Day 1: On boys and toys

By Tony Reeler


Global action against militarism has been the theme of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence for the past three years, and what do we have to show for this. In one of the more horrible stories in 2014 has been the abduction of young girls by Boko Haram and now apparently sold into what can only be termed sexual slavery. Whilst this is obviously not the only serious gender violence that has taken place since 2013, it illustrates so clearly why this campaign must continue, and why the theme must remain a focus upon militarism.

Women and young girls are always at the greatest risk when the worst aspect of militarism rears its ugly head: war in all its forms is the time when all women live in fear. For, as the Boko Haram example demonstrates, as did the conflict in the former Sarajevo, women and young girls provide both the easiest target through which to undermine one’s enemy, but they are also prey to all the serendipitous violence that accompanies men free to operate outside the law. This is no new phenomenon, and has been going on for centuries. In the last century, tens of thousands of women were forced into concubinage by the Japanese army, let alone the many thousands that were raped in Nanking. The Russian army in its final push across Eastern Prussia to Berlin in 1944-1945 committed rape on a genocidal scale: Niall Ferguson points out that the Red Army may have raped over 2 million German women.

It seems impossible to hope that violence against women and young girls in times of civil war or national wars can ever be stopped, or even that this can be stopped in times of lesser political violence as has been witnessed in Zimbabwe in the past decade or so. However, there are places where a start can be made, and why not with small arms, a rather innocuous term for the proliferation of automatic weapons across the world. Every news reel seems to show the AK-47 being brandished by young men, sometimes in the hands of mere children. In Zimbabwe, we see these weapons every day in the hands of our police: weapons of war issued to civilian police and we are clearly not at war with anyone.

Amnesty International has been running a campaign to limit the accessibility of such weapons for over a decade, but every day sees more and more guns rather than less and less, and for sure it is big business. But this could change if there was the political will.

And different would the world be if small arms were controlled? Try this little thought experiment. A man bursts in to a bank waving a long knife, tells the 20 or so people to lie on the floor, and give him the money. Or, a man bursts into a bank waving an AK-47, tells the 20 or so people to lie on the floor, and give him the money. Failed robbery versus successful robbery? By reducing the means for violence we can perhaps reduce the scale a little.

Of course, this cannot stop violence completely, and certainly nobody can resist against a gang or a mob: they don’t need small arms, as axes, knobkerries, and iron bars can do the damage just as easily as the world learned in Rwanda. It requires a change of mentality from men for women to be safe. No boasting about degrees in violence; no calling one’s opponents “enemies”; just the commitment to solve disagreement and difference the way that women do all over the world, by dialogue and discussion. And perhaps women need to take the lead in how they bring up their sons: to help them value their feminine side – their anima – as well as their masculinity – their animus. This is not as hard as it sounds, and can start in every home, but certainly men and boys will have to stop seeing themselves as so important to the world.


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