Women’s Conscientious Objection as a Strategy Against Militarism — Concluding Remarks From The Editors


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By Ellen Elster and Majken Jul Sørensen, War Resisters' International

In this concluding chapter we will discuss the different themes that the texts in this book have brought up. In the introduction we suggested that conscientious objection can exist both in a broad and a narrow understanding of it, and here we will explore this further. We see that most women who choose to declare themselves conscientious objectors are working in the mixed conscientious objection movement. There could be at least two reasons for this. One is to make women’s perspectives on militarism more visible within the male-dominated organisation. The other reason is to make conscientious objection a strategy against militarism. This strategy will often be consistent with the strategy in women-only organisations [1]. Within both types of organisation, women stress the contradiction between feminism and militarism. Part of this is the debate on conscription for women, a debate which arises from time to time where women’s emancipation is a central question. Then, we take a look at the future. What strikes us is women breaking away from the traditional nurturing role within the mixed conscientious objection movement to a clear and radical feminist critique of militarism. This might pave the way for men conscientious objectors to include a gender perspective into their critique of militarism, a perspective which is often not part of men’s antimilitarism.

Broad and Narrow Understandings of Conscientious Objection

In the introduction we briefly indicated a difference between “narrow” and “broad” conscientious objection. A narrow understanding of conscientious objection is the refusal to participate in compulsory military training or service. A broad understanding of conscientious objection goes way beyond this. In this case, both men and women object to militarism and its influence on society and all aspects of the military system, refusing to participate in any kind of activity which can be associated with the military system. In some places people who are conscientious objectors in the narrow sense are required to do “civilian” or unarmed alternative service instead. People who refuse alternative service are called “total objectors”. As we have seen from the stories told here, the broad understanding of conscientious objection is not a recent phenomenon. The articles from Sweden and Britain are examples of this. It is the broad definition of conscientious objection that the War Resisters’ International has been promoting for many years. The question is where the line should be drawn. Are all types of peace work part of being a conscientious objector? We don’t think so, because then conscientious objection becomes too broad and loose to have meaning.

What we can see from the texts in this book is that women who declare themselves conscientious objectors in our broad understanding of the term do two things simultaneously. First, they take a personal stand. As an individual, they say, “I’m a conscientious objector”. At the same time, they object to militarism and the militarisation of society, not just to a certain kind of service which affects them personally. It is an interesting paradox, that feminists who stress the importance of collective responsibility for the world choose such an individual act as their method. Conscientious objection is something that originated in “western” thinking and is linked to the same set of ideas as human rights, which also emphasise the importance of the individual. Of course, the women build a bridge between the individual and the group when they encourage other women (and men) to take a similar stand, thereby making the individual refusal a condition for collective resistance to militarism. One of the challenges we see from the texts is how to distinguish women’s conscientious objection activities from other female activities in the peace movement.

A natural consequence of making a personal stand against all aspects of militarism is to become involved in other types of peace work which challenge militarism. Naturally enough, the women who tell their stories here do not make a clear distinction between their “conscientious objection” and their “other peace work”, because one is closely linked to the other.

Broad and narrow understandings of refusal seem to exist side by side. That the understanding did not start narrow and then turn broader over the years we see from the fact that the Swedish women were taking a much more radical stand earlier than the others. We think this broad understanding of the term “conscientious objection” is present in many of the stories, either implicitly or explicitly. It is clear for Barbro Alving in the Swedish case, and for the British absolutists during World War II. They used the term absolutists when they also refused to do alternative work, which included not only conscription to the military and work in the military-industrial sector, but also alternative civil work. The reason was that this would release men for active military service. The same situation applied for women in the US, though they were not conscripted. In support of men’s conscientious objection and helping them in practical ways, the women regarded this as a positive act against militarism. The stories we hear from World War II, both from Britain and the United States, are usually from women who already had a strong pacifist and antimilitarist conviction, and who had participated in antimilitarist work even before the war. Now, in many countries which are involved in wars but don’t have conscription, we find a growing number of women who develop an antimilitarist attitude while serving in the military. So there is no reason to think that these women did not exist during WWII. They have just not had an opportunity to tell their story.

Israel and Eritrea are today the two countries with military service for women. When women refuse service, they become conscientious objectors in the narrow sense. The same thing can be said for women in the USA who have joined the army “voluntarily”. Leaving the army, before their period of service has ended, for reason of conscience is extremely difficult, but they have the opportunity to apply for conscientious objector status and be a conscientious objector in the narrow sense.

This is the legal way of doing it, but as we have seen Stephanie Atkinson chose to go AWOL, and she was later sentenced for that. Stephanie Atkinson’s piece is an excellent illustration of how to differentiate between a broad and narrow understanding of conscientious objection and how complicated this is. This is because she uses the term conscientious objection the way the US army does, and the US army only gives this status to a very limited number of the people who want to leave the military for reasons of conscience. However, both Stephanie Atkinson and Diedra Cobb are examples of what we call conscientious objectors in the broad sense.

In many European countries both with and without conscription, women can join the military “voluntarily”, which also means that there is a potential for women conscientious objectors in the narrow sense in Europe. From Finland we know of a few cases. In this country, women can join voluntarily, but after a 45-day trial period it becomes obligatory to finish the service. A few women in Finland have applied for conscientious objector status after the 45 days and done the rest of their service as a civilian substitute service following the same laws as male conscripts. But in 2009, a woman who wishes to remain anonymous became a total objector when she refused both to complete her military service and the substitute service because she considered the “civilian” service a continuation of the military system. She will probably be sentenced to two weeks in prison [2].

But even women who are conscientious objectors in the narrow sense can be defined as objectors in the broad sense, when they object to militarism as a whole, and not just to their own service. Idan Halili of Israel is a clear example of this kind of objector. Our understanding is that women who are conscientious objectors in the broad sense would have become total objectors had they had to do an “alternative service”.

A Feminist Confrontation with Militarism

Many of the writings in this book argue for a broad understanding of conscientious objection because they see militarism as a contrast to feminist values and a contradiction to women’s interests in society. Not everyone uses the word “feminist” or “feminism”, but they clearly use their identity as women for their arguments against militarism — Barbro Alving is such a case. In Israel we see a development of the reasons for being a conscientious objector from religion, conscience, then politics and now including a feminist stand, like Shani Werner and Idan Halili.

Idan Halili was the first woman in Israel openly refusing on feminist grounds, which led to a prison-sentence. Her argument was that the feminist approach clashes with violent ways of solving problems. The military system harms women both within the army and in society at large. She claims that enlistment means agreeing to be part of a system that is based on relations of power and control. It systematically perpetuates the exclusion of women from the public sphere and constructs their place in society as secondary to men. She doesn’t want to serve “just like a man”, since she is not looking for a kind of equality which reinforces the privileges enjoyed by men. Idan Halili does not want to participate in an organisation which is fundamentally and by definition not equal, and which is in sharp contrast to her ideological principles and conscience. As a feminist, Idan Halili declares that it is her obligation to build civil alternatives to the army through which she and other feminists can make their contribution to society, which includes striving to reduce the influence of the army.

Although Idan Halili and the other Israeli women are in a special situation since they in fact are conscripted, we still think that she speaks for many of the other women in this book. Even if their background and situation vary greatly, they all link the culture of the military with the current hierarchical power structure and patriarchy. They take a broad stand against militarism, pointing at the damage it does to women and society as a whole. It is reflected in the statement from 1980 where women declared themselves as total resisters, stating that emancipation had nothing to do with militarism. The French women in 1991 point at the army’s male domination, which reproduces the patriarchal model in society. In Turkey, Ferda Ülker describes the traditional view of women in relation to the military only as mothers, sisters, wives, and girlfriends of the boys who will become soldiers. Hilal Demir adds that there’s a risk of becoming “masculinised”, with the effect that the feminist perspective is overlooked in the mixed conscientious objection movement. This has to be seen in the context of Turkish society which is highly militarised, and where women are clearly marginalised. This is also the case in Korea.

Moving to Latin America, the Paraguayan and Colombian women describe their societies and their reasons for declaring themselves as conscientious objectors in the same way, seeing the armed forces as promoting the violent culture of their society, by preserving militarism, patriarchy, machismo, submission and outright war. The military also uphold the structures of injustice, human rights abuse and exploitation of resources that result in poverty for the majority of people. Women within the conscientious objection movement in Colombia propose alternatives to war from a broad perspective, understanding the complexity of Colombian reality. Andrea Ochoa argues that women are the ones who have most power to call people to take part in public actions.

Since a feminist critique of militarism is also a confrontation with patriarchy and its consequences, it is logical that feminist refusers also raise the question of “heroism”. Often members of the conscientious objection movement consider men or women who have to go to prison for refusing military service as heroes. Idan Halili finds this problematic, seeing it as a continuation of a militaristic pattern which makes heroes of men who make sacrifices — in this case, conscientious objectors who sacrifice their personal freedom for a principle. She refuses to be considered a hero for her refusal. After serving one prison term, she realises that she is not giving up her principles by accepting a discharge on the military’s terms and not her own, for she is following her own feminist principles by refusing to become a hero. Ferda Ülker also reflects on the tendency to compare the risks of female and male conscientious objectors. Men who have to serve prison terms easily become heroes of the movement. She thinks that by making these comparisons and participating in this “hero game”, women serve the cause of militarism. Hilal Demir says that refusal of military service by men, and their subsequent “heroism”, may accelerate the movement to some degree; but succeeding strategies should aim to avoid this “heroism”, which is both a male and a militarist concept that we should criticise.

A related problem is raised by Diedra Cobb. Although she did not spend time in prison, she had the feeling that the activist groups who assisted her during the process of getting out of the military were not interested in her as a human being, but as a case which could be used to promote their groups' interests. Diedra Cobb does not discuss this in the context of feminism, but we think it is another example of how the military’s dehumanisation is also affecting the peace movement. The women’s stories about conscientious objection add a wider perspective to the concept of conscientious objection, whether it is seen in connection with refusing military service, or women declaring themselves as conscientious objectors outside the legal framework. But all the women give a feminist dimension to the concept. They all point at the military as an institution which is oppressive in its structure and values, and how these are imposed on the society at large, and how masculinity is a very integrated part of it. As a natural consequence of this, almost all of the women are also supporters of men’s conscientious objectors, as we have seen clearly in the examples from Turkey and Korea. An intriguing exception from this is the case from Germany, were many of the people who objected to women’s involvement in the military in the 1970s and 1980s did not question conscription for men, and therefore did not question the military system as a whole.

Why Become a Conscientious Objector when There is no Conscription?

The question of why women declare themselves conscientious objectors when they are not subject to conscription is central to this book. We think that the answer lies both within the women’s own organisations, and their effort to confront militarism, as well as from their understanding of the wider society they are part of. How they react to things happening in their own organisations is influenced by what happens in the wider society, and vice versa.

The evidence indicates that it is women in mixed peace groups who primarily declare themselves conscientious objectors, not women who are active in women-only organisations. There are several women’s peace organisations and groups with a clear feminist stand, such as Women in Black, Ruta Pacifica (Colombia), and Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. These groups choose other ways than conscientious objection to express their resistance to militarism and they do not have a logical place this book.

The women in mixed groups have had a need to find their own place as women in these organisations, based on their understanding of militarism and their experiences as women, especially from the 1970s onwards. A declaration as a conscientious objector became one of the answers to this. With the women’s liberation movement in the 1970s and 1980s the discussion about being women in the mixed and male-dominated peace movement started. Many peace organisations were mostly based on men’s conscientious objection and total resistance, and the WRI was certainly part of this debate. Women refused “to be coffee makers” and to “keep the homefires burning” while the men were serving prison sentences for conscientious objection. Women wanted to be part of the peace movement in their own right. From this basis women in WRI declared themselves as total resisters in 1980. The women were active at international WRI meetings, insisting that women’s work and women’s resistance to war were not only about helping the conscientious objectors. Many women have experienced invisibility because they are women among a majority of men. Their need for a space of their own and for raising issues from women’s perspectives have, in many cases, not been respected. As we have seen above, a feminist analysis shows that war and militarism affects women in a variety of ways, and often it is different from men’s experiences. Conscientious objection may be a concept which mainly affect men, in a legal sense, but it has effects on non-conscripted women as well, because of the way patriarchy is sustaining militarism.

In countries where women are conscripted, they meet many of the same challenges within their movement as women who don’t face conscription. Shani Werner, from Israel, points out that, in her experience, men conscientious objectors are imprisoned while women get exempted from service. This was a way of militarising draft resistance, she felt. Women’s conscientious objection remains then personal, or silenced, or — as she calls it — a “coffee serving resistance”. In Turkey, men try to explain women’s presence in the conscientious objector movement only by their relationship to and support of a male conscientious objector.

Women conscientious objectors reject this view as typically male. Although they do support men’s refusal of compulsory service, they primarily try to make militarism visible and show how it penetrates all sectors of social life and social relations. One argument against women declaring themselves conscientious objectors is that, by doing this, the women implicitly accept the logic of conscription and the military system. Is it possible to reject the system by adopting its way of viewing the world? Why don’t the women call themselves war resisters or antimilitarists rather than conscientious objectors? This can easily be done by a letter writing campaign or public declarations. Why is it attractive to adopt a term that is integrated into the military system? Stephanie Atkinson is implicitly supporting this when she says that she prefers to identify herself as a proud deserter rather than as a conscientious objector. Hilal Demir says that many think that the term “objection” is invented for legal situations created by compulsory military service. It follows from this reasoning that, if women don’t have to do military service, they cannot object to it. But she distinguishes between a legal framework and the broader understanding of conscientious objection discussed previously. As Hilal Demir says, women can change the meaning of terms by developing them. The question is whether the conscientious objection platform is the right place. She thinks that conscientious objection declarations by 12 women led to both greater gender sensitivity within the movement and challenged the discussions on this concept. There is a need for not only making women visible in the mixed conscientious objector movement, but also for consciousness raising both among the women themselves, and the men. Hilal Demir thinks that everyone needs to understand that women will have their own reasons for joining the movement, and that both women’s and men’s perspectives need to be considered.

Unlike Turkey, there is no opposition to women objectors in Paraguay, according to Maria Elena Meza Barboza. At some point in the movement’s history, there were more women than men, which gave the movement legitimacy. Women have the same say, and decision-making is by consensus. The adverse reactions to women’s conscientious objection come from the outside, and most critics do not recognise how militarism affects women in serious ways.

As we have seen, reactions within the organisations and movements where women participate vary a great deal. But internal dynamics are only one explanation of why women decide to become conscientious objectors. It is primarily a strategy of action directed towards the wider society. This raises the question of whether conscientious objection is a good strategy for women’s confrontation with militarism. Is this an effective method of reaching out to other people to explain what antimilitarism is all about? Or do the resisters run the risk that the lack of comprehension will remain? Are the opportunities for communication lost because the women distance themselves from the mainstream peace movement? The contributors to this anthology have obviously found stronger arguments in favour of declarations than against. The Turkish women have argued that the questions that women’s conscientious objection raise have been a good opportunity to enter into dialogue about antimilitarism. At least people are asking questions, though finding the reasons difficult to understand. Korean women also say that people outside the conscientious objector movement don’t understand why women engage in military issues. The Korean women are not declaring themselves as conscientious objectors, but have chosen a strategy together with the men in the movement to show the suffering, not only of the conscientious objector, but also of the network around him, including the women. This is a way to break the silence of women’s voices on this matter, says Jung-min Choi.

The Norwegian sociologist Thomas Mathiesen [3] has written about how movements that work for social change can be successful. One of his findings is that organisations that are good at making their voices heard and understood balance on the thin edge between being drawn into the mainstream — thereby losing their radical stand — and being considered an outcast that no-one needs to take seriously. In this way of thinking, what will work regarding women’s conscientious objection in places where they are not conscripted will depend a great deal on the circumstances, and on the women’s ability to communicate with the rest of society.

One thing which becomes obvious when looking at this collection of stories is how important it is to understand women’s conscientious objection as a reaction to what is happening around these contributors. Objection does not happen in a vacuum: it is always a reaction to outside circumstances, and what constitutes the context. As already discussed, women are reacting to militarism, and they are often also responding to the internal dynamics of their own organisations. But when that is said, there are also other contexts which need to be taken into consideration. One context is the broader peace movement in that particular country. As we understand it, the objectors are not only objecting to militarism, but many times also to the usual way of understanding and “doing” peace work, which they don’t consider personal and radical enough. A second context that the conscientious objectors have to place themselves in is the feminist movement, and how people who call themselves feminists perceive militarism. That views on the military differ is clear from the case of fighter pilot-to-be Alice Miller in Israel. The third context is the “ordinary” society, and the understanding of militarism in that society. Some women live in countries where militarism is very visible and penetrating much of everyday society, whereas other women live where militarism is much less obvious. Judgments about the effectiveness of women’s conscientious objection have to include evaluations of how they are accepted in all three contexts, as well as their effect on their own organisations.

Why is Conscription for Women Incompatible with Radical Feminism?

Military values are contradictory to feminism and the values women contributors hope to see in society. Both the stories from the US and Eritrea show how military life affects women who get involved in the army. These women tell of sexual abuse in an environment that has no respect for diversity and human life. But also, women who have never been enrolled in the military articulate arguments of why the military is not compatible with radical feminism. Their stories on why they chose to declare themselves as conscientious objectors can also be regarded as arguments against conscription of women. The Israeli contributions raise this question when they mention Alice Miller, who was one of the first to demand the same rights for women as men in the military when she wanted to become a fighter pilot. It was argued that access to the most important combat roles, often a precondition for other high-ranking positions in the military, would give women access to other influential positions in society, which again would reduce oppression of women. This question was also central in Europe in the late 1970s and during the 1980s, in fact until the so-called cold war ended. Another Alice, Alice Schwarzer from West Germany, became a symbol of the debate in Europe at the time, when she launched the idea that conscription of women was necessary in order for women to get into the highest places of power, which were completely male-dominated. Alice Schwarzer was the editor of the feminist magazine Emma, highly respected for its radicalism, and a voice for women’s emancipation. Therefore her declaration came as a surprise for women in the antimilitarist movement.

The WRI women’s statement from 1980 took a clear stand against the incorporation of women into the military, rejecting the emancipation of women through adopting men’s roles. They had seen, through history, how women had been drawn into the military and then out again, according to the needs of the military. An example of this was World War II where British women were encouraged to take the men’s jobs and were even conscripted to the army, only to be sent back to the kitchen once the war was over. In an article in Spare Rib [4] in 1981 called “Equality in the Army — No Way!”, Lesley Merryfinch writes that women took men’s place in the munitions factories and other significant industries. Even child-minding was official war-work. Women who participated in liberation armies, for example the Eritrean liberation army, had similar experiences. The stories of Ruta Yosef-Tudla and Bisrat Habte Micael discredit arguments that military service endows a high degree of liberation for women, although women became involved in this army in the name of gender equality. Lesley Merryfinch also mentions Germany, where women were conscripted to do health-work in the military at the end of the 1970s. This inspired many actions by radical feminists protesting through demonstrations and a postcard campaign, as described in the contribution from Germany.

Other voices within the feminist movement, both today and in the past, point to sexual harassment as the norm in the military. In the US, women have openly reported sexual harassment and rape by their male colleagues [5]. Introducing the US section, Joanne Sheehan noted that, while many women have had traumatic experiences of sexual assault, only very few want to talk about this — it is just too painful. Diedra Cobb writes of experiencing sexual assault, without taking the issue further. As Idan Halili argues, if women are to succeed militarily, they will have to adjust to the norm of the combat soldier, “the fighting man”, and they are expected to conform to an image which is powerfully identified with stereotypical masculinity.

The debate about conscription for women today continues in some countries, and the positions for and against conscription have not changed much. Tali Lerner writes about the debate in Israel.

A comparable debate has been a burning issue in Norway during the past five to ten years. Men are still conscripted in Norway, although the number of professional soldiers is increasing in order to serve as part of NATO and European forces in other parts of the world. At the same time, there is a serious debate about introducing conscription for women — not because of lack of personnel (in fact only one in four of male potential conscripts serve), but in the name of gender equality. A generation gap seems to influence views on this issue. Young socialist women are pushing the argument that conscription of women is important in the name of equality. At the same time, they also declare themselves antimilitarists, and say no to NATO. They also object to the current Norwegian participation in the war in Afghanistan. Their arguments are the same as Alice Schwarzer’s thirty years ago and Alice Miller’s today, though there are certain nuances, as Alice Schwarzer would declare herself a conscientious objector (in the narrow sense), while Alice Miller would not. The older generation of antimilitarists in Norway reject the possibility of changing the military from within. On the contrary, they think that the idea of women “making it softer” is a contradiction. To accept conscription for men and women alike means an acceptance of the military as an institution, and militarism in general. Having more women in the military will more likely increase militarism throughout society. However, there is an openness to conscription for men and women within the broader concept of defence, which would allow for alternative peace service and training for nonviolent defence [6].

In Norway, UN Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security is used to legitimise the need to recruit women into active military service, and it is argued further that men and women complement each other. The argument for recruiting women is that they are best fitted to meet traumatised women in war zones. This argument was also used by the former Minister of Defence, Anne-Grete Strøm-Erichsen [7].

A Norwegian researcher on culture and language, Berit von der Lippe [8], analysed the debate by looking at the concepts used to legitimise women’s participation in the military, especially abroad. She looks at words used like “human security”, “moral obligations”, “contributing to peace and conflict resolutions”. She writes that the Ministry of Defence is legitimising the introduction of conscription of women in the name of democracy and human rights. This picture disguises what is actually happening, she argues, as war and occupation are within the totally different sphere of power-politics led by men. She thinks that conscripting women to serve in the military equalises them as aggressors who maintain a post-colonial attitude that has no perspective of the situation of women outside the West.

We expect this debate to be taken up in many other countries. Although it is linked to the debate about conscription in Norway, the arguments will be the same regarding the importance of having women in a professional army. To us, it also means that women’s objection to militarism will be as important as ever. We also see that the language used by the Western military disguises its real meaning by talking about the good intentions of humanitarian wars, peacekeeping armies, wars for democracy, and being against terrorism. It may be that the open aggressiveness and masculinity in the military is more visible in countries other than Norway. Cynthia Cockburn [9] writes that human wars are about violence, and violence breeds violence.

The Future of Women’s Conscientious Objection

We find that the contributors make strong arguments as to why they declare themselves conscientious objectors. One reason why we find this kind of activism encouraging is their very clear antimilitarist stand. By adopting a term that most people define in a very narrow sense, twisting it, expanding it, and giving it a much broader definition, the women manage to explain the problem of militarism very clearly, and link it closely to patriarchy, hierarchy and violence. In our understanding, the contributors take the concept back to peace activism where it belongs. Cynthia Enloe in her preface points at how women are openly investigating patriarchy’s daily operations within national and international conscientious objection movements. These movements have helped to persuade many men considering conscientious objection to seriously confront their own behaviour in particular forms of patriarchal masculinity.

Conscientious objection implies much more than refusal to do military service. It can include objection for reasons of conscience to war and war preparation as well. The fact that conscientious objection is today used as a legal concept by the military in some countries is owed not to the good will of the military but to the strong demands by conscientious objectors and their supporters for a means to be heard and defended. Declaring oneself a conscientious objector is at the same time a very personal stand, and a principled stand against militarism as a root cause of many of the world’s problems.

Most of the examples of women declaring themselves conscientious objectors seem to happen in highly militarised societies. Does this reflect the fact that it is “easier” to take a stand against militarism when it is visible, than when its effects are more subtle? Or is it just a coincidence? We don’t know, but we suspect this might be the case. We also hope that by publishing this book we have helped make these women visible, so that their actions can serve as an inspiration to women against militarism in societies where militarism is less visible. However, we don’t suggest just copying statements in this book. We do suggest that women reflect on the best way to counter the militarism of the state in their own countries. In many places without conscription, it will probably make good sense to consider this in mixed movements. In places that have recently abolished conscription for men, like many European states, it might be possible to build on structures and experiences from earlier conscientious objection movements. Or it might be necessary to build new networks. For a feminist critic of militarism, it might even work better to take feminist organisations as a point of departure. However, since the militarisation of our societies is damaging to both men and women, it might be well to include men in the refusal as well. Issue Number One will be to identify how militarism, and its “cousins” patriarchy and sexism, affect each woman’s personal relationships as well as her relationship to the larger society. Issue Number Two will be to find like-minded people to work with and agree the best strategy for countering militarism where they live. Perhaps the first action should be to highlight the connections between militarism, patriarchy and sexism.

Women who call themselves conscientious objectors will probably remain a minority within the peace and feminist movements for a long time. It remains to be seen if the minority will grow. It might be useful for women conscientious objectors to see whether it is possible to identify a common platform that all can agree to and work from, in spite of all the different faces of militarism they are facing. This way, we think that a handful of women here and there will feel less isolated, and together they can contribute to a common analysis of militarism which is not restricted to militarism in one state, but the militarisation of the world. WRI, with its history of radical resistance to militarism and support for conscientious objectors, has the possibility of playing an important part in developing this analysis and support network.

The contributions presented here describe women’s experiences as conscientious objectors within each woman’s context. The stories are from different parts of the world, written independently from each other, though they show the same sort of development and are very similar in concept. But we find it striking that none of them refers to each other. As Cynthia Enloe points out, when women act as a collective, they often unearth new curiosities, new investigations, new awareness and new consciousness. So we conclude with the hope that this anthology can inspire women to embrace a new collective conscience against militarism and war.


[1] Cynthia Cockburn: “From where we stand. War, Women’s Activism & Feminist Analysis.” Zed Books 2007.

[2] Helsinki Times 9 December 2009 and CO-update January 2010, No. 53

[3] Mathiesen, Thomas “Makt og motmakt”, [Power and counter-power], Pax forlag, Oslo 1982

[4] Spare Rib, March 1981.

[5] Cynthia Enloe: “Does Khaki become you? The Militarisation of Women’s Lives.” London, Pluto Press 1983; Cockburn op.cit.; Helen Benedict, Army Cpt. Jennifer Machmer: “Why Soldiers Rape. Culture of misogyny, illegal occupation, fuel sexual violence in military.” http://www.inthesetimes.com/article/3848/ Downloaded 14 August 2008.

[6] Letter from Norwegian Section of WILPF to the Norwegian Minister of Defence, Anne-Grete Strøm-Erichsen, 28 May 2009.

[7] She was the Minister of Defence in the period 2005-2009.

[8] Klassekampen, 10 April 2007,

[9] Cynthia Cockburn: “From where we stand. War, Women’s Activism & Feminist Analysis.” Zed Books 2007.

Published in: Women and Conscientious Objection - An Anthology


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