The Objectification of Women in War Zones

0 Flares 0 Flares ×

“Children here find refuge in their hopes to die. The
fact that death is equated to life is horrifying me. How
are we going to deal with this generation in the future,
how can we talk about life?”
—Message from Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian,
working in the Palestinian Balata camp
during the Israeli raids, March 2002)
an extraordinary woman I met in Istanbul several years ago,
who works with and for women in Israel and Palestine,
very much sums up the place we have reached in our present
world: millions of children around the world hope to
die, their lives offer them only despair, injustices are the
order of the day… The situation in the Middle East, which
has been left to fester since the creation of the State of Israel
in 1948 continues to degenerate. It led to the invasion of
Lebanon in 1982 by Israel and to the subsequent massacres
of Sabra and Shatila in the Palestinian camps that left
upwards of 2,000 Lebanese and Palestinian civilians dead,
women raped, children massacred. Another war against
Lebanon and the Hezballah by Israel took place in 2006
and seemed like a repetition of all the horrors that had
taken place previously. Women in war zones pay the highest
tribute to the violence that prevails. How can it go on
like this? How can we go on living in such a world?
As I watch the news from year to year, month to month,
the tanks and heavy artillery against the major cities of
Palestine, against the camps and the civilians, I am
reminded of so many war events that stuck in my memory:
1991, the first air raids of the US forces against Iraq, 1982,
summer in Beirut, my sister in West Beirut, spending most
of her nights in the shelter, Israel bombarding by air, land
and sea, civilian targets, an urban center, and innocent victims,
most nights filled with the sounds of shells crushing,
detonating, burning, with the Beirut sky going up in fires,
flames, explosions and lights, the massacres in the Sabra
and Shatila Palestinian camps, the bodies of women, children,
old people, young people, their throats slit, their
stomachs open, blood flowing in the earth, holocaust
repeated by the victims of the holocaust. And then Iraq,
Afghanistan, Lebanon again, and all the other places on
our poor earth, plagued by our Post-Modern world violence,
places it would be too long to enumerate. The problems
have reached proportions beyond words. Today, I feel
a sense of urgency and doom I had not felt then.
In Iraq and Afghanistan, the situation which has considerably
deteriorated over the last few months is in a state
of chaos and degradation beyond words and women’s condition
is one of utter desolation.
In a series of extraordinary reports, the latest published
in July, Human Rights Watch has documented atrocities
“committed by gunmen and warlords who were propelled
into power by the United States and its coalition partners
after the Taliban fell in 2001” and who have “essentially
hijacked the country”.
The report describes army and police troops controlled
by the warlords kidnapping villagers with impunity and
holding them for ransom in unofficial prisons; the widespread
rape of women, girls and boys; routine extortion, robbery
and arbitrary murder. Girls’ schools are burned down.
“Because the soldiers are targeting women and girls,”
the report says, “many are staying indoors, making it
impossible for them to attend school [or] go to work.”
“Two girls who went to school without their burqas
were killed and their dead bodies were put in front of their
houses,” she said. “Last month, 35 women jumped into a
river along with their children and died, just to save themselves
from commanders on a rampage of rape. That is
Afghanistan today; the Taliban and the warlords of the
Northern Alliance are two faces of the same coin.
Following the occupation of Iraq, no one sees or hears
voices or faces of Iraqi women, almost nobody in the
mainstream media talks about the raping of Iraqi women
following the occupation, and no one talks about violence
against women in Iraq after Saddam. Ironically, faces and
stories of women were revealed when needed in order to
serve the state apparatus. The structural discrimination,
double standard, and favoritism to Israel has kept separate
the continued violence against Palestinian women and
Palestinian people, camouflaging their historical and
philosophical underpinning.
The best example of the manipulation of ‘woman object’
through power is the case of Afghanistan. The Taliban
regime, extremely repressive towards women, was put into
place with the support of the USA in their struggle against
the USSR. Subsequently, the war of Afghanistan, committed
to fighting Al-Qaida’s “terrorism,” all of a sudden saw itself
invested with another objective, that of the liberation of the
Afghan woman oppressed by an obscurantist Islam. The
choice of this objective was above all meant to win “enlightened”
world opinion. No sooner had the victory been won
than the war objective was forgotten and a regime strongly
and classically patriarchal, just as repressive towards
women, was put into place without any qualms.
This betrayal is all the more scandalous because the
emancipation of women in Afghanistan has a long history.
Afghanistan is the space for a patriarchy with very strict,
rigorous norms; at the beginning of the twenties, under
the influence of a reformist king and a few intellectuals,
legislation was adopted which, in all of Islam, was the
most progressive in terms of women’s liberation. This
reform provoked a reactionary revolt in 1924 led by clerics,
then the uprising of 1928, followed by the king’s abdication.
There is, without a doubt, an ancient struggle for
the emancipation of women in Afghanistan, which was
picked up by the communist regime in the eighties; and
the USSR intervention in Afghanistan covered itself with
the same excuse. Reaction to this emancipation started
with the Mujahedines in 1992-96, and continued with the
Taliban, supported by Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, but also
by the USA. The politics of the Taliban has been violently
anti-feminist and anti-women, especially after they seized
power in 1996.
Other connections to be made when one talks about the
present world situation, globalization, women living in war
zones, terrorism, etc., are the women who die from ill-treatment
or murder by men every year in the US. It amounts to
more victims than there were on 9/11, even though this
continuous massacre is not considered war. Violence perpetrated
against women by men, an international phenomenon,
is not considered a violation of human world ethics,
even though it is a war which has gone on for centuries. The
reason given is that such violence has been lost in the sands
of times. Today we ought to consider the terror committed
against women on a world scale as a violation of international
law, a war against humanity. (MacKinnon)
Women become objects which power manipulates on
the political scene. This manipulation can take various
forms (social, legal, symbolic, etc.), and follow multiple
objectives. It can try to obtain political support from the
population itself being manipulated (here meaning
women), or the support from other sectors of public opinion
(men for example). In past decades, several authoritarian
regimes have adopted political positions favorable to
women in order to bring them over to their side, while
repressing ‘political’ opinion expressed mostly from the
male side of the population.
The cause of women tends to become today, and this is
very remarkable, one of the main ideological values of the
institutions of Empire. One can see it in the politics of the
United States, but also in other institutions that call themselves
international. Globalization as it is understood by
imperial economic organizations (the World Bank, the
International Monetary Fund, etc., but also the United
Nations) tends to, with the best intentions in the world,
manipulate women just as it manipulates the poor.
Women are made to think that no matter how weak or
poor, everyone can consume and acquire needed goods
with whatever means they have—in other words, with
whatever price they must pay for such transformation, i.e.
additional impoverishment. This is one of the worst
aspects of globalization in its frightening paradoxes (see
Jeanne Bisilliat, 2003). The ideology of globalization conceives
women as the most open to the myth of consumerism,
the central myth of the American way of life.
Under this ideology, women become phantasmatically
invested with the capacity to transform societies, to
become the defenders of Western values and civilization.
In contrast, Islam, (as formerly Communism) reputed to
be masculine in their attributes, are considered to be poles
of resistance to “modernity.”
The main target of the women’s political movement
today is the masculine management of the world, the
will and efforts to militarize to the extreme, and to promote
everything that is military. The militarization of
any approach to problems within civil society (that of
drugs for example), means that women’s voices are
reduced to silence.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.