Today is Remembrance Day, a day set aside to remember the sacrifice of our armed forces who went to battle and those who died. The original slogan associated with Remembrance Day was, “Never Again,” which also requires us to remember the atrocities of war and to commit ourselves to working for peace. After all, “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” (George Santayana).
But on Remembrance Day, the unique and grave impact of war on women often goes unacknowledged and unremembered. There is a long shameful history of violence against women that has been entwined into the horrific landscape of war and conflict around the world. Often the violence has been systematized and state-sanctioned.
Sexualized violence against women has taken the form of military prostitution. During World War Two the Japanese military set up a brothel system made up of many Korean, Chinese and Filipino women and the Nazis set up military brothels around Europe and in concentration camps where women were enslaved and routinely abused by troops. Today sexualized violence continues through the military’s use of prostitution and their perpetration of sexual assault around military bases.
Rape has been used as a strategy of war. Rape of women was used as a tool of genocide in the Bosnian war, Rwandan war, and every place that has been colonized. This strategy, used to degrade and dehumanize not only women, but their communities, is a direct attack on women’s bodies because of their gender and ethnicity.
Rape of women has been an aspect of war as long as war has existed, but only in this century has rape in war been acknowledged as a weapon. “In the 20th century, perceptions of rape in war have moved from something that is inevitable when men are deprived of female companionship for prolonged periods to an actual tactic in conflict.” (United Nations) In 2008, the UN recognized that rape is a weapon of war that is used specifically against women. The United Nation’s Resolution 1820 says, “Women and girls are particularly targeted by the use of sexual violence, including as a tactic of war to humiliate, dominate, instill fear in, disperse and/or forcibly relocate civilian members of a community or ethnic group.”
Refugee women are also impacted by violence as they flee from war zones. Many experience sexual and financial exploitation, harassment and violence by smugglers as well as violence and constant fear in refugee camps and as they travel in search of safety.
There is also an epidemic of sexual assault and harassment of women in the military.
This Remembrance Day, in addition to remembering veterans, we hope you will remember the devastating impacts of war on women. Please take a moment of silence to remember women currently impacted by war, those that have died because of war, as well as those whose lives are forever impacted by rape and violence against women in conflict.
It is important to remember that violence against women is not only an atrocity that happens during war. It is an extension of the violence and harassment women face daily in our rape culture.
Remembering this and working for peace is that much more imperative now after a US election that embraced sexism, racism, white supremacy, and nationalism.
So what could peace look like for women, when we face a war against women every day? We think it would look like a world where women are free from violence. This includes harassment, abuse, battery, sexual assault, racism, colonization, homophobia, transphobia, poverty and more. It would look like a world where women are valued. A world where women are believed.
We must work to end all war, and we must also work to end the violence women experience daily.
By Carissa Ropponen, WAVAW Woman