Militarism and Violence Against Women


The Impact of Militarism on Women

Lucinda Marshall, @2006

(Based on a presentation at the 2nd Annual Peace and Justice Summit at IUPUI, Indianapolis, IN)

Violence against women is intrinsically linked with militarism. This is true in every country and with every military action.

What is Militarism?

The use of organized force/violence to assert the will of one group over another, and the mindset flowing from this position into various aspects of a society.

Types of Violence Against Women (All of which are exacerbated by militarism):

  1. Rape/Sexual Assault
  2. Domestic Violence
  3. Stalking
  4. Sexual Harassment
  5. Pornography
  6. Prostitution (in all its forms)
  7. Trafficking
  8. Sexual slavery
  9. Forced ‘marriages’ and pregnancies

10.Female Genital Mutilation and


Commonalities between Militarism and Violence Against Women:

  1. Power (over)
  2. Might makes right
  3. Control and domination
  4. Entitlement
  5. Defining women as an “other?

Power (over) (/Take Control or Take Charge mentality)—

(Patricia Evans, Verbal Abuse)”Power Over is one model of how the world is believed to work. Someone who believes in Power Over expects to get what he or she wants through the use of Power Over another. Our Western civilization was founded on Power Over. Now as a civilization, we have tremendous Power Over the earth and its peoples and resources. We have the power to wipe out our world.”

Women as an “other?:

Creating an “other? is another defining aspect of militarism – 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.

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

Some Specifics:

Men’s VAW always increases during military actions.

Civilian “casualties? now make up as much as 80% of the total casualties of any military action. Since women and children (cared for by women) are the majority of these civilian populations, they now make up the majority of military casualties.

The scope of the problem:

The use of “Comfort women? (officially designated by the Japanese Army during WW II) unofficially sanctioned in every military. During WWII, the Japanese “recruited” at least 400,000 women from Asian countries to be “comfort women” for the Japanese army. 200,000 were from China. According to a U.N. report, more than 1/2 died as a direct result of the treatment they received. At any one time there were 20,000 comfort women. Each was raped at least 5 times per day. That adds up to 100,000 rapes per day carried out by Japanese soldiers with the blessing of their government.


  1. In Rwanda as many as 250,000 women were raped in the 1994 genocide.
  2. In Bosnia, some 20,000 women were raped on both sides of the conflict.
  3. Democratic Republic of Congo.
  4. Darfur region of Sudan.

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

It is important to remember ending ‘war’ does not end the VAW that it has engendered:

  1. Continued men’s VAW during clean-up phase (Human trafficking/prostitution in Bosnia to ‘service’ UN Peacekeepers).
  2. Vulnerability and victimization of women who are still in transition (refugee or returning) by soldiers including “peace-keeping? forces.
  3. Violence committed by male soldiers once they return home after serving (domestic violence, sexual assault, men’s use of prostituted women, etc.)
  4. During the conflict and post-conflict periods, judicial systems tend to be in disarray and perpetrators are rarely held accountable. Women who are refugees are particularly vulnerable. And men coming home from battle are at heightened risk of becoming perpetrators of sexual violence.

In patriarchy, women are frequently objectified and seen as objects that can be owned. It therefore becomes fair game to attack or take another man’s possessions, in other words, women are considered the spoils of war, or invisibilized under the catchall ‘collateral damage’. Particularly in modern warfare, women’s bodies frequently become the battle ground over which opposing forces struggle.


Impact of U.S. Militarism on Women in Iraq and Afghanistan and the U.S.

The Bush Administration touted women’s rights as a reason to invade both Afghanistan and Iraq. In the aftermath of these invasions, how have women fared in these countries?


  1. Some gains in education and employment, but primarily only in Kabul. Literacy rates for women are still less than 20%.
  2. Many women still forced or intimidated into wearing burquas.
  3. Girls schools being firebombed.
  4. More than 50% of marriages take place before girls reach age 16.
  5. Inadequate food, shelter, healthcare are ongoing problems with very little money being spent on this in the aftermath of the war.
  6. While Afghan women’s rights are guaranteed by the new constitution, there is a provision that states that laws can’t be contrary to the beliefs and tenets of Islam and an Afghan legislator recently advocated forbidding women to travel without male chaperones.
  7. According to Human Rights Watch, kidnapping, robbery and rape by the army and police is so prevalent that women stay home as a means of protection.
  8. In rural areas, forced marriages, sexual slavery and prostitution are very common.
  9. Suicides among women (especially by self-immolation) are on the rise.

10.Women are being imprisoned for being raped (for their own protection).

11.Honor killings are on the rise.

How has the U.S. helped Afghan Women?

Congress approved $2.516 billion in assistance to Afghanistan from 2002-2004. $72.5 million (2.88%) of that was earmarked for women.



  1. Kidnappings, Honor Killings and Rape are up sharply since the U.S. invasion.
  2. Women face arrest because of who they know or are related to (violation of Geneva Convention).
  3. Lack of security and availability of weapons has contributed to an increase in domestic violence (which is rarely prosecuted).
  4. Lack of official recordkeeping makes it impossible to quantify the problem.
  5. MADRE and OWFI are working to set up an ‘underground railroad’ to help women at risk of personal violence to escape from Iraq.

Abu Ghraib:

Women as Perpetrators:

  1. Blame it on feminism.
  2. If women weren’t in the military…
  3. The vilification of Lynndie England
  4. Sensationalized violence—seen differently than when men commit abuse, ie. Susan Smith and Lorena Bobbit.

Women as Victims:

  1. Photos of abuse of women dismissed as porn. Sexual abuse of men was front page news.
  2. As many as 1000 Iraqi women may have been imprisoned by the U.S.
  3. Numerous reports of women being raped and sexually degraded in prison.
  4. Imprisonment seen in Iraqi culture as dishonor to the family, hence putting women at risk of honor killings.

Women in the U.S. Military:

  1. 200,000 in the U.S. military
    1. 15% of total
    2. 17% of enlisted, 4% of top officers
  2. 1700 sexual assaults reported in 2004.
    1. Only 342 cases led to punitive action in the military court system.
    2. Victims often sent back to work in same units as their attackers.
    3. Confidentiality problems.
    4. Lack of rape kits in field.

Military Families:

  1. 18,000 reported incidents of spousal abuse in the military in 2001.
  2. Birth defects.
  3. Economic/emotional hardships.

Impact of Militarism on Civilian Women:

Cuts in domestic spending/VAWA funds


From Connections to Solutions

  1. Militarism exacerbates men’s violence against women, but is not the root cause. Men’s Violence against women comes from sexism and male privilege.
  2. Working to end men’s VAW in the military begins by working to end sexism, male privilege and male violence in all parts of society.
  3. We need to recognize and address the patriarchal context in which this violence takes place.
  4. Just because we are talking about the connections between Militarism and VAW, is not to suggest that women are safe from men’s violence during “peace time.? While militarism exacerbates many kinds of VAW, there is no such thing as “peace time? for women. Men’s sexist violence is so pervasive that women are threatened by men’s sexist violence every day of their lives.

Specific Calls to Action:

  1. UNSC Resolution 1325
  2. International Criminal Court
  3. CEDAW
  4. The role of grassroots activism
  5. Speaking out against men’s sexism and violence
  6. Making sexist violence a part of the peace agenda.
  7. Recognizing that working to end men’s violence against women in the military begins by working to end men’s violence everywhere.

UNSC Resolution 1325 (2000):

  1. Increase representation of women in decision-making for the prevention, management and resolution of conflict and peace processes;
  2. Increase appointment of women as special representatives and envoys;
  3. Support local women’s peace initiatives; and ensure protection and respect for the human rights of women and girls;
  4. 4. Ensure respect for international law applicable to the rights and protection of women and girls;
  5. Adopt special measures to protect women and girls from gender-based violence;
  6. Ensure that Security Council missions take gender considerations and rights of women into account, including through consultation with local and international women’s groups.

The United States has not ratified this Resolution. However, Iraq and Afghanistan have and therefore it has a bearing on the actions of the U.S. in those countries.

International Criminal Court (1998):

  1. Sexual violence classified as a war crime.
  2. ICC provides a means by which perpetrators can be held accountable for their war crimes.
  3. U.S. opposes the ICC and does not participate.

The statutes of the International Criminal Court criminalize sexual and gender violence as war crimes and crimes against humanity. Specifically it says that,

rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy, enforced sterilization and other forms of sexual violence of comparable gravity? are to be considered 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.

CEDAW (1979):

  1. Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women
  2. Defines violence against women as a violation of women’s human rights
  3. The U.S. has not ratified (the only industrialized nation to not do so).

CEDAW was adopted in 1979 by the UN General Assembly and is often described as an international bill of rights for women. It defines what constitutes discrimination against women and sets up an agenda for national action to end such discrimination.

The Convention defines discrimination against women as “…any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field.”

Making Sexist Violence a Part of the Peace Agenda:

  1. The Peace Movement, so far, ignores issues of sexist violence (domestic violence, sexual assault, pornography and prostitution).
  2. Creating peace in the world includes creating peace in our homes.
  3. Sexual violence is a tool of war. When men go to war, women and children are overwhelmingly the victims. The peace movement needs to own up to this and make it a front and center issue.

Partnership Thinking (read Riane Eisler):

  1. A fundamental paradigm shift is to move to partnership thinking. Rather than seeing “others? as adversaries, how can we partner to create solutions and make meaningful and just relationships.
  2. Creating systems and relationships where we gain power from within and among rather than power over.



Barstow, Anne Llewellyn (2000). War’s Dirty Secret: Rape Prostitution and Other Crimes Against Women. The Pilgrim Press. Cleveland, OH.

Brienes, Ingeborg, Connell, Robert, & Eide, Indrid (Eds.) (2000). Male Roles. Masculinities and Violence: A Culture of Peace Perspective. UNESCO Publishing. Paris, France.

Building a Women’s Peace Agenda. (2001). Hague Appeal for Peace. New York, NY.

Eisler, Riane. (1987 ) The Chalice and the Blade: Our History, Our Future. HarperCollins Publishing. New York, NY.

Eisler, Riane (2002) The Power of Partnership: Seven Relationships that Will Change Your Life. New World Library. Novato, CA

Enloe, Cynthia (1998). Banana, Beaches and Bases: Making Feminist Sense of International Politics. University of California Press. Berkeley, CA.

Enloe, Cynthia. (2000). Maneuvers: The International Politics of Militarizing Women’s Lives.: University of California Press. Berkeley, CA.

Evans, Patricia (1992) The Verbally Abusive Relationship: How to recognize it and how to respond. Adams Media Corporation. Avon, MA

Funk, Rus Ervin (1993). Stopping Rape: A Challenge for Men. New Society Publishers. Philadelphia, PA.

Gioseffi, Daniela (ed) (2003) Women On War: An International Anthology of Writings From Antiquity To The Present.. The Feminist Press at the City University of New York. New York, NY.

Herman, Judith. (2000) Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence – From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror. Basic Books. New York, NY.

Jacobs, Susie, Jacobson, Ruth, & Marchbank, Jennifer (2000). States of Conflict: Gender Violence and Resistance. Zed Books. London, England.

Meintjes, Sheila, Pillay, Anu, and Turshen, Meredeth (Eds.) (2002). The Aftermath Women in Post-conflict Transformation. Zed Books. London, England.

Morgan, Robin. Demon Lover (2001) Washington Square Press Published by Pocket Books. New York, NY.

Rehn, Elisabeth & Sirleaf, Ellen Johnson (2002) Women, War and Peace: The Independent Experts’ Assessment on the Impact of Armed Conflict on Women and Women’s Role in Peace-building. United Nations Development Fund for Women. New York, NY. (

Sajor, Indai Lourdes (Ed.) (1998). Common Grounds: Violence Against Women in War and Armed Conflict Situations. Asian Center for Women’s Human Rights. Quezon City, Philippines.

Waller, Marguerite, R. and Rycenga, Jennifer (Eds. (2001). Frontline Feminisms: Women, War and Resistance. Routledge Press. New York, NY.

Articles on the Web:

Please visit for a current index.

Web Sites/Organizations:

Iraqi Women’s Rights Coalition (Iraqi women’s organization advocating for the women in Iraq)

Madre (international organization advocating “women’s rights as human rights)

Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan :

Global Women’s Strike (International women’s peace organization)

Feminist Peace Network

Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (Founded in 1917, one of the oldest peace organizations in the world)

Peace Women

Women’s Edge

The Miles Foundation (dedicated to working on behalf of and advocating about violence against women in the military)

Office on Violence Against Women. (resources specifically for men)

Amnesty International’s Fact Sheet on Women’s Human Rights

Human Rights Watch’s Women’s Rights page

UNIFEM’s Portal on Women, Peace and Security

 Posted by on November 26, 2006