Volume 5, No. 2-3, February-March 2004


Women Oppose War

(On the Occasion of March 8th and the present war scenario in the world we print this article on the question of women and war. It deals with not only the impact of war on women, but also deals with the incorrect pacifist approach of certain women’s organizations to wars in general, and just wars in particular…. Editor)



Last year March 8 was celebrated in the midst of huge anti-war demonstrations. Everyone with a democratic conscience was out on the streets to add their voice and might to the unprecedented attempts of people around the world to stop the US war against Iraq. In complete defiance of world opinion George Bush and Tony Blair went ahead and attacked Iraq on March 20. This year March 8 is being celebrated in midst of protests against the continued occupation of Iraq by the US and allied imperialist forces. Throughout the last year women’s organizations have been exposing the devastating effects of war on women and have been protesting against war.

Impact of war on women

The 21st century has begun with war. The 20th century was known as a century of unprecedented violence and many wars. The attack on the WTC and Pentagon, the symbols of US financial and military might, on Sept 11, 2001 was the excuse the crisis ridden ruling classes of the US, the sole surviving superpower, were looking for. They launched the global war against terror. Afghanistan was attacked. A war ravaged, backward country of poor people was subject to a blitzkrieg of bombing that rendered thousands of people dead and maimed. Lakhs were forced out of their homes to become refugees in neighboring countries. A year and half later Iraq was subject to the same. The country had already been damaged by Operation Desert Storm in 1992. Two lakh people had been killed in that war. Then ten years of economic sanctions had ruined the people further. Five lakh children had died due to the sanctions. But once again, last March, the entire country was carpet-bombed, the ancient city of Baghdad was reduced to rubble, and the remnants of the ancient civilization of Mesopotamia were deliberately vandalized and destroyed. The water supply system and the electricity distribution system of the country were damaged, affecting lakhs of people in the cities. People’s lives were completely disrupted. At the same time the Zionist Israeli state has intensified its attacks on the villages and towns of the Palestinians. One more phase in the protracted struggle of the Palestinian people for their homeland. They have been razing fields with standing crops, they have been razing homes. Any resistance is met with bullets. Peace activists protesting against the demolitions have been mowed down under bulldozers. The young American peace activist, Rachel Corrie, was killed by a bulldozer for trying to prevent the demolition of a Palestinian home. Women and children have been the worst affected by these wars.

The new form of war that the Americans have perfected since the 1990s, the war by remote control, a war of bombing from safe heights and missile attacks makes the violence invisible. The bloody effects of the war on the ground are not visible and the war itself appears on TV screens like festival fireworks. Hence Madeline Albright, the former US Secretary of State could glibly talk about collateral damage which was unavoidable. Language too is being altered and used by the imperialists to make the horrifying impact of these wars on people invisible. Yet the significant fact is that ordinary people have been widely affected in these wars. In a sense ordinary people have been the targets of the attacks and bombings. In order to terrorise and demoralize the entire people the people themselves, civilians have been directly killed and injured. Women have lost their husbands and other breadwinners in the family leaving them economically ruined but forced to fend for their children and other family members. In the absence of adequate medical help ( mostly destroyed in the war) they have been forced to tend to the injured and crippled, they have had their lives disrupted and have been forced to flee their homes. Children have been traumatized by the constant bombings, the loss of loved ones and destruction of their homes. The haunting picture of the young Iraqi boy with both his hands blown off has become a symbol of what children have suffered in the war. Many women thus destituted have been forced into prostitution to survive. This story is now being enacted in Afghanistan.

The two world wars that engulfed the entire world in the 20th century led to a world wide peace movement. In human history those wars had been unprecedented in scale and destruction. But in the second half of the 20th century the imperialists led by the US launched innumerable aggressions against weaker countries – Korea, Cuba, Vietnam, Algeria, Nicaragua, and many more. They also instigated wars between countries, between tribes/ethnic groups, selling and giving arms to both sides to keep the conflicts alive. As a result more people were killed and more lives disrupted than in the two world wars. Already globalisation, the economic offensive of the imperialists, has ravaged the lives of ordinary people since the 1990s. These wars have intensified the suffering of people. People have been pushed into deepening poverty, destitution, deprivation, displacement and the resultant insecurity and trauma. The poor have been the worst affected, and amongst them, women and children in the main have been the sufferers.

Increased sexual violence against women

But this is not all that women have suffered and are suffering. War related sexual violence against women has also grown in this period. Mass crimes against women by the aggressing forces have been exposed. Women of the occupied territories have been sexually assaulted and molested. Rape has been used as a weapon to humiliate the community under attack. In India itself we have many examples from the Northeast and Kashmir where women have been sexually assaulted by the Indian armed forces. Such crimes on a mass scale were reported during the Tutsi- Hutu strife in the small African country of Rwanda. During the war that led to the dismemberment of Yugoslavia such crimes against women particularly Muslim women took place in Kosovo, Bosnia, Albania and Croatia. This was done to ensure the ethnic cleansing of particular villages, towns and even entire areas. The US has used this in its propaganda against the Serbian rulers, but the fact is that the imperialists encouraged the intensification of the nationality conflicts within former Yugoslavia so that it was dismembered through a brutal fratricidal war.

The record of the US and other imperialist armed forces itself is the worst of all. The US and other imperialist armies are structured with a colonial mindset and patriarchal ideology that glorifies masculine prowness. During the second world war itself wherever there were American bases and Japanese bases the forces had full license to use and molest local women. They were outside the purview of all local laws. The "comfort women" of the second world war in Philippines are still struggling for compensation. So are Korean women who suffered under the Japanese occupying forces. Even now those comfort women in South Korea are struggling for their dignity. They recently made a filmmaker who wanted to exploit the topic to make a film stop shooting and made the young actress playing the role of a comfort woman apologise. During the Vietnam War, Saigon and Pnom Penh became major centers for prostitution for the US troops stationed there. So many struggles have broken out in Okinawa island in Japan against rape of local girls and women by the US troops stationed in the base there. An entire economy is generated around this flesh trade, euphemistically called R and R. (Rest and Recreation). The Filipinos struggled to get rid of the bases in their country. But now since 9/11 in the name of the global war against terror, the US has again set up bases in various countries around the world. They have set up bases in Afghanistan and other Central Asian countries, they have reentered Philippines in the name of fighting terrorists. Everywhere the same story will be repeated. When the US Army has not only ignored but not given even a modicum of support to its women recruits who have suffered sexual violence at the hands of their own male soldiers and officers, it will be even more shameless with reference to women of other countries. It is not surprising that the US military establishment refuses to appear before the International Criminal Court for acts of rape and sexual assault committed by its soldiers stationed across the globe.

With this kind of a devastating impact on women and their lives, their freedom and dignity, women must be in the forefront of the opposition to imperialist wars. The women’s movement worldwide has recognized the importance of his question and women have been participating in large numbers in the anti-war demonstrations. In India the anti-war movement even in the wake of the invasion of Iraq has not been strong and the anti-war consciousness among general women is weak. It is the task of the progressive women’s movement to awaken the consciousness of women to the impact of war and bring women into the movement.

Pacifism as a trend among women in anti-war movement

Within the worldwide women’s opposition to war the main trend seems to have veered towards pacifism. Many of the statements issued since 9/11 strongly opposed the US attack on Afghanistan and later on Iraq. They have called for a democratic dialogue, peaceful or non-violent strategies to tackle the problem of religious fundamentalist violence (Osama bin Laden, Taliban). Most have called for the US and allies to quit Iraq but also for a UN managed solution to the problem. They have also stressed women’s tendency towards peace and non-violence, since violence and war are considered as Masculine. The feminist argument of the binary opposition – of male being naturally aggressive, naturally violent, while women are naturally nurturing and caring underlies the argument though some don’t believe it is so.

Revolutionary communists are opposed to war. We stand for an end to all war. We stand for dialogue and discussion as a means to settle and resolve social conflicts. But this is possible only when both sides accept the principles of democratic process and equality. In the world as it is structured today, when the US and other imperialists are holding sway with the help of their colossal war machinery and their capacity for media manipulation, when all they stand for is profit seeking and hegemony, for domination over the rest of the world, and the poor in their own countries. They do not believe in the principles of democracy and equality of all nations. With such an adversary the call for peace is like pouring water off a duck’s back. There was no issue of religious fundamentalist violence as far as Iraq was concerned. Yet they invented the issue of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) in order to attack Iraq. The wars being launched by the imperialists are hard politics, it is the pursuit of their economic interests by military means. These wars are for political hegemony and a result of the competition for control over precious natural resources and markets. Any obstacle in their control is being met with military violence. To recognize this reality about imperialist wars is necessary because it affects the strategies that can be worked out to oppose imperialist wars. To prevent a war we call for dialogue. To prevent the attack on Iraq negotiations and dialogue were the demands that were suitable. But once Iraq was invaded and occupied we cannot call for only a peaceful solution. It is the right of the Iraqi people, women and men, to resist the occupation in all ways they find suitable, non-violent and armed resistance. Their right to liberate their nation from occupation has to be upheld. The Palestinians too have been struggling for their right to a genuine homeland and state and further encroachment by the Israelis. Through negotiations and the agreement what they got was further enslavement and a state of confusion. In face of the military might of the Israeli army how they resist has to be their choice.

Just and Unjust Wars

Some Feminists while calling for negotiations and dialogue are criticizing War as patriarchy. Hence this amounts to concluding that women must not support any form of armed resistance to imperialist occupation or armed social liberation struggles. This argument makes no difference between just and unjust wars. But world history, of the past 100 years itself has shown that the colonial aggressions of the imperialist powers like Great Britain, Germany, France, Portugal, Spain, US and others were successfully or even partially defeated by launching wars of national liberation. Not even in India did Gandhi’s non-violence succeed in forcing the British to transfer power. It was the struggles of the peasants and tribals, the uprisings and threats of uprisings in the British armed forces within India that forced them to hand over power to the Congress. The war against the Japanese and later Kuomintang in China, the war against the French in Algeria, in Vietnam, in Guinea Bissau, in South Africa, Mexico, in every continent of the world this is the fact. In Russia, the Communists led the campaign to oppose World War I as an imperialist war and led the February 1917 uprising that went on to culminate in the October Revolution of 1917. Most of these struggles, irrespective of differing ideologies leading them, had a strong anti-feudal and anti-imperialist component to them. They struggled not only to drive the imperialists out but also to establish democracy and equality, an end to all forms of social discrimination, including racism, patriarchy etc within the country, Women were an integral part of these struggles. In many countries they were fighters too, active participants in the armed struggle. These struggles were hailed and supported by the broad masses in the world. Even their partial victories have advanced the cause of democracy and social equality and the women’s struggles for emancipation have gained from these movements. This history has to be kept in mind, it cannot be forgotten.

In the contemporary situation many of the nationality movements do not have a strong anti-feudal, democratic component. Some forces like the Taliban in Afghanistan are outright feudal and women are bearing the brunt of it. The progressive women’s movement has to struggle against this suppression of the rights of women. But in this context the hypocrisy and duplicity of the Americans should be clearly understood. They talked about the war to liberate the women of Afghanistan, but the warlords they are now propping up and supporting in Afghanistan are those with an equal if not worse record of crimes against women and suppression of women. RAVA bore the brunt of their repression and the record is there for all to see. But Taliban like forces are an extreme at one end of the spectrum of those struggling to liberate their country/nation. There are Islamic inspired movements in Palestine and Chechnya for example where women are an active part of the struggle. Their participation is an indication of the political participation of women in the struggle, their desire to be equal participants. Similarly in Sri Lanka the armed struggle of the Tamils has a large component of women, leading and active. It is their national sentiment, their opposition to the oppression of their people that has brought them into active struggle. If we believe that their participation is wrong then it is denying their right to a political role. If we believe that the national sentiment is wrong then it is denying women to share a national sentiment. Though they may be an oppressed section within the nation they do have a sentiment and this consciousness exists. It cannot be denied.

Most important of all there are revolutionary struggles for social liberation being waged by revolutionary communists in various parts of the world. These are armed struggles in which the bulk of the participants are women and men from the most oppressed and exploited sections of society, people who have known the violence of the exploiters all their lives. The struggle being conducted in the backward regions of India like Telengana, Jharkhand, Chattisgarh and elsewhere, the struggle going on in Nepal, in Philippines, in Turkey, in Peru and some other countries are people’s struggles against imperialist domination and feudalism. They struggle, knowing that without destroying the military might of the imperialists a democratic world cannot be established. It is not a war of a dedicated few targeting some symbols of imperialism, but a people’s war with the active support of the vast mass of exploited and oppressed. The fighters are the fish in the sea of the masses. This is not and cannot be equated with terrorism which the US and the servile ruling classes of those countries are doing. They have proclaimed revolutionary movements to be terrorism. When feminists oppose all war they are in effect preventing the poor and oppressed from defending themselves effectively and liberating themselves. The slogan of non-violence only is not for the might of the imperialist ruling classes but for the people’s movements and it hampers the movement of those who are trying to collectively resist and fight imperialism. This approach reduces the support and solidarity these struggles receive and becomes helpful to de legitimize the struggles in the eyes of democrats. The progressive women’s movement must certainly guard againt falling into the trap of the violence, non-violence debate, a debate that can benefit only the imperialists.

The war culture created by the imperialists portrays war as masculine. It is a culture that is being propagated and disseminated in order to glorify and thus legitimise their domination. It helps to perpetuate socially created gender based differences. What we seek is a humane culture, a democratic culture in which there will be no inequalities based on birth.

Women should indeed be an important component of the anti-war movement. But while participating in the movement we have to take the objective situation into account. In the present era in the world dominated by imperialism, with its economic and military might, we have to distinguish between just and unjust wars. In the name of peace and opposition to violence if we oppose the just wars of the oppressed masses then we will close the path to the destruction of imperialism and to their liberation. And in the present era imperialism is the source of war in the world. And with these unjust wars come the horrors that women must face.

In the struggle against the marauding armies of fascist Nazi Germany and Japan and against colonial powers people in various countries launched resistance struggles and wars of national liberation. These struggles were hailed and supported by people around the world. The Chinese, the people of East European countries, the Vietnamese, the people in various countries of South East Asia all fought through guerrilla struggles and through other means to drive out the aggressors. This wave of national liberation wars are a landmark in world history and their significance in the anti-imperialist movement cannot be forgotten. The Vietnamese national liberation struggle that was supported by millions of people around the world was the first major defeat that the arrogant US imperialists ever faced. The ANC in South Africa struggled against the apartheid regime in all ways possible including armed struggle. These were just wars, wars of an oppressed people. Women participated shoulder to shoulder with men in smaller or larger numbers. Similarly today in various countries of the world – Nepal, India, Peru, Philippines, Turkey, Bangladesh and elsewhere the most oppressed masses have taken to the path of armed struggle under the leadership of communist revolutionaries to break out of the imperialist stranglehold over their countries and to dismantle the centuries old oppressive feudal structures. The people of Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine are fighting back. To deny these struggles legitimacy and support in the eyes of people the imperialists have termed all these struggles as terrorism. The struggles of the exploited, marginalised and oppressed are being termed as terrorism this is what has to be understood.

Hence the progressive women’s movement must not fall into the trap set by the imperialists and needs to distinguish between just and unjust wars. If all these wars that are being fought by the oppressed are considered as patriarchal and are opposed by the women’s movement then the women’s movement will move far from the real fighters against imperialism, the source of war in the present era. These wars are not the activities of a few dedicated fighters targeting the symbols of imperialism, but people’s wars being fought with the support of the vast mass of oppressed and exploited. The guerrillas are like fish in the water of people. This cannot be equated with terrorism as the US and other corrupt and servile ruling classes are doing. They have in fact dubbed such people’s movements as terrorist in Nepal, India and the Philippines.

Feminists by opposing all war in the contemporary situation are preventing the subjugated and oppressed from defending themselves and effectively resisting imperialism. The slogan of non-violence is not for the imperialist Governments and war machinery but for the people who are affected, and who are collectively resisting imperialism. Such a slogan reduces the solidarity these struggles receive, it amounts to an attempt to de-legitimizing the struggle in the eyes of democrats. The progressive women’s movement must certainly guard against falling into the trap of the violence-non-violence debate.

The culture of war created by the ruling classes around the world ( in India too, note the culture being promoted by the Hindutva forces) is portrayed as masculine. It is a culture that has been promoted and disseminated to legitimaise their domination. It helps to perpetuate gender based differences. What we seek is a humane, democratic culture in which there will be no distinctions based n birth.

Women should be an important component of the anti-war movement. But while participating in the movement, in the present era we must distinguish between just and unjust wars. In the name of peace if we oppose just wars of the oppressed masses then we will close the path to the destruction of the imperialist system, the source of war today.



Home  |  Current Issue  |  Archives  |  Revolutionary Publications  |  Links  |  Subscription