International Womens Day

The Lysistrata Project, one of the many anti-war actions sweeping the globe, reminds us that women’s opposition to war goes back a long way in human history. While I am glad to see a revival of the ancient comedy of women refusing sex to men if they go off to war, I would a prefer a more modern version of women’s resistance.

How about a story where women form a global non-violent army and in every country rise up against the men in power? We refuse to buy from them, to do their work in the home and outside of it, to care for them, to behave. We make a coalition of the willing with those men who are fed up with patriarchal, colonialist violence as a driving force in society and are willing to forgo their privilege to join the struggle to end it.

Our first demand is for them to give up their weapons of mass destruction. The focus, of course, would be on George W. Bush, but women in every country would demand the destruction, first of the big guns and then of all weapons. All men who commit acts of violence, whether in the home, in the workplace, in the streets, in the police force or in the army, will be designated terrorists and required to unlearn their violent ways in popular education training centres. The countries with the biggest cache of weapons, would be first, but women in each and every country would make the demands.

Disarming won’t be enough. We need a regime change. Men have held on to the levers of power long enough. Their continuing monopoly on power is the biggest threat to world peace, environmental sustainability and, in fact, the survival of the planet. There is no alternative. We will not relent until they step down so that women can take over.

The feminist movement set its sites on overthrowing the patriarchy back in the 1960s. We understood that the rule of men over women may have been maintained by economic domination and myths of romantic love and male superiority but, ultimately, it was held in place by the threat and the reality of violence. The same violence, economic domination and myths of racism maintained the rule of European countries over their colonies. All domination is rooted in violence and the threat of violence. That is why war is fundamentally a feminist issue.

In Canada, the peace movement has always been part of the women’s movement and vice versa. Women like Muriel Duckworth and Ursula Franklin were struggling for peace long before most of us were born. They have steadfastly brought their message to new generations.

The Voice of Women for Peace was one of the founding groups of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women (NAC). Scholars consider it the first second-wave feminist group in the country. Founded in 1960, it began, according to Duckworth, as a women’s group rather than a feminist group. Then, as now, it seemed like the very survival of the planet was at stake in the nuclear arms race. Women not only raised their voices, they organized campaigns to stop nuclear testing.

Feminist peaceniks refused to accept the definitions of who was friend and who was foe. In 1967, the Voice of Women invited a women’s delegation from Northern Vietnam to tour Canada. “They were considered the enemy,” says Duckworth. But the Voice of Women understood that they had more in common with the women of the Viet Cong than with the men of the administration in the United States who were dropping bombs on their people.

During the last Gulf War, too, women played a key role. Alberta’s Yvonne Stanford was a key organizer of the Peace Caravan that organized anti-war protests across the country. “I hope the peace movement of today is building on what we did,” she told me.

Now as the people of the world rise up against war, feminist voices are more important than ever. As Muriel Duckworth said, “People are against this war with Iraq, but they have to understand that all war must be eliminated.”

In Vancouver, a women’s direct action group has been organizing anti-war protests around the city including an action in which they lay “dead babies” (dolls, of course) on the sidewalk in front of an army recruiting centre. But in much of the anti-war activity, feminist voices are not yet visible or audible.

March 8 is International Women’s Day (IWD). In Toronto, the theme of the IWD march will be peace and freedom. IWD events around the world will also focus on peace. On this International Women’s Day, let’s celebrate the centuries-old women’s struggle for peace and against male domination. And let’s make sure this anti-war movement practices the politics of non-domination and anti-oppression. Because as long as any of our relationships are based on domination, we will never end the most extreme form that domination can take and the one that lies beneath all the others.

This piece orginally appeared on www.rabble.ca. Judy Rebick is the publisher of rabble.ca and the Sam Gindin Chair in Social Justice and Democracy at Ryerson University in Toronto.

Leave a comment