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militarism and gender justice

Ending Militarized US Foreign Policy Is a Gender Justice Issue

Words: Jenna Thoretz
Pictures: Vladislav Nikonov

Women, especially women of color, low-income women, and LGBTQI women, are under attack by the United States’ hyper-militarized foreign policy. The impacts of war on women — its magnification of exisiting inequalities, destruction of social networks, and sexual violence — are hardly new or debatable. An ever-increasing culture of militarism and economic exploitation is dominating US foreign policy, threatening to push effective, sustainable foreign policy that prioritizes women’s rights even further aside. 

So long as the militarization of US foreign policy continues to grow, there is little hope of realizing women’s rights and liberation, let alone the sustainable peace that comes with women’s participation in the process. Studies have shown that when women participate in peace processes, the resulting agreements are more inclusive and are 35% more likely to last for at least fifteen years. Dismantling the idea that military force is the best tool to address political problems around the world is essential to ending the US’ current approach to foreign policy, which bolsters profit-hungry defense corporations and ignores women’s rights. 

So long as the militarization of US foreign policy continues to grow, there is little hope of realizing women’s rights and liberation, let alone the sustainable peace that comes with women’s participation in the process.

Today, militarism — defined by Merriam-Webster as, “a policy of aggressive military preparedness,” basically the glorification of military force as the primary method of conflict resolution — has become the paradigm for US involvement around the world. US involvement in Afghanistan is perhaps the best example of this militarized state: an 18-year-long war, the US’ longest, that has cost countless dollars and has, in many cases, undermined women’s rights and prevented peace movements from succeeding. Between 2016 and 2017, female casualties in Afghanistan leapt 23 percent to 174 deaths and 462 injuries. Rather than continue to invest in the prolonged and ineffective military action in Afghanistan, the US should support social, economic, and medical assistance for women and lift up existing women-led peace movements that address the underlying local drivers of conflict. 

This disregard for women’s lives is on full display in the US-supported and Saudi and Emirati-led coalition’s failed military intervention in Yemen. Women have been hit the hardest by the war in Yemen with an estimated 3 million women and girls at an increased risk of sexual violence, poverty, starvation, and internal displacement. Due to the conflict, girls in Yemen have been increasingly forced into child-marriage to help protect and sustain their families. Furthermore, by selling weapons to Saudi Arabia, the US supports and empowers a regime that violently oppresses women, especially women activists for social and political justice

But the harm of US militarized foreign policy is not just contained to the Middle East. In Colombia, for example, the US has offered assistance in the form of billions in security and military aid. In the 2000s, members of the US-aided Colombian Army units killed thousands of civilians to “falsely pad combat ‘body counts.’” The decades-long conflict in Colombia disproportionately exposed Afro-Colombian and indigenous women and girls to greater levels of sexual violence and forced displacement, through, among other atrocities, the combatants’ use of rape as a weapon of war. Following the conclusion of a robust, inclusive peace agreement, the Trump administration threatened to withdraw crucial support needed to implement the agreement. Furthermore, the implementation of the peace agreement has been unjust and exclusionary, especially to the Afro-Colombian, indigenous, and LGBTQI women denied the opportunity to hold high positions of political power and shape Colombia’s post-conflict future, despite promises of inclusion and justice. Withdrawing critical funds for the peace agreement’s implementation further undermines the potential for inclusive, sustainable peace.

It is no surprise that US foreign policy disproportionately harms women and Muslim, Black, and brown bodies given the injustices these populations face here at home. For generations, the US has condoned and facilitated gender-based and sexual violence against women in the US, especially against indigenous women and women of color. Even today, the basic right of bodily autonomy for women is under attack by state governments seeking to deny women the right to control their own bodies. 

The US has an opportunity to counter its long history of militarized foreign policy by embracing a feminist foreign policy. Feminist foreign policy would abandon neo-colonial policies in favor of funding and uplifting women who are already advancing change in their communities. This policy would prioritize human security above profit by investing in education, healthcare, and the economic and political empowerment of women. By ending the financing and execution of wars that disproportionately harm women and non-binary people, a feminist foreign policy would ensure that the security, autonomy, and liberation of all people is more important than profit and power for the very few.

Jenna Thoretz is a junior at Gettysburg College with a passion for the intersection between gender justice, development, and security. This summer she served as the Policy and Advocacy Intern at Win Without War — a progressive foreign policy advocacy organization. 

Jenna Thoretz

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