Apr 202010

When natural disasters occur, women are likely to bear the brunt of the devastation.  According to Irin,

The negative fallout from climate change is having a devastatingly lopsided impact on women compared to men, from higher death rates during natural disasters to heavier household and care burdens.

In the 1991 cyclone disasters that killed 140,000 in Bangladesh, 90 percent of victims were reportedly women; in the 2004 Asian Tsunami, an estimated 70 to 80 percent of overall deaths were women.

And following the 2005 Hurricane Katrina in the United States, African-American women, who were the poorest population in some of the affected States in Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi, faced the greatest obstacles to survival, according to the New York-based Women’s Environment and Development Organisation (WEDO).

The 2007 Human Development Report, issued by the U.N. Development Programme, points out that women are particularly affected by climate change because they are the largest percentage – accounting for about 70 percent – of the poor population.

In many parts of the world, women and girls are responsible for collecting water and firewood.

As these resources become scarcer in the face of increasingly erratic rainfall, they must spend more time looking for and collecting them, further reducing the time they have available to engaging in economic activities, or attending school, she said.

Women are also the main producers of food, providing 70 percent of agricultural labour in sub-Saharan Africa, and so are particularly affected by reduced agricultural output, North added.

“The care responsibilities that fall to women and girls mean that health problems associated with climate change – including an increase in waterborne diseases associated with flooding – often result in them taking on an increased burden of care as they are required to look after sick family members,” she noted.

That is, gender inequalities are magnified in disaster situations. So when women lack basic rights, more women than men will die from natural disasters.

The study also found the opposite to be true: in societies where women and men enjoy equal rights, natural disasters kill the same number of women and men.

In Kenya, participants in the Gender, Education and Global Poverty Reduction Initiatives project have noted that increased poverty associated with drought has affected school attendance, with girls being more likely to be withdrawn from school than boys. In neighbouring Uganda, the food crises associated with climate change have been linked to higher rates of early marriage for girls, as they are exchanged for dowry or bride price.

These “famine marriages” – as they are called – not only lead to girls dropping out of school, but also make them vulnerable to sexually transmitted infections and related reproductive complications.

As we approach Earth Day, this is truly a reminder of the urgent importance of listening to women and addressing their needs in all discussions of sustainability, climate change and global warming.

 April 20, 2010  Posted by on April 20, 2010 Comments Off on Women Are The Most Impacted By Natural Disasters
Apr 192010

The issue of gender discrimination in the media is a deeply personal issue to me because I am a writer who puts a lot of effort into highlighting women’s human rights issues.  In other words, not only do I write about this issue, I am also a victim of it. On the occasions that I submit a piece for publication and it gets rejected and then I see that the publication has far more bylines by men than women, I have to wonder.  Or more to the point, I don’t.

The systemic invisibilizing and trivializing of women’s lives and voices by the media is a deeply damaging misogyny and the preliminary data from the latest Who Makes the News report confirms that persistent media misogyny is alive and well throughout the world.  While there have been some improvements since 1995, the 2010 findings, while not surprising, are truly appalling.

The findings in this preliminary report are based on an analysis of 6,902 news items containing 14,044 news subjects including people interviewed in the news in 42 countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean region, Pacific Islands and Europe.  The data for North America has not yet been released.

Here are some of the highlights from lengthy and very illuminating report (the final version will be out later this year):

It matters profoundly who and what is selected to appear in news coverage and how individuals and events are portrayed. Equally, it matters who is left out and what is not covered. The three previous GMMPs showed that women are grossly underrepresented in news coverage in contrast to men, resulting in news that paints a picture of a world in which women are largely absent. The studies equally revealed a paucity of women’s views and opinions in mainstream news media content in contrast to men’s perspectives, resulting in a male-centered view of the world. The Fourth GMMP has produced mixed results as demonstrated in the key findings below.


  • 24% of the people interviewed, heard, seen or read about in mainstream broadcast and print news are female.
  • Only 16% of all stories focus specifically on women.
  • Women have achieved near parity as givers of popular opinion in news stories. At the same time, less than one out of every five experts interviewed is female.
  • An analysis of media coverage on selected issues of special concern to women contained in the Beijing Platform for Action reveals such issues receive an average of less than 1.5% media attention each.
  • Of the three mediums, mainstream radio is least likely to contain news on issues of concern to women. Print news contained the highest proportion of stories on all five themes, suggesting that newspapers would be the most effective medium for issues of concern to women to find space in the mainstream news agenda.

Delivering the news:

  • Overall, news stories by female reporters are much fewer than news stories by male reporters. In 2010 the percentage of stories by female reporters on radio was lower than in 2005, a drastic drop from 45% to 27%. 44% of stories on television were reported by women, up from 42%. Newspaper stories by female reporters increased from 29% to 35%.
  • News stories by female reporters are almost twice as likely to challenge gender stereotypes than stories by male reporters.
  • News stories by female reporters have considerably more female news subjects than stories by male reporters.

Journalistic practice:

  • Almost one half (48%) of all news stories reinforce gender stereotypes, while 8% of news stories challenge gender stereotypes.
  • Only 12% of news stories highlight issues of gender equality or inequality. The percentage of news stories that shed light on an aspect of gender equality or inequality in the story has tripled in the last five years. Nevertheless, stories that miss the opportunity to highlight (in) equality issues are by far more numerous.
  • Women are five times as likely as men to be portrayed in their roles as wives, mothers, etc.
  • Only 9% of news stories mention gender equality policies or human and women’s rights legal instruments.

If you are thinking that  the North American data when it comes out will paint a vastly better picture, think again.  The NPR ombudsman recently reported that NPR is a long way from gender parity finding that,

12 outside commentators  appeared at least 20 times in the last 15 months. The only woman is former NPR staffer, Cokie Roberts.

Otherwise, males dominate, especially on subjects of sports, politics and the economy.

NPR listeners heard 2,502 male sources and 877 female sources on the shows we sampled. In other words, only 26 percent of the 3,379 voices were female, while 74 percent were male.

Numerous other reports also point to gender imbalances in the U.S. media (Be sure to also see the Gender, Media and Power slide show that can be accessed on the right sidebar of the Feminist Peace Network website as well as the numerous posts on FPN and articles that I have written on the subject as well).

There is no shortage of examples of the persistent invisibilizing and objectification of women.  This list of 25 Twitter “Insiders” to follow only contains 4 women. And take a look at this very disturbing documentation of mainstream advertising porn as well.

Here in Kentucky where I live, the Louisville Courier Journal publishes a magazine called HerScene,   a relatively new publication that came into being roughly around the time that print media hit the financial skids and the CJ radically cut the size of the newspaper.


It arrives every few months with my morning newspaper and is filled with helpful tidbits on wardrobe, grooming, home decorating  entertaining and advertisements.  Well actually it is mostly advertisements.  Is there a similar publication for men?  Of course not.  In other words, we women have been tasked the very important job of shopping til we drop in order to keep the male-centric print media alive.

As I said at the outset, this is a very personal issue to me, the statistics above document both the challenge women in media face getting their voices heard and the difficulty getting coverage of issues that impact women’s lives.  There are days I think my time would be equally well served lying in bed with a romance novel eating bon bons or hiking along the edge of the sea.  And I do those things, but mostly I keep writing and speaking out, even though the odds of my work being published are worse than awful.

While I want to believe that it couldn’t be as bad as it is, the truth is that what we are told is the truth is really a very male-centric vision because it does not adequately include the needs or voices of more than half the population of the world.  And that skewered story isn’t the news, it is a dangerous fiction that we  cannot afford to continue to allow to be perpetuated.

 April 19, 2010  Posted by on April 19, 2010 Comments Off on Delusion By Exclusion–The Damaging Impact Of Global Media Misogyny
Apr 142010

After my write-up about KFC’s Buckets for the Cure the other day, I got this thoughtful comment from Kimberly Irish, Program Manager at Breast Cancer Action,

Has pink cause marketing gone too far?  Breast Cancer Action thinks so!  KFC’s “Buckets for the Cure” campaign achieves a new low in pinkwashing – selling pink buckets of greasy fast food in order to help “create a world without breast cancer.”  BCA fails to understand how pink buckets of chicken will help end the breast cancer epidemic.  We encourage people to ask critical questions before purchasing pink products that claim to donate money to breast cancer research or prevention.  Be an informed consumer!

Many thanks to Kim and Breast Cancer Action for weighing in, I have thought for a long time that their approach to addressing breast cancer is far healthier and productive than the ‘awareness’ approach. For more information on pink-washing, check out their Think Before You Pink website.

And because you just have to see it to believe it, here is a picture of the KFC down the road from me that wasn’t content with just having pink buckets, they painted their whole darned restaurant pink.  Incidentally, the price for the buckets is the same as their regular prices.  So if you buy a 6-piece bucket for $9.98, 50 cents of that will go to Susan G. Komen for the Cure.  In other words 5% of your purchase, and if you get the $20.99 size that works out less than 2.5% of your purchase. Not such a YUM!my deal (sorry, I’ll stop with the oh so tempting wordplay). Why not just send the full amount to Breast Cancer Action or the cause of your choice, it will do more good and you’ll be healthier.


 April 14, 2010  Posted by on April 14, 2010 Comments Off on Last Word on KFC’s Breasts For Boobs
Apr 132010

Since beginning the Feminist Peace Network in 2001, I have written and spoken about militarism and violence against women more times than I can count. In those years I have watched too many instances of the problem becoming more exacerbated and see little to indicate substantive progress towards addressing this horrendous problem. And so I keep writing and talking about it. The following is excerpted from a recent talk that I delivered at the University of Dayton.–LM

“While bullets, bombs and blades make the headlines, women’s bodies remain invisible battlefields.”
–Margot Wallström, U.N. Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict


In order to fully understand militarism, it is necessary to view it from a gendered lens and tonight I will be addressing the question of what it is about militarism that places women at particular risk.

There are essentially 3 ways in which people seek to gain empowerment:

  • The first is Power Among (community)—a sense that we’re all in this together.
  • And then there is Power Within—in other words, your own inner strength and capabilities.
  • Finally, many believe that you can achieve empowerment by means of asserting Power Over.

Militarism, and the patriarchy it defends, are based on the notion of power over, and place women at particular risk for victimization, violation and harm.

In order to achieve empowerment by this method, you have to have someone or something to assert  that power over and to do that, you need to see that target as an other.

Creating an other is a critical defining aspect of both militarism and violence against women – creating a false distinction between two different  people (or 2 different groups of people). The other then gets defined as less than.  Once defined as less than, the other needs to either be destroyed, or protected.

Civilian casualties now make up as much as 70% of the total casualties of any military action.  Since women and children are the majority of these civilian populations, they make up the majority of civilian casualties.


What is it about military conflict that makes women particularly vulnerable?

  • To begin with, there is the breakdown in government and  law enforcement.
  • Other factors include loss of homes/separation from family/especially men who may have provided protection/becoming refugees.
  • And finally, loss of jobs/income.

The following are the primary ways in which women are sexually victimized as a result of militarism:

  • Rape
  • Sexual Slavery/Trafficking
  • Forced Marriages and Pregnancies
  • Femicide

Several other points to consider:

  • Wars are not fought on battlefields anymore–they are fought in cities and towns and villages.
  • In  warfare, women’s bodies frequently become part of the battle ground over which opposing forces struggle.
  • Women’s bodies are often considered the spoils of war, or invisibilized under the catchall euphemism ‘collateral damage’.
  • And violence against women does not end when the fighting ends.  We’ve all heard reports of rapes committed by U.N. peacekeepers, of soldiers who come home and assault or murder their wives.

As you may have read recently, it was confirmed that 2 pregnant women and a teenage girl were killed in a botched raid on a family gathering to celebrate the birth of a baby in Afghanistan back in February.  Not only were the women murdered in cold blood, but in the initial aftermath of the killings, NATO claimed that the women were already dead when they got there, the victims of honor killings.

It has since been proven otherwise, as one anguished relative asked, why would they be murdering pregnant women at a celebration of a birth, and there are reports by The Times of London that bullets were actually dug out of the women’s bodies and bullet holes in walls plastered over.


The numbers speak for themselves:

  • Rwanda Genocide–As many as 500,000 women raped.
  • 64,000 women raped during conflict in Sierra Leone.
  • 40,000 women raped in Bosnia/Herzogovina.
  • 4,500 rapes in just 6 months in one province of the DRC.
  • Hundreds of women raped every day in Darfur.

It is precisely because of these incredible, large numbers of victims that we know that violence against women is systemic to militarism.

The connection between militarism and violence against women is a global issue, however tonight I want to focus primarily on how it pertains to the U.S. There are several reasons for that.

  1. The U.S. has the biggest military power in the world and therefore our actions, as it were, pack the biggest punch  and
  2. Most of us are U.S. citizens and I think it is appropriate to talk about that which we can be faulted for and that which we can take responsibility for changing before pointing our fingers at others.



Let’s talk about Afghanistan first.  As I pointed out earlier, one of the justifications for our invasion was to liberate Afghan women.  As Human Rights Watch pointed out last year however, that has been an abysmal failure.

“Afghan women are among the worst off in the world, violence against them is “endemic” and Afghanistan’s government fails to protect them from crimes such as rape and murder.”–Human Rights Watch, December, 2009


  • The majority of Afghan women are vulnerable to violence in the home.
  • The judiciary system provides scant recourse for survivors of that violence. If there are no witnesses to these crimes, the women can be convicted of adultery.
  • Victims are often jailed or murdered.  Women who face domestic violence can be pushed to tragic extremes, including suicide, self-immolation is often the method of choice.  The burn hospital in Herat recently reported 90 cases of self-immolation in an 11 month period.
  • Afghanistan is the only country in the world where the suicide rate for women is higher than for men.
  • 70 to 80 percent of women face forced marriages often before the age of 12.  There are actually markets where women are bought and sold.
  • Going to school is risky for girls because of fire bombings and acid attacks.
  • The assassinations of several prominent women leaders have gone unpunished.


And then we moved on to Iraq and again used the justification of liberating women there although, while there were certainly serious problems such as the so-called rape rooms, women enjoyed one of the highest levels of freedom in the Arab world.  In post-invasion Iraq however:

  • There are roughly three quarters of a million widows in Iraq due to the last war with little or no means of support
  • Many women have become refugees in Jordan and Syria, often away from families who could provide protection and support
  • The new Constitution, which the U.S. gave its blessing to gives precedence to Islamic law over civil law.
  • Honor killings have increased dramatically
  • Sexual trafficking, where women are  being forced to prostitute themselves to feed their families, or are being sold to sex traffickers has increased dramatically.


But it is not only civilian women who are at risk.

  • According to several studies, 30% of women in the U.S. military are raped while serving, 71% are sexually assaulted and 90% are sexually harassed. It is believed that 90% of sexual assaults in the military are never reported. As one Congresswoman noted recently, women serving in the military are more at risk of being harmed by their fellow soldiers than by any enemy.
  • The situation in combat theaters is so bad that women are afraid to go to the bathroom by themselves for fear of being raped.
  • It is important to note that there is a very poor rate of conviction of perpetrators, which effectively creates a culture of impunity when it comes to sexual assault and
  • A Department of Defense Task Force on Sexual Assault in the Military told a Congressional committee on February 3, 2010 that “DoD’s procedures for collecting and documenting data about military sexual assault incidents are lacking in accuracy, reliability, and validity.”
  • And the last point I want to make about this is that the problems described apropos of the military also apply to women working for private contractors such as KBR as the recent case of Jamie Leigh Jones has unfortunately illustrated.


We also need to talk about the direct sexual victimization of civilians by the U.S. military.

Prostitution thrives near military bases, both in the U.S. and abroad.  Filipinas not for saleWomen and girls are brought in to entertain the troops as it were.  The Pentagon  drafted an anti-prostitution and trafficking policy in 2004 that would subject violators to court martials but the U.S. military is just beginning to put clubs and bars involved in prostitution off-limits and little has been done to enforce the policy.

Earlier this year, the Philippine government quit issuing work permits for women seeking to work in bars and clubs near U.S. military bases in South Korea because so many end up being coerced into prostitution.

Many of these women are solicited by recruiters to entertain the  troops telling them they will sing and dance, but they end up serving expensive drinks in bars and those who fail to make their drink sale quotas incur ‘bar fines’ which they must pay off by selling sexual services.

In Japan, a year after the Defense Dept. banned the solicitation of prostitutes, Stars and Stripes reported that there was still a thriving “massagy” girl business selling happy endings for $30-$70 near U.S. bases in Japan.

It’s also important to note that the problem extends to private contractors like Dyncorp in Bosnia  in the late 1990’s and earlier this year it came to light that Blackwater officials kept a Filipina prostitute on the payroll for, “Morale Welfare Recreation” in Afghanistan.


Every time there is a new study or a  new report to Congress about sexual assault in the military, and there have been quite a few, I almost inevitably get a call from a reporter asking whether I think this will make a difference.

The short answer is no.  The rape and plundering of women is a de-facto weapon of war and always has been and the objectifying of women is still alive and well in the military.

Despite a 10 year ban on pornography being sold on military bases, the military recently did a review and decided Playboy and Penthouse should not be classified as pornography–and I don’t want to get into a debate about porn, but the point is that the objectification of women is historically implicit in militarism and no amount of Congressional testimony is going to change that.

The Strawberry Bitch is a WWII plane on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, OH (Many thanks to a member of the audience when I spoke who told me about this unfortunate example of the implicit military misogyny of which I spoke)

The Strawberry Bitch is a WWII plane on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, OH (Many thanks to a member of the audience when I spoke who told me about this unfortunate example of the implicit military misogyny of which I spoke)

The number of sexual assaults in the military that are being reported has gone up, which may in part be a function of improved reporting mechanisms, but experts still feel these are just a small part of the real number.

What is crucial to understand is that what hasn’t gone up is the number of criminal prosecutions or convictions and until that happens, substantial improvement in the situation is unlikely.

While I have focused tonight primarily on U.S.-centric militarism, clearly militarism perpetrated by other military forces, be they national militias, rebel forces or whoever is committing militaristic violence, leads to violence against women wherever it occurs and that violence needs to be addressed, whether it is in Indonesia, the Darfur region of Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo or anywhere else.

“After raping her they killed her by shooting into her vagina. No action was taken.”

— The Karen Women’s Organization (KWO), “State of Terror: the ongoing rape, murder, torture and forced labor suffered by women living under the Burmese Military Regime in Karen State (February 2007)

In addition, there is a whole expanded conversation that is more than we can address here tonight regarding the U.S. role in these situations, for instance our support of the government in Indonesia and our lack of action to help the people of Darfur and so on–just because we are not directly perpetrating violence does not mean that we are not involved in the perpetration of the problem or that we should not be involved in ending this violence.


I’d like to talk now about what can be done, on both a national and international level, to change the paradigm that allows for the victimization of women as a result of militarism.  There are a number of vehicles that address the issue.  One of the most important is CEDAW which stands for The Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women and defines violence against women as a violation of women’s human rights and is often described as an international bill of rights for women. As of August, 2009, 185 countries had ratified CEDAW. The United States is one of the few that have not yet ratified it, along with countries such as Iran and Sudan.


There are also several UN Security Council resolutions that are important to know about.  The first, Resolution 1325 addresses the disproportionate and unique impact of armed conflict on women and recognizes the under-valued and under-utilized contributions women make to conflict prevention, conflict resolution and peace-building, and stresses the importance of their equal and full participation as active agents in peace and security.

The second, Resolution 1820, urges all parties to armed conflicts to immediately stop acts of sexual violence against civilians and calls for the protection of women and girls from all forms of sexual violence.

We also have the International Criminal Court which was created in 1998. Of critical importance, its statutes classify sexual violence as a war crime and provide a means by which perpetrators can be held accountable for their war crimes.

It also establishes measures to facilitate better investigation of gender-based violence as well as standards for care of victims including witness protection and legal counsel.

The U.S. however, opposes the ICC and does not participate.


And finally, here in the U.S., the bipartisan International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA) was reintroduced in February in both the US House and Senate.

It would be the first of its kind to comprehensively incorporate US foreign assistance programs to help stop gender-based violence and poverty, promote economic opportunities for women, halt violence against girls in schools, and ultimately empower women.


Those are some of the tools available to us on an international and national level, but you and I—we’re not members of Congress or delegates to the United Nations.  So the thought that I want to leave you with is what we—those of us here tonight—can do to change this paradigm?

In order to truly achieve a women-inclusive peace, we need to make the connection between the othering that enables militarism and the othering that enables sexual violence. Creating peace in the world must include creating peace in our homes. And finally, we need to take intimate violence as seriously as the other violences of war.We need to admit that sexual violence is a tool of war. When men go to war, women and children are overwhelmingly the innocent victims.  We need to own up to this and make it a front and center issue.

And if you remember what I said when I began this evening, there are three ways in which to seek empowerment and we need to do some substantive work in moving away from Power Over to a framework that is based upon Power Within and Power Among.

We need to make a fundamental paradigm shift and move towards partnership thinking (a concept pioneered by Riane Eisler).  Rather than seeing others as adversaries, let’s look at how can we partner to create solutions and make meaningful and just relationships.  Then we will be truly empowered.

My goal tonight has been to try to give you a glimpse of what militarism looks like through a gendered lens.  When we discuss the impact of militarism and how to end it, we are simply not looking at the full picture unless we include the ways it affects women and also listen, really listen, to women’s voices  when we look towards resolution of conflict and the creation of peace.

Lucinda Marshall, 2010


My grateful thanks to Dr. Rebecca S. Whisnant, head of the Women and Gender Studies Program, for inviting me to speak, all those who provided support for this lecture and to the wonderful and inquisitive students at the University of Dayton.  The slides that accompanied this lecture can be viewed in the right sidebar on the Feminist Peace Network website. You can also get more information on militarism and violence against women here.

 April 13, 2010  Posted by on April 13, 2010 Comments Off on The ‘Other’ Terrorism: Militarism and Violence Against Women