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From patriarchal use of power
to human security and democracy


PressInfo # 205

 December 23, 2004

By Gudrun Schyman and Jan Oberg, TFF board

Prior to the 2003 International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan stated that "Gender-based violence is perhaps the most shameful human rights violation. As long as it continues, we cannot claim to be making real progress towards equality, development and peace."

In this article we seek to relate the gender-based violence to the issue of human security and ideas about a new type of defence policy. (When this was written in Swedish at the time of the debate about the future of Sweden's official defence policy, it was refused by a series of leading newspapers, right, middle and left).

The Swedish edition of this article here


From patriarchal exertion of power toward human security and democracy

We know of no one, neither men nor women, who want war and death. 99 per cent of people on earth do not want violence in their lives or in politics. They want non-violence. They want peace. They want a safe future for their children and a dignified life for their parents. They value a life free from the fear that violence breeds.

The assumption that men are supposed to protect (and "liberate") women and children with military means, seems to be basic to the traditional, mainstream paradigm of defence and security. In every society and at every social level, there are (power) structures that accept and legitimate violence. From the bedrooms and kitchens - the traditional spheres of gender-based violence of which 80 per cent takes place in the homes - to the brutality of the world's battle fields, violence acquires its strength and is nurtured by the global patriarchal order of power.

Women's bodies have become the new battle fields, as stated in the UN Report "Women, War and Peace" coordinated by Elisabeth Rehn and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

"Women's bodies have become a battleground over which opposing forces struggle," the Experts write. "Women are raped as a way to humiliate male relatives, who are often forced to watch the assault. In societies where ethnicity is inherited through the male line, 'enemy' women are raped and forced to bear children. Women who are already pregnant are forced to miscarry through violent attacks. Women are kidnapped and used as sexual slaves to service troops, as well as to cook for them and carry their loads from camp to camp. They are purposefully infected with HIV/AIDS, a slow, painful murder."

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In the national, male-dominated, military defence system, the State serves as a father figure. The country - such as Mother Russia or Mother Svea in Sweden - is a woman. The civil population, women and children, is the imagined social body that must be protected. "The family" is the chosen institution serving to protect the child-bearing and -rearing mothers. But the sad truth is that this very same "family" has become the main stage on which a violent drama is acted out that few want or dare to talk about.

To put it in perspective, the violence of men against women victimises many times more women worldwide than do all acts of terror against men and women and children together.

At least in the Western world, whatever has to do with gender and sex no longer belongs to the private sphere. The exploitation of women's bodies and the sexualisation of the public space - and the proliferation of pornography in it - has increased dramatically. It's a commercialised activity that is quite often marketed as a "message of freedom" and "liberation" and, unfortunately, it makes it possible for male politicians to opportunistically argue that they are "liberating" the women of, say, Afghanistan and Iraq. But their notion of freedom and liberalism happens to be quite different and incompatible with external enforcement.

Power is very plain in its gender identity. Gender is an integral part of the powers that be - or of the feeling of powerlessness. Women and children are the first victims of the patriarchal wars and militarism, of the macho and disciplining of soldiers to act cruelly. (Which does not mean that we ignore that young boys may also be exploited and suffer from the consequences of obeying orders in the killing fields). Generally, women now participate more frequently in the spheres of conflict, security, and defence and simultaneously women now also appear as killers, suicide bombers and torturers.


Wrong question: Should women join the Army?

Presumably in the name of equality, women join professional armies and get engaged in interventions and occupations. War fighting has become a paid profession, no longer a duty or a call to heroism, patriotism or higher values. We have seen it recently in Iraq, in the ugly torture chambers of the Abu Ghraib prison. Women choose to become suicide bombers and guerrilla fighters and they fall - as we have witnessed in the tragic case of Margaret Hassan - victim to the satanic violence of terror.

Many women asked themselves whether, in the name of gender equality, they ought to join the military and step into the traditionally male-dominated world of mainstream military security affairs - some, of course, with the motive that they want to try to change it from the inside. This could be seen as an increasingly meaningful choice given that the military in numerous countries is being marketed as ever more civil, as helpers in humanitarian catastrophes and as actors for "humanitarian" interventions. But is it?

We believe that the question is not whether to join and compete inside the patriarchal order or stay outside it. In spite of all nice words, the military is - at the end of the day - an organisation that prepares and trains people to kill, if… We would rather raise the question this way: In which new ways could we imagine that conflicts should be handled in the future world that would seem morally acceptable and meaningful to women and men alike to participate in? Remember, there is nothing wrong in wanting to defend what one loves, including one's family, town, country and the values we have agreed are important to us. Likewise, there is nothing bad about wanting to help others, to try to save lives and help people not feeling threatened as do peacekeepers. The question for all of us alike is: how do we do it in less gender-biased and less violent ways in the future?


Human security - a concept that must challenge the existing security thinking

The answer to the above question could well be: human security. In the report to the UN by the Human Security Commission headed by Madam Sadako Ogata and Nobel laureate in economics, Amatya Sen, that was published last year there is much deliberation about how to protect people in war, helping people fleeing, empowering the victims after hurt and harm and rebuilding communities after war. There is much talk about knowledge, education and training, about the role of media and about fair trade and the possibility of a market economy that will benefit the weakest, the disadvantaged - and there is a lot about diversity and freedom.

What is being said is both right and beautiful. But - unfortunately - it is presumably without the slightest effect on day-to-day decision-making. There is no reason to believe that the administrations of, say, George W. Bush or Tony Blair even think about these concepts when they decide their strategies for Iraq. The Ogata/Sen Report is rather useful as a platform for discussion in academic and NGO circles; but it also serves as a reservoir of formulations that cynical politicians may safely integrate in their speeches at ceremonious occasions without any commitment to implementation.

Ogata and Sen evidently chose not to challenge the existing order, neither the level of security (the nation-state) nor the monopolising means of the traditional paradigm (the weapons and the so-called balance of power that is always very subjective). They did not challenge the patriarchal order and the violence that underpins it. Their report could well end up serving as a beautifying face-lift or make-up for the ugliness of war, any war. If in wars we also think of and care about human beings, those wars become more acceptable and the masters of war appear more legitimate than they otherwise would.

It's now about more than 25 years ago peace researcher and TFF Associate Johan Galtung together with young researchers - among them one of the authors of this article - coined the term and developed the theory of human security. See for example Jan Oberg, "The New International Military Order. The Real Threat to Human Security" (The Chair of Conflict and Peace Research, Oslo University, Papers No. 65, 98 pages, 1978). As far as we know, this was the first time ever the idea of human security was developed with any coherency. So, it took about 30 years for it to travel from academia to politics.

The point of departure of this project was that human beings have basic needs and that there were basically four categories of them: survival/security, welfare, identity and freedom. Closely related was the idea that peace could be secured by peaceful means, a means-goal logics that was borrowed from the UN Charter and, thus, went counter to the traditional security policy paradigm that advocates si vis pacem para pacem - if you wasn't peace, prepare for war. Security policies, thus, were taken out of the national framework and from the monopoly of the state on the means, i.e. the weapons. Why? For the pretty simple reason that the doctrine of national security - in contrast to human and global security - has resulted in an arms race dynamics and resource waste that defy human imagination as well as control; because the world desperately needs resources to satisfy the other human needs, because wars have not been prevented by the balance of power and because this security paradigm has led to the loss of around 30 million human beings, predominantly women and children, in more than 100 wars since 1945.

The present situation in Iraq summarizes well the two malaises of the modern high-tech civilisation: militarism and imperialism. This is not the disease of communism; that is dead. No, it is the intrinsic disease of capitalism, of liberal society - at least when it considers itself superior and co-exists with no competitors. Militarism as well as imperialism and cultural contempt are macro - if not meta - expressions of the patriarchal power and world (dis)order.

New visions and ways of thinking are possible. All it takes is an open debate about state versus the individual (micro) on the one hand and the common security and survival of the globe as a whole (macro); all it takes is that we dare challenge those who lead in the perverse prioritising of weapons and violence; all it takes is that we give priority, instead, to intelligent, violence-prevention and genuine conflict management. In addition, four more years with George W. Bush makes it imperative that we develop and discuss alternative security, defence and foreign policies - in Sweden, in the EU and worldwide.


Much more debate and a new type of people's movement for human security is needed now

We need new angles and ideas in the debate. It's not enough to say "no to war" and argue for "disarmament and arms control." For the sake of security, we need a new debate - because in this field nothing has worked since the so-called end of the cold war. There is nothing one can seriously call peace in, say, Bosnia, Macedonia, Kosovo/Serbia, Somalia, Afghanistan or Iraq. In the best of these cases, there is just no open violence.

Thus, we are not advocating the narrow-minded and empirically wrong hypothesis that men = war and women = peace. It's not predominantly a matter of gender; the issue is power!

We strongly feel that the world situation is such that the women's movement, the peace movement and the democracy movements must now come together and join force. To realise the dream of global democracy, inter-cultural trust and conviviality worldwide, we need more non-violence, not more violence. We need to prepare peace to achieve peace - rather than prepare the war, fall into its trap and then repair the damage by peacekeeping, reconstruction and the implanting of one-recipe market economy, etc.

Human security is about putting human beings first in every equation, it's means war-prevention and conflict-resolution in the first place - it does not mean that we continue to give the outdated national, militarist security concept priority and use human security to clean up the mess afterwards.

If we liberate ourselves from the patriarchal power structures, we shall have taken a huge step in the much-needed direction of human security and overall, worldwide violence-reduction.


© TFF and the author 2004



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