Gender and sexuality

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Police women dressed in full body armour on parade
An all-female militarised police unit in Ghana
Important info

Gun Free Kitchen Tables is a campaign of feminist and civil society organisations in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories working on the issue of killings carried out in the home using guns taken home by security guards.

Militarisation is deeply rooted in patriarchy. Militarised structures prize masculine values such as obedience to authority, hierarchy and control and reflect these back into society: reinforcing gender norms and roles which define “masculinity as powerful and aggressive and femininity as humble and passive” (Laska and Molander, 2012) and the gendered order “in which men exercise power over women” (Cockburn, 2010), irrespective of women’s direct participation in them.

Militarised policing plays a key role in the militarisation of society, especially where “the military’s capacity to intervene in citizens’ daily life” is restricted, making the police instrumental “in the normalisation of the ‘military ethos’ beyond the barracks” (Sapmaz, 2015). The culture of militarised masculinity is acted out in a continuum of violence that “stretches from the school playground, bedroom and back street to the battlefield, from [women’s] own bodies to the body politic” (Cockburn, 2010).

Masculinities are dependent on the denigration of femininities (Enloe, 2016) which has a prejudicial effect on women, those with non-binary gender identities and / or queer sexualities. Women are devalued and transgressions from the heterosexist norm are punished.

Militarisation enforces social conformity and increases acceptance of the “repression of dissidents and persons who don’t follow the social norms” of which “LGBT people… are among the first in danger of suffering violence and abuse” (Laska and Molander, 2012). Trans and gender non-conforming people are “far more likely to experience police violence than others” (Tabassi and Dey, 2016).

War Resisters’ affiliate Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ) was raided by police in 2012 who detained all forty-four members present and subjected them to beating and abuse while in detention before releasing them the next day without charge. They had prepared a report on Zimbabwe’s violations against lesbians, gays and transsexuals. The ruling party links sympathy for LGBTI people to the opposition giving young people who have undergone military training and as such are “appendages of the ruling party [,] trained to unleash terror on anyone with dissenting opinions… carte blanche to attack LGBTI people as an act of patriotism” (Rutendo Tanhira, 2012).

Conversely, the police often attempt to use queer cultural events such as Pride to ‘pinkwash’ their image, as do the military, “marketing themselves as human rights promoters” through their participation (Laska and Molander, 2012).

Gendered experiences of police militarisation can be found in the sexual harassment of Palestinian women passing through Israeli checkpoints, the endemic sexual assault reported by women arrested as part of Mexico’s ‘war on drugs’ and the expectation of rape by the police on the part of South African women regardless of whether they are being arrested or themselves reporting a crime, especially if they are black: racism and misogyny are often intimately interconnected.

The primary function of police militarisation is to uphold the power of capitalist and imperialist interests and this has a gendered dimension being lived out through the bodies of women in Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe assaulted and harassed by the militarised security forces detailed to protect the installations of the extractive industries and the Palestinian women forced to give birth at Israeli checkpoints after being delayed while travelling to hospital: between 2000 and 2007, sixty-nine babies were born at checkpoints of which thirty-five babies and five mothers died.

On a mundane level, daily lives are affected by these internal militarised borders which make “the simple daily tasks necessary for survival increasingly difficult and burdensome” and mean that “Palestinian men who work within Israel proper are forced to spend much time on the roads [during which time] the women are left to take care of the home and children” (Coalition of Women for Peace and Who Profits Research Center, 2016).

In Canada, eleven indigenous Guatemalan women are in the process of taking a multinational mining company to court. The women allege that in 2007, police officers, soldiers, and private security personnel attacked their village of Lote Ocho, in eastern Guatemala, and burned dozens of homes in a bid to drive the community from their ancestral land.

The visible face of police militarisation is the use of militarised equipment and body armour; of sniper rifles and tanks facing down protesters in Ferguson, United States, and of heavily armoured vehicles patrolling the streets of the favelas of Rio de Janiero. But such conspicuous militarisation is merely a symptom – an end-product – of a militarised mindset that sees those being policed not as members of a community in need of protection but as a threat.

Samantha Hargreaves from WoMin - an African gender and extractives alliance - speaks to Andrew Dey from WRI about the links between gender, extractive industries and militarism in Africa, and what this new network is doing to counter it.

Militarism is guns, armored tanks and drones, but it’s also a state of mind. Militarised mentalities have permeated many police forces and amplified dramatically the force of police violence against our communities.

Out of the Closet

Placheolder image

“In the time of a parliamentary coup d'etat, the machos bloom, everything becomes heroic and manly. Among the abusers and the abused, nobody wants to be history's pansy. We are all men according to that which is imposed as the official dispute. Many flags, many anthems, much shouting, many orders, everything very militant. Luckily the resistance is odd and so there is resistance to such orthodox masculinity and militarism, from the right to the left. There is a preference for abandon, laughter, rashness and non-cooperation, for busting our asses before screwing, tickling and disarming.

Steve Biko, an anti-apartheid activist, once said the oppressed aspire to be the oppressor. This is true when it comes to the effects of war on minorities such as LGBTI people. In most African countries for instance, the issue of homosexuality has been used by power hungry politicians to hoodwink people into believing that homosexuality is the cause of their misery.

1. Militarism is not just a war, an army or a fighter jet. Militarism is a system, a logic and a set of norms that perpetuates and recreates our societies and our daily lives. Queer analysis of power is a political tool that can help us to challenge these norms. Queer liberation isn't about equality within a patriarchal and militarist system, it is about going beyond the politics of inclusion and creating future just societies that do not merely recreate systems of power under different names.

War Resisters' International (WRI), the international network of pacifist organisations with more than 80 affiliates in more than 40 countries, calls for an end to the harassment of our affiliate Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ) and to the physical attacks on members of GALZ. Furthermore, WRI strongly condemns the violation of basic human rights of the members of GALZ, such as freedom of association, freedom from arbitrary arrest, and freedom from torture and degrading treatment.

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