Thursday, March 16, 2006

To End the War, U.S. Women Must Lead

by Christine Ahn

Every single woman in the United States, whether she is aware of it or not, is impacted by the war in Iraq. There is no more critical time than the present for U.S. women to step up and speak out against the war and the growing militarization of our country and world.

Women make up 20 percent of the U.S. military. Of the thousands of women soldiers now stationed in Iraq, over 45 percent are mothers with children waiting for them back home. More than 63 percent of women in the Army are women of color. For black women, whose unemployment rates are twice as high as white women, the military is often the only source of employment, health care, and education. Tina Garnanez, a young Native Am! erican Iraq War veteran now speaking out against the war says, "I knew that between my family situation and being from the reservation, I had few options for getting a college education."

As of February 2006, 48 female U.S. soldiers have died in Iraq. Female soldiers aren't sent to fight on the front lines, yet they face substantial risks as men because of the nature of the missions and because of troop shortages in Iraq.

But women soldiers aren't dying only in combat. According to Col. Janis Karpinski, several women soldiers have died of dehydration in their sleep. They refused to drink liquids in the evening because they didn't want to have to urinate after dark for fear of being assaulted or raped by male soldiers on the way to latrines. While incredible, it is not entirely implausible. According to the Miles Foundation, 30 percent of female veterans have reported rape or attempted rape while on active duty. Women of color, younger, poorer, and lower in rank are ! more likely to be assaulted, says a Defense Department report.

In the coming years, many women affected by the war as the mothers, daughters, sisters or wives of service men will need counseling themselves. Studies show that domestic violence is five times higher in military families than in the civilian population.

Since March 2003, Congress has given the administration $244 billion of taxpayer dollars to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. At the same time, they will cut $39.5 billion in social welfare spending over the next five years. Single moms are the hardest hit by cuts in social spending and studies by Dr. Marion Anderson reveal that the majority of social service jobs cut to finance military spending are ones that employ women.

Our lawmakers are totally disconnected from the reality facing millions of Americans. They are completely ignoring a growing chorus of Americans who oppose the war, including the 72 percent of troops in Iraq that, accord! ing to a recent Zogby poll, want the U.S. out of Iraq now.

Apart from a handful of women Congressional representatives, such as the fearless Barbara Lee and Lynn Woolsey, the majority of women in office continue to endorse the administrations plans to prolong the war. Instead of using her role as Ranking Minority Leader in the House, Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi has failed to use her leadership in Congress to oppose the war. She has failed women and her overwhelmingly anti-war constituency in San Francisco. We have hardly heard a peep from Senators Boxer and Feinstein in opposition to the war. All three elected officials have never found a military budget they didn't love.

While our elected women leaders lack the courage to speak out, ordinary women of all ages, ethnicities and backgrounds on the grassroots level are speaking out against the war by writing letters to their representatives, organizing counter-recruitment drives, demonstrating, and running for offi! ce. Aimee Allison, an African-American Persian Gulf War veteran and conscientious objector, is now running for Oakland City Council on an anti-war platform.

On International Women's Day, we acknowledge the courageous women among us who speak truth to the powerful and corrupt. This historic day has been an important catalyst to mobilize women across national borders to unite for peace and justice.

It's clear that the Bush administration is intent on war without end. It's clear we cannot rely on our women elected leaders to bring the troops home. We need more brave women soldiers like Tina Garnanez and Aimee Allison and ordinary women like Cindy Sheehan to speak out against the war. We can stop our government's destructive policies if we can find the collective courage to act--for our own sakes and for women worldwide.

Christine Ahn is the Director of Peace and International Solidarity at the Women of Color Resource Center in Oakland, California. Tina Garnanez and Aimee Allison will be speaking on International Women's Day at the First Unitarian Church in Oakland. For more information, visit .

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