Saturday, March 22, 2003


Women speak for peace above the din of war  

by Michelle Landsberg, Toronto Star, March 22 2003

Six days ago, on the brink of plunging the world into war, George W. Bush emerged from his Azores summit meeting with Britain, Spain and Portugal and announced: "We have concluded that tomorrow is a moment of truth for the world." How magisterial, how godlike, how far beyond correction, reproach or persuasion: "We have concluded."

If you, like me, choked on the supreme arrogance of those words, perhaps you, too, are ready to question the structures of this world that lead inexorably, again and again, to spilled blood, burnt human flesh, whirlwinds of destruction. One of those structures is the international arms trade. Sum it up this way, in the words of a current joke: "We know the Iraqis have weapons of mass destruction," said the American official. "We know because we have the receipts."

Another of those structures is male supremacy. A mere two years ago, the United Nations Security Council took an unprecedented stand on women's exclusion from world power. In Resolution 1325, it called on all nations to include women at the highest levels of decision-making, especially in peace negotiations. And it insisted on an end to the impunity enjoyed by warriors who rape and torture women and children in the course of combat.

Only in the past decade has the world begun to tally up the suffering of women in war. Now, everyone from the International Red Cross to the United Nations Fund for Women is documenting the cascading horrors: millions raped and left mutilated, homeless and starving; tens of thousands of unwanted infants born from rape; hundreds of thousands of impoverished women and girls trafficked in an escalating global sex trade; an inexorable spread of domestic violence as demobilized soldiers bring their wounds, their rage and their weapons home with them.

It's not that women are born more peace-oriented than men. A quick glance at the clique of right-wing women who enjoy favour in conservative times should disabuse you of that illusion. No, it's a question of circumstance. Shoved to the sidelines of power, the majority of women have the luxury of looking at the world from a different perspective.Having the guts to defy the dominant power can carry bitter-sweet rewards.

In Jerusalem, where Israeli women who call themselves Women in Black have demonstrated against the occupation every week for the past 14 years, their silent and implacable confrontation has flushed their opponents' bigotry into the open. According to the Women in Black leaders, Israeli men who are antagonistic to the peace demonstrations hurl insults and taunts that are almost always sexual.

"Go sleep with Arafat!"

"You whores!"

Or, in a traditional domineering mode: "Go home and cook Sabbath dinner!"

It's as though these men are maddened by the sight of women stepping outside their prescribed roles as sexual objects and household servants, and are determined to humiliate them back to their corners.

So: Just standing up for peace is evidently a radical, destabilizing act.

Last month, an EKOS poll found that 81 per cent of Canadian women (compared to 66 per cent of men) opposed a war waged without U.N. support. Today, despite the deafening drumbeat of war propaganda, an IPSOS-Reid poll puts that figure at a stubborn 68 per cent of women.

Whichever figure is closer to correct, it's clear that a majority of Canadian women are against this war, and it's also clear that women, more so than men, are voiceless in the corridors of power. Obviously, the U.N. Security Council had no more success in evening up the gender balance than it did in staying the hands of Bush and Tony Blair.

How can women make their voices heard? That's the urgent question posed most sharply by young women who have been brought up as equal members of society, and yet now must stand by while phalanx upon phalanx of exclusively male rulers decide the world's fate.

In honour of its tenth anniversary, The Linden School (for primary and secondary schoolgirls) will present an open meeting on how to take action for peace. They've assembled an impressive roster of speakers and panellists, including Adeena Niazi, Judy Rebick, Sally Armstrong (I'll be introducing her) , Dr. Carolyn Bennett MP, and Sarah Shteir, a Linden graduate who works in New York for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom.

The free public meeting is at OISE auditorium, 252 Bloor St. W., from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. on March 31. Its theme: "Including women's voices at peace-tables worldwide." (Toronto)

We have to keep acting as though that goal is within our reach; some day, it
will be true.

Michele Landsberg's column usually appears in The Star Saturday and Sunday.
Her e-mail address is [email protected]