Women and antimilitarism
The different ways in which war is constructed and unfolds in terms of gender is perhaps one of the settings where the difference between the masculine and the feminine is most marked. In the context of war, gender roles are accentuated as a function of violence, because armed conflicts generally imply a hierarchical asymmetry of roles in which male privileges are strengthened by denying everything that represents the female universe. War sees female bodies as a battlefield, or feminizes the identities of those who are considered “others” within the logic of armed violence (such as people who are elderly, children, people with disabilities and the LGBTI community). The feminine, therefore, whose status is not exclusively reduced to the body of women, has different implications and it is used in different ways, generally, in the dynamics of oppression, but also in the ones of dispute and resistance.
Women are the ones who survive conflicts, carry the memory of violence, and are therefore the object of constant re-victimization. The effects of war on the subordinate bodies of women unfold in a wide range of ways. These effects, coupled with wider forms of structural violence1, and for the simple fact of being women, take the form of sexual violence, torture, displacement, mutilation, among others. On the other side of the coin, male bodies - made of the hyper-masculinity that war requires - enjoy a privileged condition of dominance, in a twisted attempt to legitimize the armed conflict and the symbolic violence2 that supports male domination in favour of the victimizer3.
Certainly, the history of wars has been the history of patriarchy, and of the place that has been assigned to women in their social existence - as an unpaid workforce, and exercising control through birth, care and female sexuality - all different forms of domination over the feminine, at the service of the reproduction of patriarchy. Here the body of women is built as passive and submissive which must be fit for care, peaceful, delicate, weak and in need of protection. But, beyond reducing women to victimhood, we don’t have to naturalize this place of subordination that they have historically occupied in war, nor should we accept the association of the masculine with war, since if we take all this for granted “The transformation of gender relations becomes impossible and, ultimately, so does the overcoming of patriarchy itself”4. In this regard, it is worth asking: how could women's participation in resistance to militarism also be seen as an act of resistance against patriarchy, in contexts of violence?
Indeed, feminist struggles have historically manifested themselves through nonviolent actions and anti-militarist movements, made up of women against mandatory military service, should be highlighted. As we have already mentioned in our book of the La Tulpa Antimilitarist Collective, Trajectories of Antimilitarism in Colombia: history, reflections and politics of nonviolence, the relationship between feminism and nonviolence dates back to the first Mother’s Day Proclamation by the poet and activist Julia Ward Howe, who, in 1870, through a communication to the mothers of the world, denounced how husbands, children, fathers and others were recruited for war, murdering and unlearning the emotions of love and compassion towards their mothers5. Although Julia Ward Howe and the Mother’s Day Proclamation in the nineteenth century are considered an international starting point, it is still unknown if there are other predecessor feminist movements that have developed their action in the sense of nonviolence.
In the 20th century, the most significant worldwide experiences of openly antimilitarist and feminist nonviolent movements has been the “Women in Black” group, which has played an essential role in resisting the violence and genocide perpetrated by the State of Israel against the Palestinian people in border contexts. Even into the 21st century, we find feminist organizations linked to the participation of Palestinian and Israeli nonviolent and pro-peace movements in the Middle East, with political bets similar to the Women in Black, which have been articulated within The Coalition of Women For Peace, CWP, organization (Coalición de Mujeres por la Paz, in Spanish).
Together with the American Friends Service Committee, the CWP has developed projects such as "Hamushim"126 (which in Hebrew means “armed”), which denounces the consequences of apartheid suffered by the Palestinian people by the Israeli military-industrial complex, and has promoted campaigns and nonviolent actions against the arms trade around the world.
There is also the “Mesarvot” movement7 (“objectors” in Hebrew) whose motto is “refusing to serve the occupation,”. A significant number of Israeli women, conscientious objectors, carry out disobedience campaigns to avoid performing mandatory military service, and therefore end up being political prisoners in the State of Israel.
Other experiences of conscientious objectors in the world, which go beyond a protest against mandatory military service and question the militarism-patriarchy relationship include objectors in South Korea, the United Kingdom, Turkey, the United States, Colombia, and the anti-militarist women of the Conscientious Objection Movement of Paraguay - MOC8 - in Latin America arouse a particular attention.
In Colombia we recognize in Carlota Rua, a peasant woman and leader of the Communist Party, the first person of whom we have documented information, who urged the political community to pay more attention to the recruitment of young people in precarious conditions during the first half of the 20th century. But, perhaps, among the only feminist experiences in Colombia that has articulated their anti-militarist struggle from a de-colonial perspective is the Anti-militarist Feminist Network in Medellin. This network defines its struggles in terms of opposition to patriarchy, capitalism, militarism, colonialism, and racism as interrelated systems of oppression. In the words of one of its exponents, the Anti-militarist Feminist Network in Medellin starts from:
Understanding a dialectical history of conflicting historical forces, and the struggle of liberation movements, and tensions of dominance (...) we are popular racialized women, who identify not only patriarchy [because] we see neoliberalism, we see racism, we see classism, we see discrimination, we see injustice, we see corruption... in short terms, our life does not register that the exact main factor of violence is patriarchality, yes, we see power, power of domination, economic power, power of submission. We do not see patriarchy only in daily relationships9.
Finally, there is another feminist experience of nonviolent resistance in Colombia, in the district of Aguablanca in the city of Cali; the Fundación Paz y Bien highlights a "nonviolent approach of family counselors" in contexts of high risk and of socio-political violence. Although this experience is not identified as an anti-militarist feminist movement like the others discussed here, it is interesting if we think about the context of institutional and cultural racism against women that exists in the city of Cali, and as an expression of nonviolent resistance.
With these experiences, it could be believed that there is a consolidated work program between feminisms and anti-militarisms in the world, and although there are intentions to establish this relationship, it is evident that anti-militarist movements are still anchored on a masculinist vision of nonviolence, in which, feminist voices have started to play an increasingly important role. This is not a newly formed relationship, it is something that has circulated around anti-militarism since the beginning of Western history. Historically clear that the main role is assumed by men, by personalities such as Martin Luther King, Ghandi, Tolstoy; however, there is no mention of specific women within these great figures of nonviolence. This does not mean that recognitions have never been carried out, as in the cases of the Women in Black or Julia Ward Howe, but there is a hegemonic male voice that has colonized the leading role in these fields of struggle. This has also happened within organizations where, mostly, the men take the voice of collectives.
In short, as an anti-militarist collective, we advocate building new frameworks for analysis, that allow us to think about other forms of resistance against militarism and patriarchy, while the deployment of these actions should not only provide a solution to the marginalization of women in organizations; we need also to keep an eye on these new symbolic camouflages. This forces us to build broader frameworks of analysis that dialogue with the everyday, the popular, the banal and the structural, to build a more critical vision that explains not only the problem of gender-based violence and its implications, but also the real challenges that imply the overcoming of patriarchy and militarism.
1 Structural violence is an indirect form of violence, which is anchored to the social and economic structures of inequality (Apartheid in South Africa or the Palestinian-Israeli conflict would be some examples). It is generally supported by a repressive police apparatus, and operates at both national and international level. It can be of economic, political, military, cultural or communicative nature. Norwegian sociologist and mathematician Johan Galtung, says that the structural violence can has two levels, vertical and horizontal. On the one hand, the vertical structural violence refers to an asymmetric exercise of dominance through political repression, economic exploitation or cultural alienation, which violate the needs of freedom, well-being and identity, respectively. On the other hand, the horizontal structural violence consists in keeping the oppressed population apart from their social and cultural nuclei, from their customs and lifestyles, and it is based on the authoritarian imposition of rules and laws, which are unrelated to their ethnic and cultural identity.
2 Symbolic violence is that coercion that is exerted through the institutionalization of the symbolic dimension of power relationship, the result of the assimilation of naturalized classifications sustained through the perpetuation of binary structures normalized by the Social Order, such as for example high/low, masculine/feminine, white/black, etc. This symbolic and binary dimension of power relationship is not exclusive to a single culture, but encompasses both pre-capitalist and post-industrial societies in their ability to impose on individuals the means to understand and adapt to the social world, through a common sense which represents in a disguised way the economic and political power, thus contributing to the intergenerational reproduction of unequal social arrangements.
3 Bourdieu, P. (2003). La dominación masculina. Barcelona: Editorial Anagrama.
4 Página 133: Posada Kubissa, L. (2017). Feminismo y guerra: A propósito de Judith Butler. ISEGORÍA. Journal of Moral and Political Philosophy (56), 127-144. doi:10.3989/isegoria.2017.056.06
5 Parafrasis of the book: Cuervo, A. Peñuela, C y Rodríguez, N (2019). Trayectorias del antimilitarismo en Colombia: historia, reflexiones y política desde la noviolencia. Bogotá: Youth Observatory-OBJUN, National University of Colombia.
7 For further information about the Mesarvot movement, we recommend the following note, accessible from 6th January 2020 at: https://www.palestinalibre.org/articulo.php?a=60381
8 Page 54: book: Cuervo, A. Peñuela, C y Rodríguez, N (2019). Trayectorias del antimilitarismo en Colombia: historia, reflexiones y política desde la noviolencia. Bogotá: Youth Observatory-OBJUN, National University of Colombia.
9 Page 43: book: Cuervo, A. Peñuela, C y Rodríguez, N (2019). Trayectorias del antimilitarismo en Colombia: historia, reflexiones y política desde la noviolencia. Bogotá: Youth Observatory-OBJUN, National University of Colombia.