From the war on terror to austerity: a lost decade for women and human rights

Heather McRobie writes: A recurring theme at the Nobel Women’s Initiative conference in Belfast has been a reflection on the last decade in terms of its global impact on women and human rights. A picture emerged of a period wherein the excuse of ‘war on terror’ as a justificatory narrative for exclusivist identities, state violence and violence against women gave way to official austerity narratives that, in their own way, entrench inequalities and disempower women. Central to the decade was the elevation of the sanctity of the nation state’s security or perceived security, often – paradoxically – at the expense of both its citizens and those outside its borders.

Several speakers reflected on the ‘war on terror’ period in terms of its interrelated assault on human rights and women. The human rights violations and mass violation of human dignity enacted under the guise of the ‘war on terror’ runs from arbitrary detention to drone-strikes, from Guantanamo to Yemen to the encroachment of the rights of ‘citizens’ in the homelands that those who instigated the ‘war on terror’ were claiming to ‘protect’. The attack on women was similarly wide-sweeping: from the neo-colonial appropriation of the discourse of ‘women’s rights’ – toothless and sanitised in its neo-con costume – as an empty vessel to further the cause of militarism in Afghanistan and Iraq, to the ossification of rigid binary gender roles in the ‘homeland’ of America; rapes were committed by occupying soldiers at sites of invasion while in countries such as Yemen and Pakistan women’s lives were eroded by the chaos in their lives caused by the ‘war on terror’.

Amina Mama, Director of the Women and Gender Studies programme at UC Davis, spoke at the conference about how the process of militarisation works in tandem with the construction and reinforcement of rigid, exclusivist gender roles, creating matrixes of power-structures in favour of the nation state and military and against alternative, non-hierarchical ways of being. The epidemic levels of sexual assault within the US military itself – while due to its own complex set of causes – in some sense plays out this dynamic in microcosm, in the interlocking of patriarchy and militarism that is central to the dominant conception of Western statecraft. [Continue reading…]

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