Global Policy Forum

A Woman’s Place is in the Struggle:


By Nicole Hilder

Green Left Weekly
April 21, 2004

Since the passage of the Sex Discrimination Act in 1984, more women than ever before have entered the military. Women constitute 15.5% of the Australian Defence Force (higher than the US military, which has 14.3% women, and the British military 7.5%). Yet within the military, misogynist culture and widespread sexual assault on servicewomen continues to prevail.

As of February this year there were 112 rapes and assaults in the US services, including incidents in Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan, since the "war on terror" began. According to the January 24 Denver Post, women soldiers who have been sexually assaulted reported poor medical treatment, lack of counselling, incomplete criminal investigations and threats of punishment. Assault victims are often left in the same units as their accused attackers, where they must continuously salute them.

Last December, US Congress members intervened to bring home Danielle, an intelligence officer, who had been knocked unconscious and raped in Kuwait. After the incident she was interviewed for about three hours and, despite being obviously beaten, was asked to take a lie detector test.

Past military conflicts show high rates of sexual abuse and harassment among servicewomen. Nearly 30% of female US veterans from the Vietnam war said they experienced a sexual encounter "accompanied by force or threat of force", according to the Congressional Record. A study of troops in the 1991 Gulf War by the US Department of Veteran Affairs found that 7% of women reported sexual assaults, while 33% reported sexual harassment.

Such misogynist violence is a tool of power — not an isolated, unfortunate occurrence. It is used to instil a culture of slavish obedience. Military training frequently encourages the hatred and belittling of women. The use of sexist slurs to motivate aggressive behaviour is part of the psychological preparation to eliminate solidarity, through competition and humiliation.

Accompanying this is a flourishing sex industry for military "rest and relaxation". More than 5000 women, mainly from the Philippines and the former Soviet Union, were trafficked into South Korea in the mid 1990s, primarily to work as "entertainers" at bars near US military bases. Until 1999, when it was banned, US military bases were one of the largest purchasers of hard core pornography.

Three US troops were charged with the alleged rape of two sisters during a rest and relaxation visit to Darwin in February. They had just come from active deployment in Iraq. The Japanese island of Okinawa is seething with anger over a series of sexual assaults committed by US troops stationed there.

In 2002, three soldiers just returned from duty in Afghanistan promptly killed their partners at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Current reports of the psychological trauma of troops occupying Iraq do not bode well for the future.

According to Lucinda Marshall from the Feminist Peace Network, there have been 218 domestic murders in the US military since 1995. Many assaults are not reported because the women feared retaliation, such as damage to their careers as servicewomen or accusations of being disloyal or unpatriotic.

Misogyny is not only condoned and encouraged as a vital part of military culture — it is also covered up. In the case of the 1994 "Tailhook Scandal" (the media reports rape and assault as "sex scandals" or "misconduct") over 50 officers were implicated in making women run a gauntlet where they were sexually harassed and assaulted in a variety of ways at a Texan air force academy. Six other officers were accused of blocking the subsequent investigation. Despite massive news coverage, none of those implicated were ever court marshalled or prosecuted in civilian courts.

On ANZAC Day 1983 in Sydney, over 500 women gathered to mourn women raped in war. After being denied permission to join the parade 159 women were arrested for marching, solemnly, one hour ahead of time, to commemorate "women of all countries raped in war".

On what is supposed to be Australia's national day of mourning for those who died or suffered in war (ANZAC Day), countless women who were raped, assaulted or murdered — within and without the military services — are not remembered. Knowledge of their very existence is systematically denied and repressed under propaganda valorising war as heroic and ennobling.

It is critical that feminist and anti-war activists identify the fundamental connection between militarism and misogyny and work together to do away with both.

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