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Fighting war is a women's issue

By Minnie Bruce Pratt

Pentagon war is a women's issue, say women all over the world who oppose the U.S. military aggression against Iraq. Women are demonstrating and leading protests against the imperial war in record numbers.

The Bush administration claims that war is a "women's issue" too. Bush and the generals have tried to justify their brutal bombing and continued occupation of Afghanistan in part by pointing to the brutal treatment of women there by the Taliban.

What hypocrisy: It's no secret now that Washington financed and fostered the rise of the Taliban in the first place.

The United States bombed the population and infrastructure of Afghanistan mercilessly. It continues to occupy the country in the interests of Big Oil and geopolitical control in the Central Asia region.

Oil corporations have been trying to get a pipeline through Afghanistan for about 10 years. (New York Times, May 26, 2002)

Washington installed the new regime headed by Hamid Karzai--a former consultant for the U.S. oil company Unocal. Karzai helped Unocal plan a proposed 1,500-kilometer gas pipeline starting in Turkmenistan, stretching across Afghan istan and ending in Pakistan.

Meanwhile, at ground zero Afghan istan, the population's misery deepens.

Afghani writer Zama Coursen-Neff, co-author of "We Want to Live as Humans," says, "Women and girls are still being abused, harassed and threatened all over Afghanistan, often by government troops and officials." (Reuters, Dec. 12)

In one province in rural northern Afghanistan, there is an epidemic of mothers dying in childbirth--6,500 maternal deaths for every 100,000 live births. This is the highest rate ever documented--and 87 percent of these deaths were preventable. (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

Remember all those promises from Wash ington about "rebuilding" Afghanistan?

The cosmetics industry sent free lipstick to Afghani women. Backed by Anna Wintour, editor of Vogue magazine, the industry also sent some money to establish a "beauty school" in Kabul. (The London Telegraph, Nov. 17)

Strangling economic sanctions

This terrible crisis for women also accompanies "undeclared" wars the United States wages on countries that try to establish some economic and national independence.

Before the U.S. imposed sanctions against Iraq after the first Gulf War in 1991, women there had the right to education, employment, freedom of movement, equal pay for equal work, universal day care and five years of maternity leave. (

Today sanctions have devastated the Iraqi economy and its public services that made these rights a reality.

Far worse, sanctions have resulted in the deaths of more than 1 million people in Iraq. More than 60 percent of them were children under the age of 7. The women of Iraq have watched their children die from starvation and preventable disease. (UNICEF Child and Maternal Mortality Survey, 1999)

Nawal el Saadawi--Egyptian feminist, activist, author, physician and freedom fighter for Arab women--laid bare U.S. policy's impact on the women of Iraq: "Who is being punished in Iraq? It's not the rich people--it is the poor. It is women, children and the poor who suffer the most, who die most in war and in 'peace' under sanctions. The United States has no interest in the Arab region except for oil." (Workers World, April 30, 1998)

And remember all the media propaganda about how the United States and its NATO allies were bombing the former Yugoslavia to "liberate" women and refugees of all genders?

Today almost one-third of the 700,000 women and girls forced into sexual slavery in the world annually have been transported into areas of what was socialist Yugoslavia, now broken apart by the United States and other NATO powers. U.S. officials working for the United Nations have been implicated in this capitalist sex trade for profit. And the organized-crime network of prostitution is tied to the U.S.-backed Kosovo Liberation [sic] Army. (New York Times, Oct. 20)

It's a class war

How is war a women's issue?

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees estimates that of the 50 million people uprooted by war around the world, 75 to 80 percent are women and children. Eighty percent of casualties caused by small arms in a war are women and children in the civilian population--outnumbering military casualties. (Refugees magazine, UNHCR)

In war zones, women work daily to obtain food, water and fuel, and to care for children and elders devastated by wartime disease and trauma. The loss of a father or husband brings extra economic burdens because of many women's economic dependence on men. ("War and Public Health," 1997)

In fact, as the United States prepares to launch an all-out war on Iraq, it is becoming more and more apparent that the Pentagon drive for global domination is really a class war--a war against the poor and oppressed of the world.

It is an international war against the women and girls who do two-thirds of the world's work, most of it unpaid and much of the rest at sweatshop wages that can only feed capitalist profits. (Global Women's Strike-UK)

The United States pours more that $450 billion a year into military spending. A mere 20 percent of that could provide the essentials of life for everyone on the planet--water, sanitation, basic health, nutrition, literacy and a minimum income. (Global Women's Strike-UK)

It is also a domestic war waged against women in the United States.

A recent study of industrialized countries found that the United States had the highest poverty rate for female-headed households of all countries studied: 30.9 percent compared to a 10.5 percent average. (Luxembourg Income Study Working Paper, Sept. 2000)

In fact, 60 percent of all poor adults in the United States are women. Recent census figures show that the sinking capitalist economy here is hurting women in disproportionate numbers. Working women are 40 percent more likely to be poor than working men, and families headed by a single woman are twice as likely to be poor as families headed by a single man. (NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund)

An estimated 20 percent of African American women and Latinas live below the poverty level. (U.S. Department of Health and Human Resources, 2002)

As the U.S. government marches toward war, states are making budget cuts to deal with an estimated $50 billion shortfall. This means that in 2003 the situation of many women in this country will worsen, in a heartbreaking parallel to the lives of women in other parts of the world.

More women here will be evicted from their homes, have utilities disconnected, go hungry together with their children. They will spend more time trying to get medical care, and will still be turned away. And women of color will bear a disproportionate share of this overall burden.

Some women will be forced by the "economic draft" of racism, sexism, homophobia and low-paying or non-existent jobs into joining the U.S. military.

Still others will suffer at the hands of men returning from war--men programmed to kill by the military who end up killing their wives and lovers, as did veterans of the Fort Bragg Special Operations unit returning from Afghanistan last summer.

Pentagon war & women's liberation

Fighting to stop Pentagon war is a women's issue. But not because women are instinctively and "naturally" more peaceful. Not because women give birth or because women have been the "guardians of life" while men have been making war.

Fighting Pentagon war is a women's issue because it flows out of the inherent need of capital to expand its markets and its rate of exploitation in order to survive--and women's labor, paid and unpaid, is a foundation upon which this profit system rests.

Capitalism wages brutal imperialist wars and imposes brutal imperialist peace in order to secure those profits, extorted from working class, oppressed and impoverished people of all sexes.

Now, on the eve of this war with Iraq, young U.S. men may face the reinstitution of registration for the draft, and young women, presumably, would not. But from the perspective of progressive activism, the point is not to get young, working-class women onto the frontlines of battle in Iraq--the point is to get the men out.

Fighting against Pentagon war is a women's issue. It is linked to the struggle for the liberation of all poor and working-class people, all oppressed people.

Stop the war on Iraq! U.S. out of Korea, the Philippines, Colombia and Vieques! Stop the war on women!

Minnie Bruce Pratt, a lesbian, anti-racist activist, organized for women's liberation in the military-dominated town of Fayetteville, N.C., in the 1970s and 1980s. She is currently a member of International ANSWER.

Reprinted from the Jan. 23, 2003, issue of Workers World newspaper
This article is copyrighted under a Creative Commons License.
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