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Women Rally Against War

By Brooke Anderson

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On Friday, March 7, 2003, hundreds of women and men in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois gathered for a Women Against War rally in solidarity with International Women's Day anti-war protests worldwide. International Women's Day began in the early 1900s to commemorate women workers' strikes for better working conditions, and has frequently been used by women to protest war and militarism. Whether the male-dominated history books record it this way or not, women have historically been at the forefront of anti-war mobilizations and other movements for social justice.

By celebrating women's resistance to war, we are not suggesting that women are innately peaceful or that all men are violent warmongers. Nonetheless, it is historically true that imperialism and state violence have been ordered and carried out by men. This is because men have always held most of the elected and appointed positions of power in the world, and in our violent cultures, power is exercised through violence, therefore war has traditionally been "men's business" (or the business of wealthy white men who send mostly young, poor men and men of color to kill and be killed).

Brooke Anderson, Champaign-Urbana, IL
( March 7, 2003)

But these powerful men who benefit from the spoils of war are the last and least likely to suffer war's tragedies. Women — who have little voice in the politics and decision-making that govern our lives — gain little (and poor women and women of color gain even less) from the acquired colonies and stolen wealth of war, but we pay the price with our bodies, our health, our homes, and our families. Struggling for our freedom at every turn, we know first hand what happens when decision-making is left up to politicians and corporations. Women lose! People of color lose! Poor people lose! So, if we lose when men in DC busy themselves with war, we women will make it our business to wage and win the struggle for peace. As women, we must embrace our power and responsibility to make social change — to be creators, not just survivors, of our fate.

This patriarchal world favors violence over creative problem solving and mutual understanding, and it exploits concepts of masculinity that make violence a condition of manhood to anesthetize us and make us accepting of violence in daily life. As Emma Goldman, the great anarchist leader, said: "It is organized violence on the top that creates individual violence at the bottom." In what ways will women in the Middle East experience this violence?

Women experience war as death, injury, illness, impoverishment, sexual violence, widowhood, displacement, and detention. In the first Gulf War, 90% of all casualties were among civilians, many of whom were women and children. Rape has always and forever been a weapon of war. Our bodies are just as much the battlefields of war as the deserts and the trenches. Systematic use of rape and forced prostitution by invading armies is a deliberate policy of inducing terror and genocide.

Brooke Anderson, Champaign-Urbana, IL ( March 7, 2003)

In addition, the decade-long US bombing campaign and sanctions in Iraq have utterly devastated the Iraqi environment, causing unprecedented health problems for all Iraqis, but particularly for women and children. Women also comprise the majority of refugees and experience great horrors and abuse when forced to flee their homes. With the devastation of civilian infrastructure in a new war, Iraqi schools will be bombed, teachers maimed, and books made unaffordable. It could be a decade before Iraqi educational institutions could rebuild, leaving a generation of women without formal education.

Like women here, women in the Middle East face great discrimination within their own society. But Bush justified his war on Afghanistan in part by pretending the US marines were on a feminist mission to liberate Afghani women from their burqahs, when clearly revenge and oil were our priorities. A new war on Iraq will only worsen the condition of Iraqi women. So, when women's equality and liberation are being touted as justifications for "regime change" and war in the Middle East, we need insist that Iraqi women should be the only ones to decide on the just means to their liberation.

While the women in Iraq will suffer the most from an invasion, women in the USA will not gain either. As Virginia Woolf said: "If you insist upon fighting to protect me, or 'our' country, let it be understood, soberly and rationally between us, that you are fighting … to procure benefits which I have not shared and probably will not share; but not to gratify my instincts, or to protect either myself or my country. As a woman, my country is the whole world."

The violence against US women during this war will be structural and economic violence. Every dollar spent on this war is a dollar not diverted to social programs that guarantee basic life necessities for women and children. Our militarized world has lowered the standard of living for billions of people around the world — the largest percentage of whom are women and children, a phenomenon named the feminization of poverty. We need to organize for a feminist construction of the national budget and a socially responsible and sane concept of national security. For us, national security is not the Patriot Act, the Homeland Security Department, or the color-coded terrorism alerts. For us, national security is child care and maternity leave, job training, housing, transportation, education, and health care and care for the elderly and disabled.

In wartime, women are asked to postpone indefinitely our struggles for equality while "more important" issues are addressed. By exposing the relationship between sexism and militarism, and by making the equal status of women in society a condition of a just, peaceable world, we can work for both at the same time. Peace is a women's issue. Women's rights must be part and parcel of the anti-war movement.

Slavery abolitionist Sojourner Truth once said: "If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down, these women together ought to be able to turn it right side up again. I believe that we will together turn this world right side up again. The generations of women to come may never know our name or face, but their world and the world of their granddaughters will be a safer place for our efforts."

Brooke Anderson is a co-coordinator of the Progressive Resource/Action Cooperative, a community organizer for Champaign County Health Care Consumers, a co-founder of the Women's Direct Action Collective, a board member of the Illinois Disciples Foundation and a member of VVAW's C-U chapter.

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