Published on Sunday, December 18, 2004 by CommonDreams.org
Unacceptable: The Impact of War on Women and Children
by Lucinda Marshall
In the name of such euphemisms as sovereignty, democracy, freedom and liberation, armies everywhere, most notably those who act at the behest of the U.S. military-industrial complex, are exacting a deadly cost. Militarism everywhere is out of control, cutting a violent swath of pandemic proportions across our planet. Women and children account for almost 80% of the casualties of conflict and war as well as 80% of the 40 million people in world who are now refugees from their homes. It is one of the unspoken facts of militarism that women often become the spoils of war, their deaths are considered collateral damage and their bodies are frequently used as battlegrounds and as commodities that can be traded.
"Women and girls are not just killed, they are raped, sexually attacked, mutilated and humiliated. Custom, culture and religion have built an image of women as bearing the 'honour' of their communities. Disparaging a woman's sexuality and destroying her physical integrity have become a means by which to terrorize, demean and 'defeat' entire communities, as well as to punish, intimidate and humiliate women," according to Irene Khan of Amnesty International.
Sexual violence as a tool of war has left hundreds of thousands of women raped, brutalized, impregnated and infected with HIV/AIDS. And hundreds of thousands of women are trafficked annually for forced labor and sexual slavery. Much of this trafficking is to service western troops in brothels near military bases. Even women serving in the military are subjected to sexual violence. U.S. servicewomen have reported hundreds of assaults in military academies and while serving on active duty. The perpetrators of these assaults have rarely been prosecuted or punished.
The impact of war on children is also profound. In the last decade, two million of our children have been killed in wars and conflicts. 4.5 million children have been disabled and 12 million have been left homeless. Today there are 300,000 child soldiers, including many girls who are forced to 'service' the troops.
Environmental damage is another de facto weapon of war that has dire consequences. The Pentagon makes no secret that it uses nuclear and chemical weaponry such as depleted uranium and napalm. We know that the cancer rate and number of birth defects in Iraq have soared since the first Gulf War. Perversely, not only are we poisoning the 'enemy' but continuing in the tradition of Agent Orange in Vietnam and Gulf War Syndrome, our own soldiers are also being exposed to the effects of this weaponry. There is little doubt that they also face higher cancer and disease rates as well as offspring born with birth defects.
Shoddy disposal of military toxins also impacts our health by polluting our water, land and air. Most recently, the U.S. military has been disposing of perchlorate, (a rocket fuel) in such a way that it is getting into our groundwater (affecting the drinking water of 20 million people) and our food as well as in the breastmilk of nursing mothers. It is also likely that perchlorate impacts reproductive health.
Disproportionate spending on war-making comes at the expense of funding for programs that benefit our lives and our planet. For example, a community near where I live recently announced that it had lost its funding for helping victims of domestic violence, an all too common occurrence as funding for combating violence against women is diverted to fund Homeland Security. In doing so, we place the lives of thousands of women at risk of harm. (Ironically, there seems to be plenty of money to train TSA airport screeners to grope women's breasts.) And in Afghanistan, a mere $72.5 million (less than 3%) of reconstruction funds has been spent on programs to benefit women , in sharp contrast to the hundreds of billions spent on death and destruction in both Afghanistan and Iraq.
The monstrous scope of this carnage and its impact on women and children make it quite clear that what is occurring is a systemic fact of militarism and the patriarchy it defends. The cavalier usurpation of our lives in the name of empire imperils us all. The ongoing violence towards and poisoning of our bodies is more terrifying than the terror we purport to fight. We can no longer afford the violence implicit in empire at any cost. War against mythical terrors creates the reality of our own demise.
Lucinda Marshall is a feminist artist, writer and activist. She is the Founder of the Feminist Peace Network, www.feministpeacenetwork.org which publishes Atrocities, a bulletin documenting violence against women throughout the world. Her work has been published in numerous publications including, Awakened Woman, Alternet, Dissident Voice, Off Our Backs, Progressive, Rain and Thunder, Z Magazine and The Hip Mama Anthology.