War and peace — why are women not concerned?

By Zubaida Mustafa

The issue conspicuously missing in the debates that take place in women’s forum in Pakistan is that of war, peace and disarmament. Somehow these topics are considered to be of masculine interest only and one hardly comes across women leaders speaking about them — least of all, in meetings of women’s organisations.

That women should keep off such issues in our country is not difficult to understand — though by no means easy to justify. Women have traditionally been kept out of the higher decision-making process or statecraft.

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War, peace and diplomacy have been regarded as out of bound for women, some exceptions being the few outstanding ladies who became ambassadors or held some important political positions. It was only in the seventies that the doors of the Foreign Office were thrown open to women. Yet, today there are only a few of them who hold high offices. As for the Ministry of Defence and the armed forces, women are accepted only in the medical corps.

But that is hardly any justification for women generally to shun the issue of war and peace. It is clear that the consequences of the defence strategy and arms policy adopted during peace time and also of the decision to go to war affect women as much as men. In fact, being the more disadvantaged class, women are worse hit when the Government decides to divert limited resources from development and the social sector to build up its defence machinery. As for wartime, it is true our women do not go to the war front, but they are the worst sufferers when devastation — of life, property and economy — is unleashed on the people. Besides, as a group more directly concerned with a settled pattern of life, family and community well-being and normal social condition, women have a vital stake in peace and ought to have an important say in its preservation.

This has been realised by women in other countries. Not surprisingly, the peace movement in Europe is dominated by women. In Britain, they are mainly women who have picketed at Greenham Commons air-force base where the Cruise missiles have been installed. In Sweden, women peace activists have been the staunchest advocates of pacifism. In West Germany, the Greens — the upcoming party which stands for nuclear disarmament — has an all-women leadership.

Narrow

There are two factors which account for the disinterestedness of our women in the issue of disarmament. In the first place, women in any way associated with the struggle for female rights and development tend to take a very narrow and, in a sense, subjective view of public issues. They tend to concentrate on matters which directly affect women. Since disarmament, in their perception, does not qualify to be included in this category, it does not merit a public debate in their forums.

Secondly, those women who are personally aware of the interrelationship between disarmament and development prefer not to raise the issue because they feel that in a country where women are downtrodden and where their health, education and welfare should take precedence of all other matters, disarmament is too remote an issue to merit widespread attention. Both the approaches are wrong. The uplift of women must be perceived as an integrated process of national development. It cannot be treated in isolation from other issues which have a bearing on society and the economy. Disarmament is one of them.

Spread effect

Prima facie, disarmament might appear to be irrelevant to the women’s struggle. But actually it is not, for our failure to make much progress towards resolving many of the problems that women face is, to an extent, due to shortage of resources. If more funds could be channelled into the social sectors, it would, invevitably and by a process of spread effect, make a considerable impact on the lives of women. Lower expenditures on arms would release larger amounts for development. Hence, women should find it in their own interest to work for peace and oppose the arms race as an essentially destructive process.

In this context, APWA made a good beginning by including the theme “peace and goodwill” in its triennial conference this year, although that hardly evoked a full dress debate on disarmament. Only when other women organisations take up discussion of the question, will women become aware of the issues at stake and take greater interest in the matter.

Source: Dawn 26 April 1985