The focus of war is usually for control of resources, power and money. It is in the context of global capitalism, profit seeking, weakening states, poverty, and a growing culture of violence that unprecedented militarization has occurred- now with a global price tag of well over 5800 billion USA each year. There are untold other costs, not just tallied in dollars but also in human misery.
Soldiers, in order to perpetrate the murder, rape and destruction of people and communities, are taught to dehumanize the “enemy” into “the other.” Ethnic differences and gender are often used as categories of “otherness” to create the targets of war. The low social status of most of the world’s women, and the relative “weakness” of women and children make them especially vulnerable to one of the most effective weapons of war-rape. Rape is a deliberate strategy of armed conflict and has been inflicted on many hundreds of thousands of women and girls, as well as men and boys. In war zones rape is often committed in public, is often sadistically perpetrated by gangs, and is used to signify defeat of the enemy-who could not protect “his” woman. Rape represents an assault on the individual woman, as well as her family and community. Women hold communities together, and attacking them contributes to the defeat and to the disintegration of community bonds. Rape leads to this disintegration in a number of ways: people flee their communities to escape rape and violence; women are shunned and either cannot or will not return to their families and communities; the fear of HIV and AIDS (which is killing millions); and unwanted pregnancy which causes “ethnic cleansing” as ethnicities are combined.
Prostitution and Sexual Slavery
Prostitution is the profession of poverty and war, and has always been associated with the military. According to the United Nations “soldiers and other members of the military, both local and foreign, have long represented a substantial portion of the demand for commercial sex.” What has been termed prostitution is often sexual slavery systematically set up by local and foreign military and governments. The proliferation of “prostitution” in the proximity of military bases is well documented; the demand for sex, the presence of local men willing to make money by exploiting women, and the poverty and economic need of local communities has contributed to the sex trade. Rape, violence, abduction, forced servitude, depression, post traumatic stress disorder, torture, disease and death characterize sexual slavery-one of the most lucrative businesses in the world. The nature of sexual slavery has undergone a transformation in the past few decades. The sex trade has become industrialized, normalized and globalized. The industrialization of sex has produced a multibillion-dollar global market in females, with highly organized networks of pimps and organized crime gangs who engage in the trafficking of mostly women and girls. Another new and shocking feature of contemporary sexual slavery is the age of the victims, where (according to UNICEF) girls as young as four are being raped. Part of the reason for this is the belief that they do not yet have HIV or AIDS. According to the United Nations “The arrival of Peacekeeping troops is associated with a rapid rise in child prostitution.” Sexual transgressions by the military and Peacekeeping forces from many countries have been docume nted-including the Canadian Military.
Sexual slavery and violence is so prevalent that the United Nations has assigned it a special category-Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV). The UNHCR considers SGBV a violation of human rights and a criminal act (as it is in most countries), and has adopted a zero-tolerance policy for assaults perpetrated by representatives of the United Nations. The International Tribunal on War Crimes now considers rape a crime against humanity, although few have ever been persecuted for this crime to date. Another effect of war is the increase in refugees and internally displaced persons (IDP’s); some wander for years seeking asylum, others live in refugee camps. Given the lack of infrastructure, political will, resources and personnel, it is impossible to know exactly how many millions of refugees and IDP’s there are in the world. In 2002, it was revealed that refugee children in West Africa were forced to give sexual favours in return for food rations, shelter, education and medicine. A report commissioned by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) revealed that “extensive sexual exploitation” of refugee children was being perpetrated by 40 agencies including International Aid Workers, NonGovernmental Organizations (NGO’s) and Peacekeepers.
Numerous United Nations Conventions
against slavery and SGBV have been drafted, passed and ratified by many countries, but to date there is no enforcement mechanism. The Conventions criminalize those who directly or indirectly profit from prostitution, not the prostituted person-however, in most societies prostitution is considered a crime and prostitutes are punished. One major obstacle in the fight for justice for women and children is that these Conventions do not consider the customer to be the economic base of prostitution, and it is rare that the customer is punished for his transgressions.
An International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention on the worst forms of labour for children includes prostitution among the long list of intolerable work for children. However, the ILO recognizes that the sex industry is anintegral part of the Gross National Product (GNP) and calls for the recognition of the sex industry as a legitimate economic sector. As well, some countries are calling for the legalization or decriminalization of prostitution, and for the establishment of sexual exploitation as a legitimate sector in the name of modernity, (sexual) freedom, self-determination and “empowerment.” As an international community, are we saying that we accept that the female body and human sexuality should become objects of consumption and trade-yet another commodity?
It is a mistake to assume that because women and children are selling themselves sexually, it means that they want to do it. They participate in their own sexual exploitation for survival. Some say that prostitution and pornography enable women to make as much money as men, but the fact remains that women control virtually none of the money in this billion-dollar industry. Others claim that prostitution has always existed, it is the “oldest profession in the world.” Josephine Butler, a 19th Century abolitionist retorts that, “Murderers and thieves have always existed, so let us elaborate laws which would say in which place, under what conditions it will be permitted to kill and to steal.” The current international economic regime does just that-it kills and steals dignity, sexuality, nature and humanity’s hope for the future. Economic plunder of the world’s majority by the minority is the primary cause of war, and our world leaders are condoning the rape of children. The legacy of the 20th Century is one of untold suffering at the hands of so called democratic leaders. It is imperative that we let our leaders know that we do not support militarization and war. No to the war in Iraq, no to the military industrial complex, no to the destruction of nature, and no to the rape of women and children!