“If you insist upon fighting to protect me, or ‘our’ country, let it be understood, soberly and rationally between us, that you are fighting to gratify a sex instinct which I cannot share; to procure benefits which I have not shared and probably will not share; but not to gratify my instincts, or protect either myself or my country. For, the outside will say, in fact, as a woman, I have no country. As a woman I want no country. As a woman, my country is the whole world…”
Virginia Woolf (1882 – 1941) England
Family Life and War—Harsh Realities
The book War and Motherhood: International Perspectives, written in Dana Cooper, in 2014, expands our understanding of wartime experiences and zooms into the mosaic relationships between mothers and children, and the divers roles both have assumed during periods of armed conflict. Dana Cooper is Associate Professor of History at Stephen F. Austin State University, USA.
Military publications acknowledge and write about the negative aspects of family life and war. Some of those adverse effects include increased stress, PTSD, and financial difficulties. The military has begun making a greater effort to lessen the potentially destructive power that these side effects of war often have on families. Through counseling and education, families are being provided with more tools to effectively deal with the life-altering realities of their loved ones having experienced the violence of war.
While throughout history the majority of combatants in war have been men, women and children are often caught in the crossfire. Among the many ways that children are affected by war, among the most common are psychological difficulties caused by the extended separation from a beloved parent. Children are extremely sensitive to the emotions of the adults around them, and spouses of military members experience a constant level of fear surrounding the possibility that they will be killed in battle. Such an event would result in the loss of both a life partner and a supportive parent for their child. Today, it is no longer just men and fathers who participate in physical combat, but women and mothers as well.
Women In War
Back in 2010, it was estimated that over 30,000 of the 200,000 women serving in the U.S. military were deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan were mothers. In addition to the risk of rape by the enemy, many of these women faced sexual assault from their own fellow soldiers. Statistics vary, but reported incidents range between one in three and one in five. Disturbingly, one of the most common consequences of reporting an assault was that the victim was involuntarily discharged from military service. That means that reporting an assault most often resulted in the loss of an entire career.
Another phenomenon that demonstrates the incompatibility of family life and war is rape. According to Gita Sahgal of Amnesty International, rape is regularly used as one of the weapons of war.
“Rape is often used in ethnic conflicts as a way for attackers to perpetuate their social control and redraw ethnic boundaries… Women are seen as the reproducers and carers of the community…Therefore if one group wants to control another they often do it by impregnating women of the other community because they see it as a way of destroying the opposing community.”
The devastating effects that rape has on women, children, and communities is well documented.
Hope For an End to War
Throughout history, women have been portrayed as peacemakers, yet as relatively powerless. One major literary exception to this portrayal was Lysistrata, a play written by Aristophanes and performed in 411 B.C. In the play, the women strenuously object to the negative combination of family life and war. Their strenuous objection results in their uniting and refusing to have sexual relations with their husbands until they ended the war and began living in peace. Similarly, in Iceland, in 1975, women united and went on strike to force passage of an equal rights amendment guaranteeing equal pay for equal work, and won. The power of women when they are united in purpose is capable of creating positive changes of great social magnitude.
Partly as the result of women’s political activism against war, in 2000, the United Nations Security Council passed resolution 1325. The goal of the resolution is to increase women’s global participation in negotiating peace during wartime. In 2011, The U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP), the Peace Research Institute-Oslo (PRIO), and the Royal Norwegian Embassy hosted an international symposium in which action plans for the next decade on the next decade were discussed. With an increase in women, and mothers, global participation in important peace negotiations, perhaps one day, as in Lysistrata, they may succeed in bringing about an end to war.