Women Will Have to Save the World

President Bush may not face much opposition in Congress to his plan for perpetual preemptive war, but he better watch out for the women.

Angry over the swagger of violence coming out of the White House, disgusted by the bring-'em-on itch for a fight as the solution to political problems, women around the globe are organizing in new ways.

These gender activists are on the Internet, in the streets, packed into rooms forming more groups and pushing resolutions through the United Nations. Some are setting up an Occupation Watch Center in Baghdad, and others are building a transnational movement. They even have their first martyr in Rachel Corrie, the young American who was killed trying to stop an Israeli bulldozer from destroying Palestinian homes.

The surge of women's activism is happening now partly as a response to 9/11. That event accelerated the growth of new groups like England's Global Women's Strike and Central Asia's Worldwide Sisterhood Against Terrorism and War.

Explaining her own reaction to that trauma and the macho strut of both bin Laden and Bush, Code Pink founder Medea Benjamin says, "I had feelings and fears I never had in all my years of organizing. The male aggressive voice was so very dominant. We needed to strengthen the voices opposed to that. Mobilizing women was one way to do it." Her reaction to violent solutions is shared by Indian writer Arundhati Roy who calls bin Laden Bush's "dark doppelganger."

The new organizing is more than an attack on personalities. As Jasmina Tesanovic, a member of Women in Black in Serbia, says, "My enemy is no longer a bad hero, or a politician, or a person in power, but the culture that makes such primitive people possible and empowers them." The organizing is part of a culture war to end the love of military glory, power, dominance and hierarchy often taught as part of male traditions. New Profile, a women's group in Israel, demands a complete reevaluation of its country's "military consciousness."

To counter a male habit of imposing power and dominance in postwar periods women diplomats and non-government organizations pressured the United Nations to pass Resolution 1325, calling for women's full participation in nation building. Now, Iraqi women are organizing to stop Bush from running their country as a Boy's Club. They are being supported and advised by the U.N. Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), the Network of Kosovo Women, Women to Women International, PeaceWomen, and a deluge of visiting groups.

This international alliance is aiding Iraqi women's own efforts to protest violent rapes, honor killings and the rise of fanatics. "We fear the threat of fundamentalist religious movements which an occupying army inspires," the Iraqi Women's League said in a recent statement.

The activists count on women in postwar and prewar situations to argue for political solutions to macho face-offs. They encourage them to use their social training in settling issues with words, cooperation, and even empathy for enemies.

There are no illusions about ovaries making all women good and peaceful. Instead, Ann Snitow of the Network of East-West Women urges women to acknowledge their past complicity with men's wars. Few expect Bush National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice to give up her allegiance to traditional male stomp-and-rule values. But men who share their alternate vision are welcome in the movement.

The women may be waging a culture war, but that doesn't mean they can't do down-and-dirty politics with Bush. In an incident that's an early warning about the 2004 elections, a group of women greeted a fundraising George W. Bush in Los Angeles recently with a 40-foot pink rejection slip that read: "You're Fired!"

More significant is the change in young women who haven't been voting. In a recent article in a weekly magazine on youth voting, 23-year-old Chantel Azadeh said, "The last two years have done a number on a lot of people's minds. This election I plan on getting involved. I think it's crucial that we get Bush out of the White House." An MTV survey showed only 41 percent of the young are planning to vote for Bush.

The president's ominous mutterings about nuclear weapons in Iran and North Korea are enough to keep gender activism going. Ditto the economic attack on women's domestic needs in America and in countries that are its once and future allies. Niki Adams of London's Global Women's Strike is helping to organize a demand for a Women's Budget in 24 countries where her group has members including, the United States.

"Our slogan is 'Invest in caring, not in killing'," she says. Even Madonna has joined the post-9/11 resistance with her new music video "American Life" which satirizes the military superhero. Driven by dread, the women activists will continue to multiply. They are haunted by nightmare images of where the punch and counterpunch of superpower and terrorist, occupier and occupied, will lead.

"This is a desperate moment in our history," says playwright Karen Malpede, who only half-jokingly adds, "I guess women will have to save the world."

Marlene Nadle is a journalist and Associate of the Transregional Center for Democratic Studies at the New School for Social Research in New York.

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