We regard militarism as the antithesis of revolutionary pan-African visions of Africa as a region freed from the destructive legacies of its patriarchal and colonial history.
“African women must take a stand in the transnational movement to dismantle militarism.”
Militarism is not just about men with guns, or wars. It lays out a future designed by economic decisions that neglect social development and justice and perpetuates the gendered inequalities and stratifications that militarism at once relies on and perpetuates.
The costs of militarism to women have included loss of livelihoods, disrupted by violence, dislocation, and other consequences. It has also cost women many of their fundamental rights. If we listen to African women’s perspectives on security, forged in the midst of conflict and military rule, we hear that these include economic and livelihood security as much as safety from violence, safety in their own homes as much as safety from military men.
African women must take a stand in the transnational movement to dismantle militarism. They have good cause to continue their struggle for peaceful, radical, creative solutions that bring justice considerations to the fore, and finally understand that true peace cannot be built without women, without economic and social justice.
U.S. Out of Africa: Voices from the Struggle
Professor Amina Mama (PAM) is a Nigerian-British writer, feminist and academic. Her main areas of focus have been post-colonial, militarism, and gender issues. Professor Amina Mama is the Fourth occupant of the Kwame Nkrumah (KN) Chair in African Studies at the Institute of African Studies University of Legon, Ghana. She is the director of the Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies program at the University of California, Davis.
AWB: How are war and gender related?
PAM: War and conflict are merely the explicit expressions of deeply gendered, as well as ethnicized and classed, long-term dynamics that precede the outbreak of conflict, escalate dramatically, and persist long after “peace” has been officially declared and the transition from overt warfare is taking place. This approach echoes feminist theorizations of gender-based violence as the expression of unequal gender relations and dynamics that are far more pervasive than the specific instances of actual violence.
AWB: How do war and militarism play out on the African continent?
PAM: We identify militarization, violent conflict, civil wars, military rule — and all the invidious and pervasive political, social, cultural and economic effects of military institutions, discourses and practices — as significant obstacles to Africa’s progress towards democratization, development, and gender justice. We regard militarism as the antithesis of revolutionary pan-African visions of Africa as a region freed from the destructive legacies of its patriarchal and colonial history. Violent conflicts, the crudest and most obvious manifestations of militarism, have wrought devastation and destruction across great swathes of the African continent, killing, maiming and scarring children, women and men, scoring communities with traumatizing and debilitating effects that persist for generations: the shattering of lives, the scattering of families, the destruction of the physical environment, the disruption of political and cultural systems and the already fragile support systems that have enabled much of Africa to survive as long as it has. Building just peace and genuine security demands that we join hands and collectively strategize to demilitarize the region, and that we set about working to develop cultures that transform the destructive legacies of militarism which still permeate our societies at so many levels.
AWB: How does this impact women on the continent?
PAM: Theorizing conflict from a gender perspective very quickly leads us to the realization that for women living in patriarchal societies, all of which are characterized by a general proclivity for violence, peace and security are elusive, limited and precarious. Even in times of supposed peace, many women do not enjoy peace and security in their homes, workplaces or on the streets. Furthermore, there is much evidence that the more general, everyday violence that women are specifically subject to is especially commonplace in pre- and post-war situations. The experiences of women in Nigeria, Sudan, Ethiopia and Eritrea, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sierra Leone, Liberia and many other post-conflict locations in and beyond Africa demonstrate that gender-based violence precedes wartimes and does not end when peace is declared. Indeed, the fact is that militarism in the broadest sense reifies polarised gender relations and gender identities, and particular notions of masculinity and masculine prowess seem to be bound up with gender-based violence, which threatens women’s security.
AWB: How are Africans taking action on this issue?
PAM: Feminist activists working against conflict and militarism in Africa rethink the meaning of “peace” and “conflict” and enhance the women’s movement capacities for contributing to democratization and social justice. This is the agenda now being pursued by ABANTU for Development, the Mano River Women's Peace Union and the Women's Peace and Security Network, and other partners working in an activist research collaboration ‘Strengthening Women’s Activism Against Conflict and Militarism’ (SWACM), launched in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Ghana and Nigeria’s Oil Delta a year ago. It is an agenda that women across Africa articulate, inspired as we are by our collective survival through decades of conflict and military rule, and the accumulated experience of mobilizing for peace and equality.
AWB: Thank you for your time and analysis!
Go to the Black Alliance for Peace website.
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