Women of Iraq and Syria Say: Continuing the Flow of Arms is Not the Way to Stop the Violence

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War Profiteers' News, November 2014: Special Gender Issue, No. 43


by Julie L. Arostegui, J.D.

There is no doubt that the group commonly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) must be stopped. The brutal tactics of this violent, extremist, archaic group that aims to establish a seventh century style Islamist caliphate have been made clear to the world: beheadings of civilians, mass executions, killings, and abductions of non-Muslims and ethnic and religious minorities. Especially disturbing is the horrifying sexual violence that is being committed against women and children as a tactic of war. United Nations officials have condemned the “barbaric acts” of sexual violence and “savage rapes” that ISIS has perpetrated on minorities in areas under its control.

Within the first week following the ISIS takeover of Mosul in June, women’s rights activists were reporting incidents of women being kidnapped and raped, and taken for “jihad marriages,” as forced wives for ISIS fighters. By August, the UN had estimated that ISIS had forced some 1,500 women, girls and boys into sexual slavery. One activist recently described a concubine market in Mosul selling women and girls to ISIS warriors and the wealthy leaders (sheiks) of tribes in the region.

Mass displacement has also led to severe humanitarian crises in both countries, with women and children disproportionately affected. In Iraq, at least 1.2 million people have been displaced this year alone, forced to flee their homes to escape violent attacks. In Syria, more than 9 million innocent people are displaced and struggling to survive after almost four years of civil war, exacerbated by the rise of ISIS. Women and girls are particularly vulnerable in forced displacement situations as they struggle to protect and provide for themselves and their families. They are at heightened risk of sexual and gender-based violence (GBV) in lawless environments that fail to take into account their needs. Where facilities are bare and abuse is high, even going to the bathroom can be a dangerous prospect for women and girls. Many families are marrying off young girls in desperate attempts to provide for families and protect them from gender-based violence.

ISIS’ atrocities amount to society-destroying genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. However, using military force to stop ISIS is not the solution.

Women are not merely victims of conflict and sexual violence; they are strong agents for peace and security. In both Iraq and Syria, women have been at the forefront of advocating for peace, reaching across political, ethnic, and religious divides to bring communities together, and addressing the root social causes that are causing a rise in violent extremism. Women in both countries have made it clear that they want peace without more violence and without more arms.

According to the women, three and a half years of civil war in Syria has gotten them nowhere, and further arming the opposition will not help. What they need is for the weapons to stop flowing from all sides, and for extremist foreign fighters to stop entering the country.

In Iraq, they say that previous U.S. military interventions have only brought destruction, and 11 years of divisive policies and U.S. support for sectarianism - politics based on religious sect - have produced a wealthy sectarian class and nurtured the growth of ISIS as a second generation of Al-Qaeda and hatred between Sunni and Shia. This has also fostered an environment in which many young men want to fight what they consider U.S. imperialism and thus are easily recruited by extremist groups such as ISIS.

A U.S.-led war will only serve to broaden and deepen the problem. Airstrikes and military intervention will surely further inflame and energize ISIS and sharpen their extremist and anti-American views. The possibility for political solutions will shrink as war expands and the hope of building a sustainable peace becomes more remote. Meanwhile the United States will become more embroiled in a war with costly sacrifices in blood and treasure.

As recently noted by a Syrian women’s rights activist, an armed solution only helps those who are arming parties on each side. According to a recent article by William Hartung of the Center for International Policy and Stephen Miles of Win Without War, the war on ISIS is a welcome source of profits for arms makers such as Boeing and Lockheed Martin, as well as a major boon for defense contractors such as Dyncorps and Triple Canopy. Already the stock prices of the U.S. Department of Defense’s top contractors have hit all-time highs since U.S. military intervention in Iraq and Syria began two months ago.

In addition, a militarized society puts women more at risk. According to Reaching Critical Will, a program of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom:

Irresponsible transfers of weaponry, munitions, armaments, and related equipment across borders have resulted in acts of GBV [gender-based violence] perpetrated by both state and non-state actors. Thus in the recent negotiations of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), civil society organizations and like-minded governments worked together to ensure that the treaty included a legally-binding provision on preventing armed gender-based violence.

The ATT, which was adopted by the UN General Assembly on 2 April 2013 and enters into force 24 December 2014, is the first international treaty to recognize the link between weapons and gender-based violence. Article 7(4) of the treaty obligates exporting states parties to take into account the risk of the conventional arms, ammunition, munitions, parts, or components under consideration being used to commit or facilitate acts of gender-based violence. States shall not be permitted to authorize the transfer where there is a risk of gender-based violence that would constitute a violation of international humanitarian law or international human rights law, undermine peace and security, or form part of transnational organized crime.

Supplying more arms to the region would only do more harm.

Instead what are needed are strong international efforts engaging the United Nations and international and regional partners focusing on unified economic and diplomatic strategies that include:

  • Working to cut off funding and weapons flow to ISIS;

  • addressing root causes of unrest in society in order to stem popular support of ISIS

  • preventing foreign citizens from entering these countries to join rebel groups;

  • increasing humanitarian assistance;

  • supporting local peacebuilding efforts;

  • allowing women to have a voice in all negotiations and peace processes; and

  • working within the region to establish political solutions.

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Women, Peace and, Security Policy Director, Women’s Action for New Directions (WAND)

@JulieLArostegui

Women’s Action for New Directions (WAND) is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering women to act politically to reduce violence and militarism, and redirect excessive military resources toward unmet human and environmental needs. WAND was founded in 1982, and consists of a 501-C3 WAND Education Fund, a 501-C4 WAND Inc. Action Center for members and chapters, WAND Political Action Committee, and the Women Legislator's Lobby (WiLL) program. WAND is a recognized United Nations NGO. For more information, please visit www.wand.org.

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