Masculinity as a cause of war: Victimization of women as a result of war

After 20 years of women-political work within WRI gender issue is still not an integrated part of WRI's political program in spite of being accepted as a theme on its own. Why? In the beginning it was necessary to keep women's issues as separate, only to get it on the agenda. But to-day these issues could well be reflected in WRI's program, which only have happened to a lesser degree.

This article is more a presence of certain women's issues which have been central among women in WRI and may reflect some relation to its program, than analyses of why little has happened and how to integrate these issues.

In the following I will first look at how male violence against women increases as effects of war and militarism, and then give examples of women raising against violence and injustice in society. It is a summing up of the work WRI's Women's Working Group through years. The last part will be about the challenges to WRI - how can WRI develop an integrated gender policy, both in its analyses and its practice, after 75 years without such policy? By asking in this way I am suggesting that WRI has an analyses of the world as looking through a man's glasses. I am also suggesting that WRI's practice doesn't involve gender awareness.

Connection between militarism and male violence against women

It is also about 20 years ago Susan Brownmiller wrote the book "Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape" and showed how rape has been part of wars through all times (Brownmiller 1975). It's therefore surprising the way the society and the media have reacted when mass-rapes in Balkan were reported, as it was an isolated phenomena.

Nevertheless the atrocities in Balkan has got rape as war-crime on the agenda. Also the ethnical conflicts in this area has shown how women are used as a tool to insult men on the other side of the conflict, and that all parties in the conflict are using this method. This reflect how the society value women mostly as the property of men, how state-nationalism uses women as a production-machine by demanding to produce children for war if that is appropriate (as it is with Serbian women in this case) and to control their childbearing if it is not seen as appropriate (as with Albanian, Muslim and Gypsy women), and in this way using ethnical differences to split women.

After the military coup in 1987 there were reports from Fiji that the women's crises centres registered increased need for support to women who suffered from battering in the homes. The increased militarism caused a difficult economical and social situation for many people, and many men got unemployed and felt that their situation as humiliating not being able to support their family. There were also rapes committed by soldiers, and especially the Indian women were liable for violence. The coup made it more difficult for the Indian population in the country.

In India rapes of women in intercommunal conflicts is not rare incidents. Women are equated with land and raping the women is seen as taking away a prized possession. During the conflict men flee away from the community, while women stay back to look after the children. Then the conflicting group of men come and rape the women in revenge, considering women as an object by doing damage to the men's property.

There have been a huge increase in prostitution in Cambodia. UN "peace-keeping troops" are among the customers of Phnom Pehn brothels. The head of UNCTAD has said that the increase in prostitution due to UN troop presence is normal. The war in Burma have driven ethnic minority women from Burma into prostitution i Thailand, in some cases by "choice" because they see no other alternatives, and in some cases because they are kidnapped and sold as prostitutes.

Wars and military conflicts make situations more tense. Soldiers (still most men) are in unatural and isolated situation, which make them more violent. Susan Brownmiller sais that men who rape during war, are ordinary men who only are unusual because they suddenly have become member of the world's most exclusive boys' club. But still, why shold women be the victims in such situation? Brownmiller continue to say that in war men find the excuse to give expression of their contempt for women. If and in what way this contempt will show itself in the future when more women are joining the military, is an open question. There are many examples to-day that the harrassing of women inside the military is still going on.

The contempt reflects the value women have got in the society as whole. Rape, violence and degrading in various ways is also happening to women everyday in all societies. Saswati Roy from Swadhina in India looks at violence to women on several levels. One level is the general violence of society forwarded by religions and communities which fight each other, which in the end inflict women's lives. What ever happens in society it will effect women. This can be seen as an expression of life of society, she says. In India women are not accepted as individuals. Girls and women are the burden of the family. Female foetuses are aborted with the consent of the mother. Women's health is neglected, so is the education. Women are given away to marriages, it costs a lot of money which means a loss for the family, while for the men's family it means a gain. In the marriage her situation is undervalued. Another type of violence takes place when this first violence is taken for granted. We think that this is the way to be and has become internalised. In India we work with women in the villages to build up their belief in themselves, that women are something, Saswati says.

Nations and international institutions control women in many ways. In Brazil the US funded a program of mass sterilisation until 1992. Indonesian Governement uses "family-planning"-program to control ethnical groups.

Also in the rich, industrial part of the world show that acitivities traditionally linked to women have a low value. In Norway women have reached many rights, but it is an automatical equality on the premisses of male values. Young girls are taking over the values of the boys and not the other way around. In my society there's a challenge to give women's work and activities higher status and involving men into this type of activities.

Women in front of the protests

There are many examples around the world where women have raised their voices and are actively organising alternatives on grasrootlevel in forms of actions, social work" agricultural and health projects. Often they are active because it has to do with their daily life and their needs to survive. Through colonising, oppression, wars, economical depression there have always been women who have had the responsibility for the family. They have had to provide food and see to the growth of the children.

Many women campaign-leaders are among the indigenous population, for example among the indigenous people in Latin America and the Pacific, and often they take up the struggle through nonviolent means. They see themselves as the caretaker of the culture through their role as mothers of new generations. Or they play a special role, in mixed groups, as e.g. in the struggle of the landless farmers in Brazil where women were in the front of the confrontations against the police.

In India groups of women on the countryside are organised to educate themselves and empower themselves for structural change by building up alternative productions. Attitudes, selfconciousness, independence and self-sufficiency are important elements.

In Papua New Guinnea women's groups have included men in their program, as familyplanning, health, nonviolent training, information on violence against women, understanding that if men are kept outside, they will also feel as an outsider. When they are included in the program, also the men will go through a consciousnessraising and they will be responsible.

Recently we have seen women protesting against war as Women in Black in Balkan as an inspiration from Israel / Palestine where also women crossed the lines by coming together as a protest against the Israelian authorities. We have seen the Russian mothers and Chechnian women, the mothers at the Plaza de Maya in Buenos Aires in Argentina against the military dictatorship, women in Northern Irland in 1976 and to-day 30 years after - when bombs bursted in London this year and where women in Belfast quickly filled the streets with white paper-doves in their hands, and in 1915 women came from a various countries both in war and outside in protest against the first world war, and later they formed Women's International League for Peace and Freedom.

It is also important to mention that women are the complicity to men's war through their passivity and through their submissive position in society. They support their men who go to war. There are also women who react against injustice by joining men's war. There have lately been reports about Chechnian women joining the liberation forces, and at the same time expressing that they will take part in the liberation, while their role is subordinated the man and they will have to follow what he sais.

In many cases women seem to react spontaneously to situations which is threatening to their survival and to the survival of their children, and it may also be to overcome the victimization. Some react with weapon while most women in other ways.

International solidarity

Some campaigns and actions can give good results in one area. But one "victory" in one place may get negative consequences other places. The women's liberation in the "North" have had consequences for women in the "South" as for example when men from the "North" go on sex- tours.

The people's movement in the Philippines finally expelled the American military bases. This left a number of problems, as e.g. in connection with work and infrastructure linked to the bases, the fate of the women who had worked as prostitutes, and environmental problems caused by the bases. By moving the bases away from the Philippines the US military was left with a military security problem. For years USA has put pressure on Palau to fill the gap. Women in Palau have especially been active against the American pressure.

WRI Women's Working Group is a world wide network trying to build up solidarity in between individuals, groups and regions around the world. The women from Balkan have over again expressed how solidarity was shown to them in the first phase of the war: In Serbia the government tried to devide the people on ethnical lines. Pacifists and feminists from the outside helped them to survive morally and psychologically when in 1990 the ties and links broke between the different groups within the country. The outside movement brought them post, news and sweets through alternative means. Italian feminists in particular organised meetings with women in the region which became important for them.

This and similar experiences inspired the international women's conference in Bangkok to make the 8th of March as a campaign day for "crossing the line", a way to involve women on local level. Women's groups would communicate with and plan joint activities with other women's groups in nations, communities, ethnic groups and cultures on the "other side", whether they be from neighbourhoods or nations in conflict. This might be between Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot women, Israeli and Palestinian women, Croatian and Serbian and Bosnian women, or women of different racial groups or economic classes in for example USA. This action-day never really took off as it was thought in spite of activities in many local places which are not reported.

Challenges for WRI as an organisation of men and women

There are connections between militarism, violence against women and economic oppression, as well as how nationalism and ethnicity effect women in particular ways. The situations vary from country to country, from continent to continent, and especially women's living conditions differ between the "north" and the "south". There are however certain common aspects, like daily violence to women and stereotypical images of women which are created by society. The way this is expressed, will differ. We also see women in front of protests against war and violence in the society. This activism is often seen in the connection with the role women have in the society and especially in the family.

These are only a few themes which have been on the agenda of the Women's Working Group in WRI. WRI has had "women" as topic for some time, having raised the issues through themegroups at Triennials, women's conferences and WRI-Women's Newsletter. Other themes have been analysis on feminism, militarism and nonviolence and international actions against recruiting women to military forces. Also women participating in liberation armies have been looked at. Women occupying base-entrances, with Greenham Common as the first one, have made links with women fighting Western bases and sex-tourism in the "South", and then the development question has been included as a theme. These are however topics which have been separated from the other topics on the WRI's agenda.

WRI is an organisation which aim is to remove all causes of war through 75 years so far. In this context I have looked at war's consequences to women. Of WRI's many issues the relation between poverty and war, military industry and the military system are focused. All those issues causes serious consequences for women: Women are in great majority among those who are poor. Wars, militarism, military expenditure cause poverty. We can only wander why gender has not become a more integrated part of WRI perspective and its program allready.

"Causes of war" then give (at least) two perspectives: what are the causes of war and what are the consequences of war. In a gender perspective masculinity will be one of the causes war. It is the men who are in position to start the war, to produce the weapons for war, they are still the soldiers to fight the war and what that implies. In the same way it can be made an analysis of the structural violence which are part of the everyday society, and where women still are victims.

WRI is a male-dominated organisation. Through its history anti-conscription campaigns have been an important base for its existence and as always there have been women supporting the men when they chosed to say no to an inhuman system which was ment for destruction.

20 years ago women in WRI started to ask questions about the situation for women within WRI, links between militarism, nonviolence and feminism. To get the chance to look more into depth at these questions, women's gatherings and conferences were arranged in addition to women's only workshops and commissions during Triennials - this happened not without more or less open protests from the men within the movement.

WRI is now in a vacuum by finding a new role in a changing world. The European sections, which in many ways have been the bases of WRI (at least financially), are about to dissolve because the states are now prefering professional armies. There's probably a need to raise new campaigns against the armies to give the rebirth for these groups, as well as there will be natural for women to take part as many women are recruited to the armies as professionals.

One of the many of the new challenges for WRI are to initiate peace teams in conflict situations. Volunteers (men and women) are trained to go into conflictsituations to enable dialogue between different groups, and they are going into societies which are very different from their own. In the case of Balkan the society is quite oppressive to women, which is reinforced by the war, and it is much more oppressive than the society from where many of the volunteers are coming. How is the conflicting society's value of women reflected within the teams? And how does it affect the team's approaches to the population in general and more specific to women? Is there a need to do special precautions? Or are these questions posed at all?

The Balkan society has become more sexist after the cold war, as many of the other Eastern European countries. WRI see the need change its work according to the past years' changes. In the process of changing its strategies, WRI has a unique chance to include gender perspective. In a changing world it is also appropriate to ask in what way this has changed the situation of women and what role women can play.

At the Triennial in Brazil in 1994 the women's themegroup concluded its work by the following statement:

Women's daily lives must be made visible and become part of international policy. Domestic violence and economic oppression are all part of one big social question: the undervaluation of women in the society. Women have done a lot of consciousness-raising and more needs to be done. But if these issues are to be part of the WRI policy, we will have to challenge men in the WRI. The challenge is related to how we want to change the world. It has to do with material and societal living conditions, but also how we relate to each other.