In our continuing look at the story of the Feminist Peace Network as part of Women’s History Month, this is a letter that I sent in 2002 addressing the peace movement’s continuing dismissiveness of the impact of war on women and children.
March 23, 2002
We would once again like to reiterate our concern that the April 20 Mobilization’s Call To Action fails to address the effects of war, terrorism, violence, globalization, et al. on women, despite the fact women are the majority gender and the greatest victim of the current patriarchy.
Women constitute the vast majority of the poor and disenfranchised on our planet, having little access to land, property and political power.
The right for women to vote and to be entitled to equal pay and equal access to health care, education and employment is still a distant dream for most of the women of the world.
In every corner of the world, women confront male violence and sexist discrimination, with little or no avenue for redress.
Militarism, the arms trade and the permanent war economy of the late 1990s continue to drain 780 billion dollars per year from the global economy.
This significantly contributes to the normalization of violence, the cultural reinforcement of biased gender roles, increasing poverty and environmental degradation in the world.
Women are the principal victims of war. While, for the wealthy Western nations, more and more the technologies of war allow mostly men soldiers to die in their beds, women are among the majority of civilians killed, maimed and traumatized by war. As violence against women gains a higher profile, it is important to remember that war is a systematic form of violence against women.
Most women have little or no recourse against the men who abuse us -whether they be soldiers during war, or in our homes and communities, husbands, partners, fathers, employers, landlords, doctors or bankers, clergy or teachers. When our human rights are violated most of us cannot afford to pay a lawyer to represent us. When we do have access to justice, we often have to deal with laws, rules of evidence and procedures that frustrate our efforts and sometimes victimize us even further. Violence against women, racism and discrimination are usually not reported, let alone resolved.
Now is the time for:
1. An end to violence and terrorism against women, regardless of whether it is perpetrated in times of peace or war, by terrorists, by the defending army, by peacemakers or by spouses and fathers.
2. A full and equal role for women in ending all of the current fighting and in creating sustainable peace.
Below are several reports of violence against women that have been received in the last week. For the most part these stories are not covered by the media but it is critical that they be reported and that our actions bear witness to these atrocities.
CRY, THE BELOVED COUNTRY
Reflections on the Gujarat massacre
Excerpt of a missive from Harsh Mander
Numbed with disgust and horror, I return from Gujarat ten days after the terror and massacre that convulsed the state. My heart is sickened, my soul wearied, my shoulders aching with the burdens of guilt and shame.
As you walk through the camps of riot survivors in Ahmadabad, in which an estimated 53,000 women, men, and children are huddled in 29 temporary settlements, displays of overt grief are unusual. People clutch small bundles of relief materials, all that they now own in the world, with dry and glassy eyes. Some talk in low voices, others busy themselves with the tasks of everyday living in these most basic of shelters, looking for food and milk for children, tending the wounds of the injured.
But once you sit anywhere in these camps, people begin to speak and their words are like masses of pus released by slitting large festering wounds. The horrors that they speak of are so macabre, that my pen falters in the writing. The pitiless brutality against
women and small children by organised bands of armed young men is more savage than anything witnessed in the riots that have shamed this nation from time to time during the past century.
I force myself to write a small fraction of all that I heard and saw, because it is important that we all know. Or maybe also because I need to share my own burdens.
What can you say about a woman eight months pregnant who begged to be
spared. Her assailants instead slit open her stomach, pulled out her foetus and slaughtered it before her eyes. What can you say about a family of nineteen being killed by flooding their house with water and then electrocuting them with high-tension electricity. What can you say?
A small boy of six in Juhapara camp described how his mother and six brothers and sisters were battered to death before his eyes. He survived only because he fell unconscious, and was taken for dead. A family escaping from Naroda-Patiya, one of the worst-hit settlements in Ahmedabad, spoke of losing a young woman and her three month old son, because a police constable directed her to `safety’ and she
found herself instead surrounded by a mob which doused her with kerosene and set her and her baby on fire.
I have never known a riot which has used the sexual subjugation of women so widely as an instrument of violence in the recent mass barbarity in Gujarat. There are reports every where of gang-rape, of young girls and women, often in the presence of members of their families, followed by their murder by burning alive, or by bludgeoning with a hammer and in one case with a screw driver. Women in the Aman Chowk shelter told appalling stories about how armed men disrobed themselves in front of a group of terrified women to cower them down further….
(Harsh Mander, the writer, is a serving IAS Officer,
who is working on deputation
Justice for East Timor Demands an International Tribunal
A Statement from Women¹s Studies Scholars,
Women Leaders and Feminist Organizations
An International Tribunal is the most pressing demand in the interests of justice. Of all the victims of Indonesian military violence the greatest suffering was borne by women, who up to this time, have not met with the justice they hoped for.
— from a statement by the East Timorese Women¹s Network, June 2001
We join with our East Timorese sisters in calling for an international tribunal for East Timor.
We urge the United Nations Security Council to establish an international tribunal for East Timor without delay. The East Timorese people have waited far too long for the architects and perpetrators of the atrocities committed against them to be brought to justice. Over two years have passed since the United Nations International Commission of Inquiry on East Timor called for an international human rights tribunal. During that time, it has become clear that only an international tribunal can hold accountable the high-ranking Indonesian military, police and government officials most responsible for crimes against humanity committed in East Timor.
When Indonesia illegally invaded and occupied East Timor in 1975, it began a genocidal campaign that lasted nearly a quarter-century. During the first five years of the occupation, some 200,000 people one-third of the pre-invasion population were killed. The occupation specifically targeted women in several ways, including the following:
Rape and forced marriage to military personnel were used to terrorize and control East Timorese women, to punish pro-independence families, and to reward Indonesian soldiers. A study of gender violence in 1999 by the Communication Forum for East Timorese Women (FOKUPERS) found many acts of rape were ³planned, organized, and sustained militia and soldiers conniving together to abduct women and share them like chattel; or, in some cases, forcibly taking women across the border into [Indonesian] West Timor where the women were raped daily and made to perform household chores.
Tragically, the women among the estimated 80,000 East Timorese still in Indonesian refugee camps remain vulnerable to sexual assault by militia and
East Timorese women were forcibly sterilized by the Indonesian military under the guise of family planning. It is estimated that tens of thousands of women were injected with contraceptives without their consent sometimes even without their knowledge and never with adequate follow-up care.
An unknown number of East Timorese children were kidnapped and raised in Indonesia as Indonesian citizens, a practice that continues today. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has confirmed 240 cases of East Timorese children being taken from their parents by militia in Indonesian refugee camps since 1999; according to the UN, as many as 2,000 children may be held captive currently.
In the face of such suffering, it is truly reprehensible that the world community has knowingly placed its faith in an unacceptable alternative to an international tribunal the Indonesian ad hoc Human Rights Court for East Timor. Due to its many flaws, the Indonesian court will not adequately address cases of gender violence and the systematic targeting of women and children, among other serious crimes.
International justice was significantly advanced last year by the decision of the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia to classify rape as a crime against humanity. But the world community cannot stop there. Atrocities committed against the people of East Timor deserve no less attention than those committed against peoples of other nations. An international tribunal for East Timor, with a mandate covering the entire Indonesian occupation, must be established now to redress the most heinous
crimes committed against the women and men of East Timor. Otherwise, international justice will appear weak and conditional, rule of law will be undermined, and the people of the world¹s newest nation will have good reason to lose faith in the world community.
(Via the East Timor Action Network Social Justice Center)
My apologies for the length of this e-mail, but it is stories like these that make including the urgent issues of violence against women an imperative for April 20.
Moderator, Feminist Peace Network
ps–As I look over the list of endorsers, I notice very few women’s groups–could that be because your call to action omits one of the most significant aspects of war? Until the problems of women and violence are addressed, violence cannot be ended.