WAR: HerStory – Reflections for International Women’s Day

Reflections for International Women’s Day

March 8 is International Women’s Day, a meaningful occasion to reflect on the social, political, cultural, and economic concerns and contributions of women, and the possibilities of accelerating gender equity from the local to the global.

In recognition of this special day, the Global Campaign would like to acknowledge and highlight some of the key contributions of feminist peace educators, researchers, and activists to the global peace and security agenda – and to the development of peace education.

For starters, women scholars and practitioners were the first to articulate the sexist patriarchy at the core of the global war system. It was also many of these same feminists who conceptualized “human security” as the foundation of a person-centered, rather than state-centered, demilitarized system of global security (when “human security” discourse was adopted within the UN system, the demilitarized aspect mysteriously vanished). Betty Reardon long ago observed the integral interrelationship between war and gender violence, and how equality is essential for the possibilities of peace:

“War… reinforces and exploits gender stereotypes and exacerbates, even encourages, violence against women. Changing these circumstances, devising a peace system, and bringing forth a culture of peace requires an authentic partnership between men and women. Such a system would take fully into account the potential and actual roles of women in public policy and peace-making as advocated in UNESCO’s Statement on Women’s Contribution to a Culture of Peace. Such participation would indicate an authentic partnership, based on the equality of the partners. Equality between men and women is an essential condition of a culture of peace. Thus, education for gender equality is an essential component of education for a culture of peace.” – Betty Reardon, Education for a Culture of Peace in a Gender Perspective (2001)

Research supports Betty’s thesis that gender equality is foundational to peace: the greater gender equity in politics and business within a state is equated with lower rates of direct violence. Consequently, a large gender gap is a good predictor of a state’s propensity to engage in violent conflict.

While some progress has been made, over the past 2 1/2 years the pandemic has laid bare the deep structural inequalities that continue to hold women back. In The Problem of the Respectable International Women’s Day – an Appeal for Good Trouble, authors Mwanahamisi Singano and Ben Phillips argue that “the idea of progress has lulled the conversation into an idea that we only need to speed up: it’s now clear that to get to equality we need to change course.”

Gender equality won’t be achieved if we continue along the same path. The path forward is a new one that we must make together. It begins by mainstreaming gender into our curricula and educational institutions; by featuring feminist women of color from the global south in our syllabi; by centering gender and the intersectional lens introduced by black radical feminism into all of our discussions of peace and justice.

Betty Reardon proposed the following inquiries as a guide to exploring the article by Mwanahamisi Singano and Ben Phillips mentioned above. We think these inquiries can be applied to all discourse and learning for gender justice, and the answers we find might just help us build the new path we must walk together.

The underlying questions for gender justice are:

  • What are the structures that must be changed to achieve human equality and security?
  • What are the most promising currently proposed alternatives?
  • What other essential changes might be envisioned?
  • What present peace and equality movements offer possibilities for educating and persuading the larger citizenry to the need for change?
  • What might be effective short-term actions and constructive long-term strategies toward the achievement of authentic and sustainable human equality?

For those new to teaching from a gender-inclusive perspective, we recommend Betty Reardon’s Education for a Culture of Peace in a Gender Perspective (2001: UNESCO) which is now available for free download. It’s a great resource guide for integrating a gender perspective into peace education at all levels.

If you have resources, curricula, or stories of educating for peace with a gender perspective, please share them with us so that we might help highlight and elevate these efforts with our global community.

Posted below is a message from the Alliance for Global Justice examining the impact that wars have on women and girls.  As we examine current events, let us be sure to center these impacts in our inquiries as well as the perverse interdependence between war, militarism, and patriarchy. (tj. 3-8-22)

WAR: HerStory

(Reposted from: Alliance for Global Justice ezine – Issue #4: March 8. 2022)

March is Women’s History Month and today is the International Day of the Woman. As we commemorate Women’s History Month, let us recall the impact that wars have on women and girls.

The eyes of the world are upon Ukraine and its war with Russia. The United States and Russia are facing off over Europe’s largest nation-state while China looks on. Millions of refugees are flooding into Poland, Belarus, the Baltic states, Romania, and anywhere else that holds the promise of safety.

War and the imperialism that so often drives it aren’t good for anybody except arms dealers, imperial states who gain territory and/or hegemony, and the wealthy whose fortunes grow regardless of who wins or loses. For everyone else war means death, injury, destruction, loss, disruption – and more. “Women and girls suffer disproportionately during and after war, as existing inequalities are magnified and social networks break down, making them more vulnerable to sexual violence and exploitation,” according to the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations.

Massive numbers of women civilians are killed and injured in modern warfare. Widows of war are displaced, disinherited, and impoverished. Women and children are the majority of war refugees. Rape, sexual torture and sexual exploitation are fueled by war. Women’s bodies are a battleground over which opposing forces struggle. Women are kidnapped and used as sexual slaves to service troops, as well as to cook for them and carry their loads. They are purposefully infected with HIV/AIDS, which is a slow, painful murder. Rape leaves lasting psycho-social consequences including depression, stigma, discrimination, and all too often, unwanted pregnancy.

Women have a greater vulnerability to sexually transmitted infections, particularly HIV/AIDS, and especially as a result of rape. They are harmed by a lack of reproductive health care as part of humanitarian aid. Women’s vulnerability is increased due to pregnancy, childbirth, and responsibility for caring for children, elders, the sick and the wounded. Women do not receive what they need during emergencies.

Women are further assaulted by Disaster Patriarchy. Akin to disaster capitalism (as defined by Naomi Kline), disaster patriarchy occurs where men exploit a crisis to reassert control and dominance over women, and rapidly erase their hard-earned rights. Disaster patriarchy escalates the danger and violence to women. Men then step in as their supposed controller and protector. Disaster racism follows a similar course; we see these oppressive behaviors toward immigrants, non-Christian people, LGBTQiA people and other marginalized groups. Fascism often arises from disasters.

Today, in addition to the well-publicized war in Ukraine, there are major armed conflicts in more than 40 countries. Regional conflicts number in the hundreds. Women across the globe are suffering. They face enormous challenges to their lives, liberty, and personal safety.

Our principles of justice, self-determination and support of human rights compel us to oppose imperialist wars and dismantle patriarchy in all its forms, everywhere that it occurs. Yet here we are again, on the brink of a worldwide conflagration because of the unbridled expansion of the U.S. Empire and its continued violation of human rights.

Apparently there is truth to the adage that “those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it.” Or perhaps they know but are blinded by dreams of empire or riches, nationalism or supremacy, patriarchy or hatred, exceptionalism or just plain hubris. Or all of the above.


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