WIMN’s Voices: A Group Blog on Women, Media, AND…

Medea Benjamin

Medea Benjamin is Founding Director of the human rights group Global Exchange and the women's peace group CODEPINK. For over twenty years, Medea has supported human rights and social justice struggles around the world. Medea is a leading activist in the peace movement.

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Medea Benjamin's Blog Introduction

Women, Media, AND... War

I have such a hard time listening to the news ever since the US invaded Iraq. The prewar coverage was outrageous, whipping people into a frenzy of fear and vengeance. Now that the war is three years old, the coverage has gotten better in terms of showing the daily violence inside Iraq, but it still gives the public no sense of so many of the critical issues: the corporate corruption, the civilian casualties caused by US troops, the myriad ways the US has exacerbated ethnic divisions, the non-violent ways Iraqis are resisting the occupation, the troubles plaguing US women in the military. But most of all, the mainstream press gives the public NO SENSE of what has happened to Iraqi women.

I haven’t seen any polls about how the US public thinks the occupation has affected Iraqi women——maybe we should commission one. But from the conversations I’ve had all over the country when touring for our new CODEPINK book Women Say NO to War, I’d say that about 90% of Americans think Iraqi women have been liberated post-Saddam. After years of misleading media implications about the supposed “U.S. liberation” of Iraqi women, most Americans tend to think that Iraqi women were in the same miserable position as Afghan women under the Taliban——hidden away in burqas, kept out of key jobs, beaten, burned and treated as chattel.

Not that you’d know it from media coverage, but from 1951 to the 1990s, Iraq provided more rights and freedoms for women and girls than most of its neighbors, including legal equality, the right to vote and hold office, free education, and equal pay for equal work. Though Saddam Hussein’s dictatorial government and 12 years of severe sanctions reduced these opportunities, Iraqi women were still active in all aspects of their society.

Unfortunately, that is no longer the case. The daily lives of Iraqi women today are plagued by violence, hardship and fear. And the ascendance of conservative Islamists could plunge this once-secular society into an Iranian theocracy spelling even greater disaster for Iraqi women.

I will use this blog to talk about how war affects women in Iraq, here in the US and worldwide, and whether or not media recognize these effects. I’ll also look at how women are coming together to Say No to War, how women are at the forefront of the global peace movement, and how their voices could and should deepen war reporting. We’ll see how the media distorts women peacemakers such as peace mom Cindy Sheehan and my own group CODEPINK, and what we can do to get out the truth and organize to stop the next war—now.

Medea Benjamin's Biography

Medea Benjamin is Founding Director of the human rights group Global Exchange. For over twenty years, Medea has supported human rights and social justice struggles around the world. Medea is a leading activist in the peace movement and helped bring together the groups forming the coalition United for Peace and Justice.

She is also the co-founder of CODEPINK: Women for Peace, a women's group that has been organizing creative actions against the war and occupation of Iraq. CODEPINK is pushing for a reorientation of budget priorities in the US to focus on heath care, education and housing, not war. Code Pink now has over 100 chapters throughout the United States.

Medea has traveled several times to Iraq and helped establish the Occupation Watch International Center in Baghdad. The center monitors the military occupation forces and foreign corporations, hosts international delegations, and keeps the international community updated about the occupation forces' activities through its website, www.occupationwatch.org.

In early December 2003, Medea brought a delegation of military families to Iraq (see report). At the start of 2005, Medea returned to the region, again accompanying a delegation of US military families whose loved ones had been killed in Iraq. This delegation traveled to the Iraqi/Jordanian border to bring a shipment of humanitarian aid for distribution to the Iraqi people in Falluja and those most in need. Ever since the tragic events of 9/11, Medea has been organizing against a violent response. In 2002, Medea accompanied four Americans who lost loved ones in the September 11th terrorist attacks on a trip to Afghanistan to meet people there who lost relatives during the US bombing of Afghanistan. Their extraordinary journey received such international attention that the US Government was pressured to discuss civilian casualties and to create a compensation fund for Afghan victims. Medea's previous work has focused on improving the labor and environmental practices of US multinational corporations, and the policies of international institutions such as the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

In September 2003, Medea was in Cancun, Mexico challenging the policies of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and in November in Miami protesting the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), and highlighting the coalescing of the global peace and economic justice movements.

For much of 2001, Medea focused on California's energy crisis, fighting the market manipulation by the big energy companies and rate hikes that cause hardship for low-income ratepayers and small businesses. She headed a powerful coalition of consumer, environmental, union and business leaders working for clean and affordable power under public control.

Medea was the Green Party candidate for US Senate from California in 2000. Her run for U.S. Senate succeeded in mobilizing thousands of Californians around platform issues such as living wage, schools-not-prisons, and universal healthcare.

During the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle in December 1999, Medea's organization, Global Exchange, helped fix world attention on the need to place labor and environmental concerns over corporate profits.

While critical of unfair global trade policies, Medea has promoted "fair trade" alternatives that are beneficial to both producer and consumer. She helped form a national network of retailer and wholesalers in support of fair trade and was instrumental in pressuring coffee retailers such as Starbucks to start carrying fair trade coffee.

Medea is a key figure in the anti-sweatshop movement, having spearheaded campaigns against the giant sports shoe company Nike and clothing companies such as the GAP. In 1999 Medea helped expose the problem of indentured servitude among garment workers in the US territory of Saipan (the Marianas Islands), which led to a billion-dollar lawsuit against 17 US retailers.

After several fact-finding visits to China, Medea co-sponsored with the International Labor Rights Fund an initiative to improve the labor and environmental practices of US multinationals in China. The ensuring Human Rights Principles for US Businesses in China have been endorsed by major companies such as Cisco, Intel, Reebok, Levi Strauss and Mattel.

In 1999, San Francisco Magazine named Medea to their "Power List" as one of the "60 Players Who Rule the Bay Area." She serves on the board or advisory council of numerous organizations, including the United National Development Program, the Interhemispheric Resource Center, the National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness and Green Empowerment.

Medea helped build US support for the movement to oust General Suharto in Indonesia and for the right of self-determination for the people of East Timor. She supported the Peace Process between the Zapatista rebels and the Mexican government, fought to lift the embargoes against Cuba and Iraq, and was active in cutting US military aid to repressive regimes in Central America. She has been an election observer and led fact-finding delegations to dozens of countries.

In June of 2005, Medea was one of 1,000 women picked to be part of the project "1000 Women for the Nobel Peace Prize 2005." The project has picked 1,000 exceptional women from around the globe to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize collectively, as a representation of the many anonymous women who work for peace, justice, human rights, security and education worldwide.

She is author of eight books, including Bridging the Global Gap, The Peace Corps and More, and the award-winning book Don't Be Afraid, Gringo: A Honduran Woman Speaks from the Heart. She helped produce various TV documentaries such as the anti-sweatshop video Sweating for a T-Shirt. This spring saw the release of Code Pink's new book, Stop the Next War Now: Effective Responses to Violence and Terrorism, which she co-edited with Jodie Evans. The book is a diverse collection of essays from the peace movement's freshest, most dynamic voices, including Barbara Ehrenreich, Eve Ensler, Arianna Huffington, Alice Walker, Helen Thomas, Camilo Mejia and Jody Williams. She is currently embarked on a hundred-city book tour.

Medea received a Masters degree in Public Health from Columbia University and a Masters degree in Economics from the New School for Social Research. She worked for ten years as an economist and nutritionist in Latin America and Africa for the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Health Organization, the Swedish International Development Agency, and the Institute for Food and Development Policy.

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