A wide definition of war
10 / 1999
On the occasion of the Hague international conference on Peace (may 1999), the Yin Yan (masculine-feminine)workshop of the Alliance for a plural, responsible and united world gathered about 20 women from different countries active in peace movements for a 3-days workshop in Amsterdam. It entailed, by putting forward their experiences, collective consideration on the specific contribution of women to prevent and solve conflicts, thereby widening the scope to questioning the importance of gender difference in the organization of our societies, on the material level and on that of mentalities, and on the essential place of women in any process of social evolution and transformation. Following this workshop, the participants organized a session at the Hague on May 13th during which they presented the network they had set up and the conclusion of their collective work.
The first conclusion was the necessity to expand the definition of war far beyond the limits of armed conflict. The daily violence practiced against human beings and most particularly against women (patriarchal violence, sexual violence, the Mafia, and other economic powers, etc.)is a perhaps less obvious facet of war. Moreover, peace does not mean simply ’cease-fire’, but above all justice, equality and freedom.
Angel Cassidy (SAGE - Standing against global Exploitation, USA), spoke of prostitution as a form of war (with the body as battleground), to the extent that it forces women into situations of violence and drelentless exploitation against their will. Many parallels exist between war as armed conflict and the violence caused by prostitution: For instance, findings of research studies that a majority of sex-workers suffer from similar post-traumatic stress syndromes observed in veterans of armed conflict; the violent desire to dominate as a common source of aggression in armed conflict as well as in prostitution; and the big profits involved both in the business of armed conflict and the business of prostitution.
Angel explained the founding of SAGE by ex-prostitutes for two purposes: To offer health-related, psychological, social and legal support to women who wanted to quit prostitution and the related problems of drug addiction and alcoholism; and to offer a consciousness-raising seminar to men arrested for soliciting prostitution (an illegal practice in the USA). The SAGE seminar, known as ’the school for John’s’, provides an alternative to legal persecution and aims to prevent men from committing the same offence by raising their awareness of the violence and the exploitation survived by prostitutes. The seminar which is conducted by ex-prostitutes started as a pilot attempt in San Francisco and has set an example which is followed by other states in the USA. Results are extremely satisfactory, but unfortunately very insufficient regarding the importance of prostitution.
The experiences of the Association of Women against the Mafia in Italy, which Rita Borsellino presented in Amsterdam, shows that the systematic violence that is fostered by "organized crime" (the so-called mafia)is also as a form of war. Such organized crime (mafia)groups are increasingly becoming a source of lawlessness, human rights violations and violence in many countries around the world, and there are many instances, such as in Georgia or in Turkey, where organized crime has developed organic links to armed conflict.
The Association of Women Against the Mafia was set up following the assassination of two judges who were spearheading the legal persecution of mafia leaders. Women have started organizing first in Palermo where the second assassination had taken place. They have made peaceful demonstrations by hanging sheets outside of their windows with slogans of protest against mafia violence and calling public meetings. This was the first time that the silent consensus around organized crime, a long-standing problem in Italy, was broken, and the explicit expression by women of their protest against organized crime has encouraged other civil society groups to join in on the wave of protests. This lead to the formation of a country-wide alliance of civil groups and community organizations. They lobbied the government to pass a law that requires the allocation of resources confiscated from the captured Mafia leaders towards social causes. The Association has also started an initiative for integration of anti-violence, anti-organized crime training into school curriculum.
Ultimate example, the action of women in Colombia (related by Andrée Michel), linked with a feminist reflection : there is no opposition between the private violences they encounter in their families and armed groups violences. The roots of these violences is the patriarchal society where men are educated to a virility synonymous of violence and women to submissiveness.
By reflecting on the essential tie between patriarchy, sexual discrimination and violence, the participants of the workshop agreed very quickly on the necessity, for any efficient action in favour of peace, to change our approach of war by relating it to other systematic forms of violence. Experiences of participants provide several examples of peace strategies based on this approach.
This text is a contribution to the workshop on ’women and peace’ organized by the Yin Yang (masculine-feminine)workshop of the Alliance for a responsible and united world shortly before the Hague international Conference on Peace (may 1999). Original sheet in French in this data base.
Colloquium, conference, seminar,… report
The Hague Appeal Session report : When women invent non violent ways to deal with conflicts