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Bodies, Bases and Cynthia Enloe

September 12, 2011

Two news stories grabbed my attention this week. Not because they are heartbreaking (they are), but because they sound too familiar.

1. AlterNet reports on Why Female Trafficking And Prostitution Are an Epidemic in Iraq.

Organisation of Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI) reports that over 800,000 people are trafficked across the border in Iraq every year, although true numbers are hard to pin down. Sexual violence and gender-based violence is endemic of war and the socioeconomic conditions of war-torn countries and regions.

Sexual trafficking and violence is also signifcant on the military bases. AlterNet reports that,

in one harrowing experience, Rania and two other girls visited a house in Baghdad’s Al-Jihad district, where girls as young as 16 were held to cater exclusively to the U.S. military. The brothel’s owner told Rania that an Iraqi interpreter employed by the Americans served as the go-between, transporting girls to and from the U.S. airport base.

2. ISP reports that U.N. Troops have been Accused of Exploiting Local Women in Haiti.

Residents of Port Salut, where a U.N. base is located, report around 5-10 children of MINUSTAH fathers in the city. Many of the mothers are under 18, and Haitian law is clear that an individual must be 18 years old to give sexual consent. Even for women of age to give consent, the position of power, (economically, politalically, militarily) that UN troops hold creates a relationships with severe underlying power disparities.

The U.N. secretary- general to peacekeepers state that,

Sexual relationships between United Nations staff and beneficiaries of assistance, since they are based on inherently unequal power dynamics, undermine the credibility and integrity of the work of the United Nations and are strongly discouraged.

But James Paul, executive director of the Global Policy Forum reminds that “‘Discouraged’ is not banning.”

There is also a current investigation into the sexual assault on an 18-year-old Haitian man by Uruguayan soldiers. Mediahacker also has a slideshow detailing the events and conditions around the UN base in Port Salut. (via Haiti Justice Alliance – Hi, Nathan!)

What this means:

Sexual oppression is occurring and recurring on military bases globally. Sexual violence in imperialist institutions such as military bases highlights how the subjugation of women is essential to the functioning of  the military industrial complex. Suzuyo Takazato, director of Okinawa Women Act Against Military Violence state that,

Prostitution and rape are the military system’s outlets for pent up aggression and methods of maintaining control and discipline – the target being local community women.

Via Close the Base, dedicated to the “unconditional closure of the U.S. Marine Corps base at Futenma and oppose the construction of other U.S. bases in Okinawa.”

OWFI director Yanar Mohammed describes what how sexual trafficking has affected her country:

Iraq has a whole generation of women who are in their teens now, whose bodies have been turned into battlefields from criminal ideologies.

I think this is a pretty apt description of the impact of the violence that takes place on military bases globally.


Need to Read: This post comes with a book recommendation, one that I myself want to re-read: Bananas, Beaches and Bases: Making Feminist Sense of International Politics by Cynthia Enloe.

I couldn’t get my hands on the text or quotes from the book online, but I did find a review of her work by Bettina Engels:

Cynthia Enloe’s work shows us that this is in fact not the case, that international politics is permanently (re)constructed by hierarchical dichotomies of masculinity and femininity. She not only claims that the personal is political, but that the personal is international, too.

Hardly any feminist author has shown as impressively as Cynthia Enloe that international politics is not understood by a restricted perspective on what “important” statesmen do. Instead, we should look at the everyday lives of girls and women, at the silent women behind the “statesmen”, at those working in textile factories, at sex workers and at women refugees.

I easily get overwhelmed by frustration and sorrow from these reports and I think I personally could benefit from a re-focus on the structural causes of the violence. I recommend you check it out from your library too – and report back on what you’re thinking!

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