MILITARIZATION AND RURAL WOMEN IN THE ERA
OF THE U.S. “GLOBAL WAR ON TERROR”
A Briefing paper for the Rural Women's Regional Consultation
Sulo Hotel, Quezon City, Philippines
31 July to 02 August 2007
Prepared by GABRIELA National Alliance of Women's Organizations
About 17 days ago, the Human Security Act (HSA), the Philippines' version of the
anti-terrorism law or what in most Asian countries is referred to as the prevention
of terrorism legislation, came into effect. This in the midst of international
condemnation of our present government's human rights records and despite
warnings even from our own Supreme Court Chief Justice that passage of such
law could lead to more violations of human rights.
From January 2001 to July 11, 2007 three days before the implementation of the
HSA, extrajudicial killings in the country have already reached 863 while forced
disappearances totalled 197. About a tenth of those killed were women and 54
were children, three while still in the womb of their mothers. The possibility of the
use of sexual abuse as a form of torture is ever-present and in fact there have
been reports of such.
The passage of the HSA bolsters the Macapagal-Arroyo government’s aim at
crushing the 38 year old New People’s Army (NPA) insurgency before 2010, the
end of her term.
As in all other armed conflicts in modern times, almost all of those killed or
disappeared were civilians or non-combatants, a number of whom were
organizers, leaders or members of progressive people’s organizations. For it is
widely documented that in modern warfare, civilians make up 75% or more of
those killed, maimed and wounded.
Women and children account for 80% of victims of armed conflict. They make
up the majority of internal refugees given that most of the men have either been
recruited by any of the armed groups or in hiding.
Women and VAW during Armed Conflict
Rape as a tool of war
Since time immemorial, women have been raped by the thousands during
armed conflicts both internal and external and for whatever reason there is for
the fighting – religious, ethnic, political or nationalist. Until recently, the rape
and sexual abuse of women were seen as natural and inevitable though
unfortunate by-products of armed conflict. Women were considered as “spoils
of war” which just like the land and other belongings of the enemy pass hands
from the conquered to the conqueror. So while the number of deaths among
men, women and children are carefully recorded, the number of women
raped and sexually abused in the course of war or even after never make it to
the pages of history books.
The systematic use of rape as a tool or weapon of war has just recently gained
recognition in the wake of the mass-scale violations of women’s human rights in
the armed conflict in Rwanda and the former Republic of Yugoslavia.
Approximately 500,000 women were raped during the 1994 genocide In
Rwanda and an estimated 5,000 pregnancies resulted from those rapes. While
in Bosnia, an estimated 20,000 to 50,000 women were raped during the 5 months
of conflict in 1992.
The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the
International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) have established sexual assault
as a form of genocide and a crime against humanity and as a war crime.
Besides issuing indictments that contain counts of sexual violence, the ICTY also
convicted defendents of war crimes of sexual violence while the ICTR convicted
a defendant of genocide based in part on acts of sexual violence.
The rape of women in armed conflict can no longer be brushed aside as
incidental or random acts perpetuated by individuals. Rape, as a weapon of
war, is systematically employed for various purposes including intimidation,
humiliation, political terror, extracting information, rewarding of soldiers, and
"ethnic cleansing". In ethnic cleansing or genocide, women and girls become
target of sexual violence because of their membership in a particular ethnic,
national or religious group. Often rape is precursor to murder. But in some
instances, genocide means forcibly impregnating women to bear the children
of other ethnicity or to introduce impuritities to the women's own ethnicity.
The use of rape as a tool of war in Asia has likewise been documented. And
most those victimized were from the rural areas, the site of armed conflict; many
of them are of ethnic origin.
In the 9-month reign of terror after the 1971 failed rebellion, 200,000 to 400,000
Bengali women were raped by Pakistani soldiers in Bangladesh.” The soldiers
were quoted as saying •gwe will make you breed Punjabi babies.
There have likewise been epidemic violent abuse of Burmese women in the
hands of the military in recent years. A letter, though not yet authenticated
indicate that such rapes are in line with the •gstrategy of mixing blood•h and
•gBurmanization•h in the Shan state and instructs soldiers to •goccupy (marry
or impregnate) women who are not Burman.•h This is a clear use of war for
The rape of women during the armed insurgency in Jamnu and Kashmir in India
has been documented by the Physicians for Human Rights (PHR). This includes
the Kunan Poshpora mass rape of 36 old and young women by armed men in
the early 1990’s, the Nov. 1994 Handwara rape of 10 year old Sabnam and her
mother by a army major and the Bermina rape of a minor girl at the house of
senior police official at the police residential quarter.
Northeast Sri Lanka is likewise witness to massive human rights violations which
besides the 79,000 killed or disappeared include the more than 12,500 women
raped or killed.
Forced Prostitution- A Strategy for Survival
Armed conflict leaves in its wake social and economic destruction. Lives are
lost, people are maimed and property and means of livelihood are either
ruined by looting, burning and bombing or are left behind during forced
evacuations. Government policies covering the areas of conflict such as
economic embargo and imposed limits on amount of food that families could
buy, add to the people's hardships. For example, the reimposition of the
economic embargo to the Northeast provinces of Sri Lanka in 2005 in an effort
to starve the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and its supporters is causing
starvation and death among civilians in the area.
Displacement of hundreds and even of thousands of of families is often the
result of armed conflict. Whole villages flee to avoid being caught in the cross
fire or for fear for their lives. Some are forcibly evacuated by the military to
heavily guarded areas where their movements are controlled. In both instance,
the families are cut-off from their means of livelihood and become dependent
on relief primarily from government agencies. In Asia , a total of 3.3 million
people were displaced due to armed conflict in 2004.
In the Philippines alone, armed conflict between government security forces
and the communist insurgent New People's Army (NPA) and the moro
secessionist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) caused the displacement of
almost two million people, majority of whom are from Mindanao between 2000-
2006. The majority were displaced in Mindanao by two major military operations
launched by the government in 2000 and 2003. For the whole of 2006, about
114,045 individuals were internally displaced in the country. This is in addition to
the tens of thousands of people in Mindanao who are unable to return home or
are living in situations akin to displacement due to previous conflicts. Just two
weeks ago, hundreds of Muslim families left their homes in Basilan province for
fear of being caught in the impending military offensive by government troops
against the MILF following the beheading and mutilation of the bodies of 10
army soldiers killed during their ambush by the MILF.
Armed conflict particularly the internal displacement it causes lead to changes
in family structure. As armed conflict accelerates the number of women-
headed households rise; more and more women end up taking responsibility
for their whole household as young and adult men within their families are killed,
maimed, recruited into either of the opposing party, go into hiding to avoid
recruitment by either of the opposing party or migrate for work. In rural
communities, households are big since these are composed of small children
and the elderly. For example in Cambodia, which was the site of a bloody war
for so many years, 35 % of rural households are headed by women, many of
whom are widows.
Poverty made worse by armed conflict and displacement force many women
and girls into prostitution; some end up engaging in "survival sex" or
"transactional sex" to obtain food.
Acute poverty linked to armed conflict and displacement has bolstered the
growth of prostitution in Manipur, India. The story of Kimnu (name changed) is
typical. Kimnu was 16 years old when her parents were killed during the 1997
inter-ethnic armed conflict between the Kuki and Paite communities in
Manipur's hills. In the chaos that followed the clashes, she and her other two
siblings were separated; they landed at different 'refugee' camps. Initially, she
and the other refugees in the camp were given food and some clothes for aid.
Soon, it became apparent that depending on well-wishers with outstretched
hands would not work for long. Even borrowing would not work since the money
lenders knew that she had no means to repay. Lacking money, resources,
education and skills, she turned to the one route that seemed open - selling
herself. She began providing sexual favours in return for food and money. Ten
years has passed and she is still in prostitution.
Though there is little written documentation, a number of local NGOs are
saying that many women fleeing their homes or living in refugee centers in
Nepal have sometimes been forced into prostitution to survive; some have fallen
prey to traffickers.
Sex Trafficking During and Post-Conflict
War torn areas are rife ground for the trafficking of humans particularly of
women and children. In these areas there is a breakdown of law and order
and border controls are weak and there are many women and girls who are
badly in need not only of food and the basics of survival but also of protection
given the prevalence of violence, physical and sexual, against them. Some are
used in forced labor schemes but majority are forced into prostitution. Of
particular vulnerability to trafficking are refugee and internally displaced
women and girls especially those found in refugee centers. And it should be noted
that in Asia, most internal conflicts ?in Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar,
Nepal, Philippines and Sri Lanka - involve ethnic minority groups.
Aware of this, sex traffickers in Nepal have shifted their trade from
Sindhupalchowk and Nuwakot in central Nepal to Rukum and Rolpa , in the
mid-west where clashes between government forces and the Maoist
Communist Party of Nepal (CPN-M) are taking place.
In some cases, women and girls are trafficked for marriage and it is the army
that does the trafficking. During the Indonesian occupation of East Timor, many
girls from East Timor were abducted by Indonesian army officers and militias and
sent to camps in West Timor where they got •gmarried•h to Indonesian soldiers.
Efforts by the East Timor government to get back these girls who are now often
with their own children, and reunite them with their families in East Timor has not
The trafficking of women and girls continue even during post-conflict situations.
And post-conflict areas can and do become the origin, destination and transit
of trafficked women and girls. In certain countries , it is the former militias,
combatants and warlords who are into human trafficking, their way of
replacing lost revenues due to cessation of armed hostilities.
In post-war Afghanistan, there are many reports of trafficking of women and girls
within the country. This include abductions for forced marriage, and sexual and
domestic servitude. Some are sent abroad. This is likewise the case in post-war
Iraq where the abduction of women and girls are taking place even in broad
daylight – something that never happened before the U.S. invasion. According
to the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq, more than 400 Iraqi women
have already been kidnapped after the end of the war and many have been
sold abroad. Documents found in Kirkuk gave evidence to the abduction of 18
Iraqi girls to bars and nightclubs in Egypt. Despite such evidences, neither the
U.S. forces nor the Iraqi police force have done anything to look into these
Post conflict zones where there are foreign or international military and civilian
forces become areas of destination for trafficking of women and children. In
these places, entertainment and rest and recreation facilities including bars,
brothels and prostitutions mushroom to serve the sexual needs of foreign troops.
Later, even the locals become clients. It is in this way that members of
international peace support operations (PSO) •gunknowingly•h or knowingly
become clients of trafficked women and girls. Some members of the
peacekeeping forces may even be involved in sex trafficking, a possibility that
has been put to light by reports of the trafficking of women and girls by
international police in the post-conflict protectorate area of Bosnia.
In its 2004 report, the Human Rights Watch (HRW) mentioned the disappearance
of 23 refugee women and girls in the UNCHR refugee camps in Nepal between
November 2002 to July 2003. The HRW suspects that many of these women and
girls may be trafficking victims.
Women and Children’s Health At Risk
Armed conflict put people’s lives and health at risk in many ways. Lack of food
and health care, plus the traumas of displacement, kill more people than the
actual combat. While bullets and bombs and illnesses do not discriminate by
gender, the reproductive role of women make their health a special issue in
times of armed conflict.
Majority of those raped and sexually abused during armed conflict are women
and girls. Rape and sexual abuse results in physical injuries, trauma, and
psychiatric disorders - these are special medical needs by victims which in
times of peace are hard to get, doubly so in times of war. Women and girls
raped and forced into prostitution are at high risk for sexually transmitted disease
Armed conflict poses many dangers to pregnant and lactating mothers. Their
access to health facilities are almost nil as the clinics, hospitals and medical
facilities in their area are destroyed and their area is cut-off from the nearest
facilities. The lack of food is more acutely felt by them given that it is not only
themselves that they are feeding. Malnutrition stalk pregnant and lactating
mothers more frequently as they are eating and sustaining more than one life.
Though there are no complete documentations, it is a fact that the emotional
tension and physical hardships endured by the women during bombings and
evacuations result to increased miscarriages and premature labor. The lose of
extended network of family support due to displacement make life harder for
pregnant and lactating mothers.
There are some data that tend to show that displacement has a different
impact on the health of women and girls. For example data from a refugee
camp in Bangladesh, show that Burmese girls less than 1 year old of age died
twice the rate of boys, and girls over 5 years of age and women died at 3.5
times the rate of males. It may be that in refugee camps, health services and
food provisions favor men and boys over women and girls given the existing
patriarchal culture. Single women household heads, widows and girl children
are usually the last to line up for food and medical services in refugee camps.
Thus the higher mortality rate of women and girls compared to men and boys.
Armed conflict is likewise helping in the spread of HIV/AIDS. Women and girls
who are raped by the thousands may get infected and some are raped again
and again. Others are trafficked. And there is also the exodus of young men
from areas of armed conflict to neighboring countries to avoid execution or
recruitment and to find jobs. For example, as internal fighting drags on, more
and more young men from the war-torn villages of Nepal cross India and other
neighboring countries for seasonal or long-term work. Many end up in cities
where they get infected. UNAIDS estimates at least 10% of the 2 million to 3
million Nepalese migrant workers in India are HIV-positive. These men are now
infecting spouses and others in many parts of the country. By pushing rural
residents from war-torn areas to the capital, Kathmandu, the conflict may have
helped spread HIV/AIDS.
In countries where there is armed conflict, the budget for the military increases.
For example the military expenditure of India rose 300 times within a period of 10
years from a little over 20 thousand billion Rupees in 1995 to 80 thousand billion in
2005. India ranks number 11 in the list of countries by military expenditure.
Since the income of these countries are not increasing proportionately to the
increase in military budget, this could only mean that money for agricultural
production, health care and other social services are being diverted to cover
military cost. Even development aid is increasingly being given to areas of
disaster including those with thousands of refugees due to armed conflict
instead of impoverished but peaceful regions.
It is in this manner that armed conflict affects the health even of women and
children who are not residing in conflict-ridden areas.
US Global War on Terror – Fanning the Flames of Armed Conflict in Asia
Barely a month ago, the Macapagal-Arroyo government gleefully announced
that the United States legislative branch•fs 2008 proposed foreign military
funding for the Philippines has increased almost three-fold from $11.1 million to
$30 million . The same US Senate Committee also proposed an increase in its
Economic Support Fund for the Philippines from $26 million to $30 million. It is
even urging the US executive branch to request for more once the Philippine
government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front finally come up with a peace
The Philippines is only one among the many recipients of U.S. military aid. In the
three years after 9/11, U.S. military aid to Pakistan “soared to $4.2 billion
compared to the $9.1 million it got three years before 9/11, a staggering 45,000
percent increase. The Philippines and Pakistani governments are human rights
abusers just like the governments of the other countries that the U.S. is giving aid
to because they are part of its "coalition of the willing".
More than any time in history, the U.S. is relying on proxy and puppet armies to
project its hegemony and extend its presence in areas where U.S. forces did not
traditionally operate. The aid it gives is meant to build the capacity of the armies
of its allies, the would be partners of its own military in conducting clandestine
operations in areas where the U.S. is not welcome. Thus it is propping up
repressive regimes and helping in the escalation of military operations against
local groups going against these regimes.
It is not coincidental that when U.S. assistance to the Philippines from 2001 to
2002 increased by 1,111%, the Macapagal-Arroyo government launched its
Oplan Bantay Laya counterinsugency campaign, the main aim of which was to
wipe out the NPA within five years. This program practically subjugated civilian
authority to the AFP's chain of command. The new component in this
counterinsurgency campaign is the targetting of "sectoral front organizations"
and placing the key people of these "front organizations" in a "sectoral order of
battle". Now even unarmed civilians are being hunted. Thus the rise in the
number of extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances of activists.
Meanwhile evidence is mounting on the use of anti-terrorism legislation, an
important component of the U.S. Global "War on Terror", to terrorize whole
populations into silence and obedience.
The People's Tribunal on the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) and Other
Legislation held last March 13-14, 2004 in Delhi gave solid evidence of how anti-
terrorism laws were being used against marginalized communities and political
opponents in India. In Sri Lanka, there are complaints on the use by government
of the Prevention and Terrorism Act (PTA) and other anti-terrorism legislation to
clamp down on journalists who expose human rights abuses and official
corruption and raise questions on the government's handling of the civil war with
the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelan (LTTE),
Through its global "war on terror", the U.S. is escalating armed conflict in Asia
and thereby putting the lives of more Asian women in jeopardy. But the U.S. is
not a mere accomplice to repressive regimes in Asia, it is the main architect of
the ongoing terror campaign against poor and marginalized groups in the
region, the largest victim of whom are women and children. ###