Tag Archives: Uganda

The Damning Effects of Militarization

Militarization is the process of making society believe that violence, especially war, is an effective way to solve conflict to the point that any nonviolent attempt to solve conflict is snidely dismissed as ineffective, liberal, feminine, sissy or a whole host of other derogatorily used terms. The global problem of militarization takes different forms in every country, and even within each community. In Israel and Palestine troops attack women protesting the occupation. In Colombia women are participants and victims of violence perpetrated at every level of society. In Uganda those participating in the Walk to Work protest have been met with tear gas and bullets by the government’s security forces. I should be upfront here and say flat-out that I am very far left in my ideas of effective government: I don’t believe in borders or states. Imagine if the $553 billion defense bill just approved by the House was money spent on education, or healthcare, or ending violence….

Militarization is a gender issue. A gender issue is anything that disproportionately affects men, women, boys, girls and/or intersex or transgender adults or youth. Therefore, because militarization has a hugely disproportionate effect on men, men’s violences, and masculinities, it is a gender issue. It is also a gender issue in that anything defined as masculine can only be defined in opposition to that which is feminine, and because militarization of a given society negatively impacts men’s attitudes towards and treatment of women.

Many right-wing misogynists claim that feminists hate men, or that gender issues are only women’s issues, but militarization is a prime example of the genuine concern for well-being that many feminists around the world have for men who are part of the military. In graduate school one of my most influential professors, Dr. Sara Sharratt, opened my eyes to a reality that is often denied: killing people is not natural for anyone, male or female; men must be trained to kill. And as her work as a psychologist working with soldiers returning from war taught her, many men react negatively to having killed someone. The stress, trauma and horror that soldiers endure in battle is much too high a price for the false promise of “protecting freedom.”

Here in Turkey males are required by law to serve in the military, reinforcing the idea that there is honor in using violence. The belief in the effectiveness of violence is so strong in Turkey that even liberal, feminist groups condone the use of violence in protests and do not see the need or efficacy of strategic nonviolent action. Very few groups speak out against militarization here. One effect of this belief is that, according to a new report by Human Rights Watch, 47% of women in Turkey experience some kind of physical or sexual intimate partner violence within their lifetimes, regardless of education, class, religion, or region and much too few women’s shelters to accommodate the need. Violence between a couple is seen by police, the government, and society, to be a personal problem and victims are constantly told that they cannot expect their partners to be nonviolent.

In the United States there is better enforcement of laws against domestic violence and yet 1 in 4 women and 1 in 9 men in the US are victims of intimate violence at some point in their lives. Militarization in America is slightly more subtle than in Turkey, but commercials to “Go Navy,” be “Army Strong,” and join “The Few, the Proud, the Marines” constantly inundate television viewers. At the same time military recruiters are present on junior high, high school and college campuses to convince children that the military is their best route out of their hometown. Militarization is therefore a compounded heap of inequalities: class, race, gender, education, location, language, ability, and age.

Militarization in the US is forced on Americans at a very young age, when children at sporting events see the poorly named Blue Angels fly overhead with a roar as a giant American flag is unfurled across the playing field. The idealization of being a servant of war as a good, honorable thing is fed to Americans to serve the greed of the corporate world. We are taught from the time we can talk that America is the best place in the world, the most just, the most equal, the fairest. We have been lied to. We are told these things so that when our Commander-in-Chief calls on us to “protect freedom and liberty” and “stand up to injustice” our first response is to join the military killing machine so we can “serve our great nation.” This idea that the best thing a person can do for his country, the most masculine act possible, is serve in the military totally discounts the experiences of a great number of people in America including disabled men, transgender or intersex men, openly gay or bisexual men, men who believe in nonviolence, and women.

Unfortunately it is only after the damage of war has been done that many of the wide-eyed military recruits become hardened advocates for peace. The brave men and women who understand the error of the US’s ways in using violence and force to fill corporate pockets have formed a number of anti-war groups. Founded in 1985, Veterans for Peace, is seeking signatures for a petition to bring the troops home from Afghanistan. One of the newer organizations, Iraq Veterans Against the War, seeks an end to the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, and is pressuring the military to provide better care for returning vets. Vietnam Veterans Against the War states “We believe that service to our country and communities did not end when we were discharged. We remain committed to the struggle for peace and for social and economic justice for all people. We will continue to oppose senseless military adventures and to teach the real lessons of the Vietnam War. We will do all we can to prevent another generation from being put through a similar tragedy and we will continue to demand dignity and respect for veterans of all eras. This is real patriotism and we remain true to our mission.”

Cynthia Enloe renowned author and feminist, is one of the voices at the forefront of the anti-militarization effort. This piece nicely summarizes Enloe’s main arguments against militarization and its effects on women. Even non-governmental organizations, international organizations and peacekeeping missions are fraught with problems because of militarization, as Enloe and my professor Nadine Puechguirbal explain in a talk here on Haiti. For me, the most compelling argument against militarization is that violence does not work. It is ineffective! Nonviolent action, especially when used strategically, is an extremely effective tool for change and one that I hope more people will begin to utilize once they understand its efficacy. I will forever be indebted to Dr. Mary King for teaching me the strategy of nonviolence. In the future I will write a post summarizing the ideas behind SNVA.

If you want to do something to help end the militarization that is damaging the world here are a few ideas: teach girls to be strong, both physically and emotionally; teach boys they have a right to feel emotions and express them; teach all children the importance of respectful problem solving and dialogue; teach young people that there are many ways they can serve their country other than military service, including the Peace CorpsAmeriCorps, Job Corps, the Medical Reserve Corps, Citizen Corps, the Civilian Response Corps, and Serve Corps, as well as through thousands of non-governmental and non-profit groups; learn about strategic nonviolent action and then share what you know; and most importantly, practice strategic nonviolent action to bring an end to injustices around the world!

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Day 9- Women’s Activism in Africa

A composed satellite photograph of Africa.

Image via Wikipedia

North Africa has been in the news recently for its people’s uprisings. Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt are all currently in very precarious situations but the people of these nations, men and women, have shown that they want democracy and are willing to give their lives to earn it.

Sub-Saharan Africa is largely ignored by America unless the political events that occur will affect the US, such a high-profile oil spill in Nigeria which could raise gas prices in the States. The tragedies and travesties of the rapes in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the upheaval in Sudan and its Darfur region, and the poverty and desperation in Somalia go largely unnoticed by American news outlets and the American people.

Today I’d like to give a sample of what women (and feminist men) are doing across the African continent to advance social justice and true equality.

Liberia: The women of Liberia bravely stood up against dictator and war criminal Charles Taylor and helped bring about an end to their country’s brutal civil war in 2003. Their story was told in the 2008 documentary Pray the Devil Back to Hell. Subsequently Liberia elected Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first female head of state in Africa. An all women UN peacekeeping unit from India still provides inspiration for Liberian women and shows them that women can do or be anything they set their minds to. Today the women of Liberia are still working for peace in their region and in the world. These women are raising their voices for the women of neighboring Ivory Coast.

Cotê d’Ivoire: In honor of International Women’s Day, and to protest the killing of women protesting Laurent Gbagbo’s refusal to recognize the November 2010 elections, thousands of Ivorians marched yesterday in an event that left three men and one woman dead.

Nigeria: Last year at this time women in Nigeria were protesting a religious massacre. Last week (2 March 2011) Nigerian women found themselves protesting the presence of cattle herders on of their farm land. In February a small group of women protested the imposing of a female candidate into a federal position for which they elected a man. These women recognize that simply because a candidate is a woman does not necessarily mean she will represent women or fight for women’s rights.

Sudan: Women in Sudan, especially in the Darfur region, understand what it means to be completely ignored and have their rights denied. In the recent referendum however, women turned out in large numbers to show their support for the cessation of Southern Sudan. OftenSudanese women’s stories go untold, but small groups of women are slowly finding their voices and demanding justice. For the second time in two weeks a group of women staged protests against the government’s detention of protesters.

Ethiopia: One of my favorite feminists, native Ethiopian Billene Seyoum Woldeyes, is helping to bring gender equality to her motherland through her blog Ethiopian Feminist.

Kenya: Wangari Maathai is perhaps one of the most well-known women in the world. The 2004 winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for her work in the Greenbelt Movement, Maathai continues to improve the world around her both through her environmental activism and her women’s rights advocacy.

Uganda: One of Uganda’s favorite journalists, Rosebell Kagumire, covers stories and brings attention to everything from vote rigging to violence against women, both in Uganda and around Africa, in her blog.

Somalia: Women in Somalia suffer under some of the worst poverty in the world. Often left without a means to support themselves, many women-heads-of-household work all day and resort to begging to feed their families, often going hungry themselves. Despite this, Somali women make the time to protest the lack of women in parliament and push for higher quotas.

Democratic Republic of the Congo: Because of the efforts of the V-Day campaign the atrocities committed in the DRC have been given at least a little public attention in the US. The widespread use of rape in the DRC as a weapon of war has drawn the sharp criticism of the UN and organizations around the world, like Amnesty International. The women of the DRC have joined forces with these international organizations and demanded safety and dignity.

Mozambique: While Mozambique is making significant progress in gender issues, one of the most dire problems women there are fighting against today is climate change. Because of the feminization of poverty and the differential affects of climate change, rising sea levels and land degradation on women, the people of Mozambique have begun to pay attention to solutions that specifically address women’s relationship to the environment.

Namibia: Forced sterilization of women is not a new concept, but HIV+ women in Namibia who were sterilized without their knowledge or consent have demanded justice. Staging sit-ins with the slogan my body, my womb, my rights thousands of women have shown their support and raised their voices in solidarity with their HIV+ sisters.

South Africa: The shameful “rape capital of the world” (a title South Africa dubiously shares with the DRC) has come a long way since apartheid, but the country’s lesbians are constantly at great risk. So called “corrective rape” of lesbians in South Africa has reached epidemic proportions with police refusing to take complaints seriously, but women around the world have demanded an end to this inhumane practice.

To learn more about women’s roles and rights in Africa, visit Solidarity for African Women’s Rights, Human Rights Watch, All Africa, Women of Africa and the newly formed UN Women.


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