Global Fund For Women Supports Women Dismantling Militarism
Shalini Nataraj, Vice President of Programs at the Global Fund for Women (GFW) discusses militarism and how it impacts women as well what the GFW and women around the world are doing to quell its impact and dismantle it altogether.
by Masum Momaya
AWID: What is militarism?
SN: Militarism is the belief that a nation should maintain strong military capability and use force to aggressively defend or promote national interests. This includes control of human and natural resources, such as water, oil and minerals through violent means. War is just one of many manifestations of militarism. Militaristic ideology dominates many cultures. It often results in corruption, impunity, lack of political will and the diversion of human, financial and natural resources away from human needs to support militarization. Women’s human rights are ignored, devalued, even criminalized.
As of 2007, nations were investing a staggering US$1,339 billion worldwide in military budgets—nearly US$4 billion per day —with the US spending nearly $2 billion per day.
Many nation-states have far more soldiers than doctors or teachers. Most require young people to serve in the military, and national armies or local militias often are the best employment opportunities for young people, robbing them of alternative, productive futures. As well as the direct harms it causes, militarism is also a major obstacle to progress towards democratization, sustainable development, and gender justice.
AWID: What has been the impact of militarism worldwide, generally and on women?
SN: The economic, political, environmental, and cultural costs of militarization impact everyone, but women are affected in specific ways. National funding priorities have favored militarism at the expense of spending on health care, education, and social services, and women suffer and are forced to compensate when services are cut.
In post-conflict regions, gender-based violence precedes war, is exacerbated during active conflict, and does not end when peace is declared. Women’s mobility is severely restricted by the men of their communities for security reasons during times of or in the lead-up to conflict. Militaries often use violence against women as a war-fighting strategy, targeting women for rape and sexual assault to “dishonor” men of the enemy group. For example, more than 20,000 Muslim women were raped in Bosnia in 1992, and in Rwanda, the majority of female survivors of the war had been sexually assaulted.
Under military occupations, such as in Iraq, Palestine, and Chechnya, violence against women is used to control occupied populations. Protracted occupation also fuels the resurgence of religious and social extremisms that emerge as a force to resist occupiers but manifest in ways that often are oppressive to women.
Militarism also creates widows and complicates their lives. When fathers and husbands are killed or arrested, women become the sole providers for their children. Often without means for earning income, they may be forced to engage in survival sex to feed themselves and their families.
Militarism also makes many women refugees. Over 75 percent of the 50 million people who have been forced to flee their homes due to wars and violent conflicts are women and children. As refugees or internally displaced persons, they are extremely vulnerable to sexual violence and harassment, including violence perpetrated by their so-called “protectors” such as UN peacekeeping troops.
AWID: Can you tell us more about other manifestations of militarism beyond war?
SN: Many locations are militarized, even in the absence of active wars. Military bases and areas with a large presence of troops are “hot spots” where women are trafficked into the sex trade. Military personnel at the highest levels have capitalized upon and helped to promote sex industries. For example, the United States negotiates agreements with “host” governments to allow US servicemen to enjoy “rest and recreation” sometimes known as I&I - intoxication and intercourse. Other countries have policies that protect their military forces from restrictions and ramifications of such conduct. One result is the spread of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, especially to women.
Communities also become militarized through the sanctioned spread of weapons in society. Whether in poor immigrant suburbs of France, low-income ghettos in the United States, shantytowns in Haiti, or favelas in Brazil, the nexus among economic inequality, poverty and crime is heightened by the presence of arms and weapons and high levels of sexual violence against women. In recent times, non-state actors—militias, militant nationalists, sects, warlords and others—have followed the military model with similar disregard for property, community and women’s bodies.
The diversion of critically needed resources to fuel militarism is also of high concern – around the world, countries devote billions of dollars to build up their military strength, taking resources away from education, health and other social services.
AWID: What is Global Fund for Women’s initiative to address militarism?
SN: The ultimate goal is to support women-led efforts to resist violence and militarism, reclaim peace and security and restore human rights and dignity.
In the past 22 years, we have granted over $31 million to 1,847 women’s organizations in more than 141 countries to address various aspects of conflict and militarism, and we are hoping to grant $10 million more over the next five years through this initiative. Many of the groups we support provide services and support to help women heal from the trauma and violation of war, to increase their post-war income-earning capacities and to rebuild devastated communities. We want to provide them the resources to take their work to the next level – to actually address the systemic issues that allow militarism to threaten their existence and peaceful, sustainable development.
AWID: Can you say more about the strategies women’s groups are using?
SN: We did a recent internal study of some grantees working on militarism and conflict and found that a majority of them used direct service strategies to influence shifts at the individual, group and community level. Most organizations were responding to post-conflict situations, with only a small minority engaged in conflict-prevention and peace-building work. We believe that many of these organizations have valuable insights into the root causes of militarism and armed conflict, but that the pressures of their immediate concerns and needs— namely healing people devastated by war and armed conflict—have made it very difficult for them to focus on the underlying issues.
Still, in addition to their critically needed direct service work, women’s groups are raising awareness about human rights violations in conflict and post-conflict situations, addressing environmental devastation resulting from war and militarism, bridging differences across lines of division and pressing for new, women-inclusive leadership to prevent conflicts from recurring. Many groups are also incorporating policy advocacy at a national or international level into their work, including campaigns to ensure that warring parties comply with laws and treaties to protect the rights of non-combatants.
AWID: What kinds of groups and strategies are you hoping to support going forward?
SN: We seek to put money into the hands of women activists and women’s groups working to stop the perpetuation of militarism in a number of ways. In addition to direct service work, we support policy advocacy, such as shifting budgets from military to social and human services and reducing the arms trade. Also, we support awareness-raising about the scope of militarism as a system and the need to shift cultural, political and economic priorities towards a more humane system that prioritizes genuine human security. Finally, we support groups ensuring women’s leadership and active participation in all aspects of building peaceful societies, including addressing violations, leading peace negotiations and spearheading post-conflict rebuilding.
AWID: In addition to funding, will there be other activities that are a part of the initiative?
SN: Yes. We will continue to leverage our partnerships for further advocacy and movement building around this issue. We will also be using media to drive messages and public engagement and will be facilitating the participation of women’s rights groups in regional and international meetings to discuss strategies and share analyses and successes. And we will continue to educate and engage donors to become agents for advocacy and social change philanthropy, including around this issue.
AWID: How/where can people learn more and apply for grants?
In addition to the interviewee, the author would like to thank Iris Garcia at the Global Fund for Women for her support with this interview.