The advance this year of the struggle to eilmininate violence against women is an important step forward for the global movement for a culture of peace. Here’s why.
First of all, violence against women has always been an intrinsic component of war. This goes back to prehistory when women were excluded from war due to the fact the practice of patrilocal exogamous marriage (husband remains in his native village and marries a wife from outside) ensured that wars were conducted between the husband of a woman on one side and her father and brothers on the other side. As a result, since warriors were exclusively men, they were free to capture and rape the women they found when vanquishing another community.
The male domination of the culture of war has characterized all human societies since the beginning of history. The male rulers of the first empires were not only the military commanders but also the heads of the state religion. Female heads of state and religion were so rare that they are considered to be curiosities of history: for example the pharaoh Hatshepsut in ancient Egypt, and the (mythical?) female Catholic Pope in the Middle Ages.
The male domination of the culture of war has come down to our present world system transformed by previous changes in economic systems, from slavery to colonialism to neo-colonialism, but all of these systems remain essentially sexist.
Huge economic industries, part of the culture of war, are essentially sexist. Of course, female prostitution goes back to the beginning of recorded history. But what about modern advertising the use of scarcely clad female models to sell automobilies, beauty products, etc. etc.? In capitalist economies, women are often considered as a commodity to be bought and sold. Seen in this context, rape can be considered in many cases as the forceful theft of the female commodity.
Apart from physical violence the exploitation of women in the modern economy is a form of structural violence. Women are not paid for their essential work in the bearing and raising of children. And in the workplace they continue to be paid substantially less than men in the equivalent occupation.
Political leaders often echo the sexism. The current US President is an example as reported on many occasions (for a list see the this article in The Guardian). Fortunately, we find more political leaders speaking out against sexism, such as the Presidents of France, Turkey and Canada as described in this month’s CPNN bulletin.
Second, violence against women diminishes their capacity to play their essential role as leaders in the transition to a culture of peace. Their role is essential as a result of their exclusion and suffering from war and the culture of war which gives them special reason to take action. In fact, we find women in leadership wherever there are campaigns for a culture of peace, but it would be even greater if all women were free from the threat of violence.
Third, the struggle for any one of the eight program areas of the culture of peace is a struggle for the others as well, because the movement for a culture of peace is an integral and synergistic struggle. For example, the rights of women are an important component of human rights in general. Similarly, sustainable and equitable economic development and democratic participation require the economic and political equality of women. Education for peace requires that girls have the same access to education as boys. In fact, as UN Secretary-General António Guterres has said, unless the international community tackles the problem of violence against women, the world will not eradicate poverty or reach any of its other goals.
In general, we should not make the mistake of thinking that the struggle to eliminate violence against women is just a struggle of the women themselves. It has to be the struggle of everyone, men as well as women, if we are to advance towards a culture of peace.