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Women say no to U.S. bases

By Minnie Bruce Pratt

The United States is stepping up threats against North Korea and increasing its military presence in the Philippines. The Navy has resumed using the Puerto Rican island of Vieques as a bombing range to prepare for military actions in other parts of the world. Around the world, U.S. militarism is wreaking untold havoc on people's lives.

But resistance is gathering against this U.S. onslaught. This resistance includes an international coalition of anti-imperialist women's groups that is organizing energetically.

The East Asia-U.S.-Puerto Rico Women's Network Against U.S. Militar ism was formed after the rape of a 12-year-old girl in Okinawa by a U.S. soldier in 1995. This event galvanized a movement on that island to stop violence against women. The movement made connections to other women's groups in Korea, the Philippines and Japan, and later to women opposing the U.S. occupation and bombing of Vieques.

The groups emphasize the links among violence against women, economic exploit ation of women, and the presence of U.S. bases in their countries.

The member organizations also emphatically oppose the promotion of war through images and words that vilify gay people as well as women. The network rejects the current wave of militarism for its glorification of rigid gender roles and a violent hyper-masculinity.

Joined by U.S. women dedicated to opposing Washington's military policies, the network has held conferences in Washington, D.C., Okinawa, and Seoul, South Korea, to coordinate its work internationally.

Co-founder Margo Okazawa-Rey points out that the sexual exploitation of women is an integral part of the U.S. military presence in East Asia. In South Korea, for instance, young women are brought in from the Philippines and the former USSR to work as prostitutes at the U.S. bases. They supplement South Korean women already being exploited.

The network supports grassroots women's groups like My Sister's Place, which has offered counseling and vocational training to women in a U.S.-base camp town in South Korea since 1986.

The network has also protested the current U.S. war drive against Iraq in actions coordinated internationally among its members. Okazawa-Rey, in a recent speech at Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y., pointed out that war disproportionately affects women in catastrophic ways.

For instance, 80 percent of small-arms casualties are women and children, far outnumbering other combatants. Some 75 percent of the 50 million people uprooted by war in the world are women.

Of U.S. accusations that Iraq and North Korea present a threat of "weapons of mass destruction," Okazawa-Rey said of the United States, "What country actually has used weapons of mass destruction in a way that has devastated generations of people?"

Okazawa-Rey described militarism and capitalism as inextricably linked. She quoted former U.S. Secretary of Defense William Cohen, who said, "Corporations open markets, and we'll keep them open."

This global capitalism has resulted in the displacement of millions of women all over the world, as they migrate, desperately looking for work. The women are also exploited in export-processing zones, working relentlessly long hours at super-low wages.

"Our work is part of opposing the bigger war machinery," said Okazawa-Rey of the women's network. And she pointed out that the United States has used defending women as an excuse for its attacks, such as the war on Afghanistan.

She called on the larger anti-war movement to support the network's goals by integrating an analysis of gender throughout all anti-war work. Her message to the movement: "Stop the deployment of women as justification for war."

Reprinted from the March 13, 2003, issue of Workers World newspaper
This article is copyrighted under a Creative Commons License.
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