence is not just a male practice but for men living in a society that interprets masculinity in traditional ways, it is bound up with their identity and the military is where this can be seen overtly. In the military, 24 hour masculine behaviour is expected. Barbara Zanotti in her article Patriarchy: A State of War goes so far as to say, "It is no accident that patriarchy related history is the history of war - that is precisely their history. In remembering their battles, men recall the deep experience of their own violent tendencies and relive the euphoria of those ultimate moments of male bonding. The history of war speaks volumes about national will in a patriarchal culture. Wars are nothing short of rituals of organized killing presided over by men deemed "the best". The fact is - they are. They have absorbed in the most complete way the violent character of their own ethos. These are the men who design missiles and technologies as extensions of themselves. These are the men ready to annihilate whole societies. These are the men honoured as heroes with steel minds, resolute wills, insatiable drives for excellence, who are capable of planning demonic acts in a detached, non-emotional way. These are hollow men, capable of little but violence."
We have seen that weapons become enmeshed with identities, the Rambo syndrome, and that a large part of the demobilisation process involves breaking the bond between the combatant and the weapon that has been their security. On a larger scale, we see that nuclear weapon are deeply enmeshed in the prestige and power of certain nations. The nuclear bomb was described as Robert Oppenheimer's Baby. The first uranium bombs were named Little Boy, and Fat Boy (later Fat Man). The code by which Truman was to understand the successful detonation of a nuclear bomb was "it's a boy". These early examples are nothing when compared to the overtly sexual nature of much of the language around weapons. It might be funny if it wasn't so scary. US army troops chant "This is my rifle, this is my gun," they slap their crotches; "One is for killing, the other's for fun." The examples go on and on.
Change is occurring. On October 31, 2000 the United Nations Security Council, under the Namibian presidency, unanimously passed Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, moving the Security Council from a gender blind institution to one that will work for women's involvement at all levels of conflict prevention and peace keeping.
The goals of the United Nations include equality between women and men, the elimination of poverty, the protection of human rights and the preservation of our environment. If you pursue these ideals you are doing useful work, but if your aim is the pursuing of peace and taking apart the tools of war - disarmament - the main mission of the United Nations, then you are sometimes judged as soft in the head working toward a noble but impossible dream. This is testament to how embedded militarism and weapons are, however, wars are not mysterious eruptions of human nature, but are planned for, trained for, created, and we can see them coming from a long way off.
From the UN Charter to the Beijing Platform for Action there are words about reducing military spending, reducing the preparation for war in the building and selling of the tools of war and there are calls for disarmament. Women have been the backbone, if not the jaw bone, of the movements for peace and disarmament. It is our hope that people of the future will read about these militarised times, and they will wonder - bewildered, sad, at the masculinist glorification of war, the masculinist mystifications around killing, maiming, violence and pain and they will ask themselves - did those people really believe in those gods?