mother's day for peace

Yesterday was Mother’s Day, and by some counts it was the one-hundredth anniversary of Mother’s Day in the US . In 1870, social activist Julia Ward Howe wrote her Mother's Day Proclamation as a call for peace and disarmament, a call to unite women to organize against war.

One of Howe’s inspriations was Ann Jarvis, a young Appalachian homemaker who, starting in 1858, had attempted to improve sanitation through what she called Mothers' Work Days. She organized women throughout the Civil War to work for better sanitary conditions for both sides, and in 1868 she began work to reconcile Union and Confederate neighbors. When Jarvis died in 1907, her daughter started the crusade to found a memorial day for women. The first such Mother's Day was celebrated in 1908. From there, the custom caught on, and in 1914 President Woodrow Wilson declared the first national Mother's Day, as a day for American citizens to show the flag in honor of those mothers whose sons had died in war.

Ironically, then, a holiday first intended to promote peace and reconciliation was turned instead to support nationalism and militarism.

But activists with Code Pink have revived Howe’s Mother’s Day Proclamation , and call for a reclaiming of Mother’s Day.

Maybe the Congress heard about this move, since last week a majority of House Republicans voted against a resolution in support of Mother’s Day, leading the Washington Post to run a headline reading "Republicans vote against moms; no word yet on puppies, kittens."

Anyway, Code Pink Portland held a rally yesterday, and the Code Pink website has a petition you can sign, asking Nancy Pelosi and the rest of Congress to put our money where their mouths aren’t, and to fund refugee support instead of the continuing Iraq war, which has created so many refugees, most of whom are women. More than 70 percent of the four million people forced out of their homes in the past five years in Iraq have been women and children.

Many observers, including  Nadje Al-Ali, have noted that, as she puts it, Iraq's women have become the biggest losers in the post-invasion disaster. Women in Iraq have been particularly hard-hit by poverty, malnutrition, lack of health services and a crumbling infrastructure. The lack of clean water, electricity, and vaccination services has led to a marked increase in the mortality of children under 5 in Iraq.  As in the humanitarian crisis during the sanctions period, women suffer particularly as they are often the last ones to eat after feeding their children and husbands. They often watch powerlessly as their sick and malnourished children do not obtain adequate health care.

But women in Iraq have also been working together to respond to the disaster. There has been a flourishing of locally based women’s initiatives and groups, mainly revolving around practical needs related to widespread poverty, lack of adequate health care, lack of housing, and lack of proper social services provided by the state. Women have also pooled their resources to help address the need for education and training, as well as income generating projects The organization MADRE recently released a tribute to some of the activists they’ve been working with around the world, including Yanar Mohammad, founder of the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI). Yanar has dedicated herself to meeting the needs of Iraqi women and families suffering as a result of the US invasion and the rising religious extremism it has unleashed. Together with MADRE, OWFI has founded a network of women’s shelters in Iraq. In addition, OWFI’s Freedom Space project brings together young poets and artists of varying religious and ethnic backgrounds to create art and express their hopes for a peaceful Iraq where human rights are cherished.

But today, of course, women are not just the casualties of war, and not just the mothers and wives and daughters of soldiers, they are also soldiers themselves, comprising 15% of US military enlisted personnel. As Barbara Ehrenreich has pointed out, in the aftermath of Abu Ghraib revelations, in light of what we know today, no one can think that the mere presence of women in the military will make it more humane; "a uterus is not a substitute for a conscience; menstrual periods are not the foundation of morality."

But some of the women who have been in the military have, like some of the men who have been soldiers, have also begun working for peace. Women like Eli PaintedCrow, a founder of the Service Women’s Action Network, a group of women veterans who have gathered to heal from the trauma of military service and war, to document their stories and to support their transformation from soldiers to peacemakers. They also work with the Women of Color Resource Center, which has a curriculum of peacegames for community education--some of which is available free on their website, including information on military recruiting and its targeting of women and of men of color.

Bad as things are for the women under occupation and who have lost loved ones in the current wars, things aren’t so great for the women in the US military, either. Representative Jane Harman of California, citing a recent Department of Defense report, has noted that women in the military in Iraq are “more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire,” though some of those who are raped are apparently also murdered by fellow soldiers . Moreover, if any of those rapes lead to pregnancy, the women have limited recourse, since military hospitals will not perform abortions. A recent federal court ruling allows women employed by defense contractor Halliburton/KBR to bring charages for sexual assaults by their coworkers, despite having signed a contract that Halliburton/KBR argued would have submitted such claims to binding arbitration rather than criminal trial.

But we cannot rely only on the legal system to make the world safe for mothers or people who have mothers. Let us, as Julia Ward Howe declared,

take counsel with each other as to the means

Whereby the great human family can live in peace...

To promote the alliance of the different nationalities,

The amicable settlement of international questions,

The great and general interests of peace.

 

For the Old Mole, May 12, 2008  

 

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