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Confronting Gender-Based Violence from Here to Iraq

fberrigans Icon Posted by Frida Berrigan

March 7th, 2007

Madre, the international women’s human rights organization, released their report– Promising Democracy, Imposing Theocracy: Gender-Based Violence and the US War on Iraq at a press conference and panel discussion yesterday.

Among the findings in this ground breaking report is a stark criticism about U.S. media coverage of gender based violence in Iraq.

“The lack of media coverage is remarkable given that thousands of Iraqi women have been arrested since the US occupation began; that torture by the US military has been infamously documented by the torturers themselves; and that US Vice President Dick Cheney has publicly acknowledged and defended torture in Iraq and elsewhere….”

I was asked to speak on the panel alongside Yifat Susskind, the author of the report, Houzan Mahmoud– an Iraqi woman who works with the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq. — and Jennifer Green, a staff attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights.

The gravity and importance of the work for women’s human, social, political and economic rights was reinforced by Houzan Mahmoud’s announcement at the beginning of the press conference that a death threat has been issued against her.

I began my remarks by reflecting on media coverage of the war in Iraq… The New York Times devotes at least one article to Iraq every day—usually it contains allusions to a dozen or more stories deserving of probing, careful, analytical journalistic investigation. The article—like “Baghdad Car Bomb Kills 20 on Booksellers Row” (3/6/07) —devotes the last third of its space to a laundry list of incidents… Six people were killed and dozens wounded in other bombings and shootings…. A police man was killed and four bodies found… An American solider was killed and one was wounded…British soldiers found 30 prisoners including one woman and two children “many of whom showed signs of torture and abuses… they later escaped…. American and Iraqi troops continued to search houses in Sadr City.

No context. No meaning. An invitation to turn a deaf ear. Tune it out. I think this unwillingness to dig deeper than that litany of bad news is mind-boggling on many different levels. But, right now, to me… it is most mind boggling because we are paying so much for this war and occupation. The dollars we are spending can be understood in direct and inverse relationship to the amount of attention we pay to the war.

According to Scott Wallsten, a Washington economist, the war operation itself — the helicopters, the tanks, the fuel needed to run them, the combat pay for enlisted troops, the salaries of reservists and contractors, the rebuilding of Iraq — is costing about than $300 million a day.

The Pentagon backs that number up—more or less—reporting that it is spending roughly $8.4 billion per month waging the war in Iraq ($10 billion if you add the costs of military operations in Afghanistan) (1/18/07).

Since 2001, Congress has spent more than $500 billion on specific appropriations for Iraq and Afghanistan.

$300 million a day. About $8 billion a month. About half a trillion on war since 9/11. And that is on top of a Pentagon budget that has risen from about $300 billion when President Bush came into office, to $500 billion today.

Yifat Susskind referred to the “Salvador Option” in Iraq– Where Rumsfeld and others have rewritten history to argue that offering material support, weapons and training to death squads and using them as proxies is a viable tool in the project of establishing and maintaining an iron grip on Iraq. There is a lot to say about the parallels between El Salvador and Iraq—especially now that El Salvador (which has contributed a few hundred soldiers as part of the coalition of the willing) is near to being a major partner as the UK withdraws its troops. Also because so many of the U.S. soldiers in Iraq are immigrants from El Salvador—lured into military service by the promise of citizenship (which is also awarded posthumously).

The Salvadorization of Iraq is such a dirty and discounted policy—but it is being heralded. As Iraq is being “Salvadorized” with death squads paid for by the United States. We too are experiencing a “Salvadorization” as the disparity between rich and poor widens precipitously. This illegal war and occupation is turning the United States into a criminal nation—but also a third world nation.

So, I wanted to add another dimension to this discussion of gender-based violence and the U.S. war on Iraq by offering some thoughts that link the systematic oppression that women are experiencing in Iraq with the systematic de-funding of every education, health care, welfare, housing, childcare and food assistance programs aimed at women here in this country.

They say that every bomb that falls explodes twice—once where it is aimed– and again in the community far away where resources were robbed and diverted to make the bomb. They are not the same thing—not by any stretch of the imagination—but they are connected. And if we understand that connection we can work to eliminate the damage wrought by both.

So, lets look at the numbers—and as we do—think about what these numbers mean expressed as Bradley fighting vehicles and precision missiles and attack helicopters and advanced training for Iraqi special forces—the killing machines that destroy lands, lives, traditions, intellects.

So, as I mentioned—we spend about $300 million a day on the war in Iraq. More than $8 billion at month. So far, the war in Iraq—in immediate and direct costs (as opposed to the long term costs of caring for veterans, and other unavoidable future costs) has cost more than half a trillion dollars.

At $141.7 billion, this year’s proposed spending on the Iraq war is larger than the military budgets of China and Russia combined. Total U.S. military spending for FY2008 is roughly ten times the military budget of China– the second largest military spender. The request for the “regular” military budget, which includes Pentagon spending plus work on nuclear warheads and naval reactors at the Department of Energy, was $499 billion– a $46 billion increase from the current budget year.

This $499 billion (which is in addition to the $500 billion that has been spent directly on war) is:

  • More than 30 times higher than all State Department operations and non-military foreign aid combined.
  • Over 120 times higher than the roughly $5 billion per year the U.S. government spends on combating global warming.

FY 2008 military spending represents 58 cents out of every dollar spent by the U.S. government on discretionary programs - the items that Congress gets to vote up or down on an annual basis. This means that military spending is more than the combined totals of spending on education, environmental protection, administration of justice, veteran’s benefits, housing assistance, transportation, job training, agriculture, energy, and economic development.

As the poverty rate continues to climb, unemployment mounts, debts and deficits deepen, the 2008 budget eliminates or sharply reduces 141 programs, most of which are critical to women’s economic security, health and safety, including:

  • $1.4 billion cut from the Community Development Block Grant; (4 and half days of war in Iraq)
  • $436 million taken from Head Start; (a day and a half)
  • $1.1 billion slashed from the Low-Income Energy Assistance Program; (three and a half days)
  • $669 million subtracted from Special Education (two days); and
  • $111 million from the Child Care and Development Block Grant. (8 hours of war in Iraq)

The 2008 budget, which gives $499 billion to the Pentagon, and $147 billion to war and occupation in Iraq, proposes to eliminate investments in job training, elementary education and higher education opportunities. Among the programs on the chopping block are:

  • the Women in Apprenticeship and Non-Traditional Occupation Act, outreach programs to encourage education for those with disadvantaged backgrounds,
  • the Women’s Education Equity Act, which helps schools with Title 9 compliance,
  • funding for comprehensive school reforms,
  • the Even Start program, which funds family literacy programs,
  • drop-out prevention,
  • Programs for incarcerated youth.

The list goes on and on and on.

We can draw a straight line between the bombs that fall in Baghdad and the mouths that cry for bread in Baltimore. And there is so much work to be done to safeguard and secure women’s rights in Iraq, and some of it begins with taking ownership our government’s priorities—the funding of guns over butter—and asserting our own priorities.

At the end of the day, it is our money that is beginning used to train and outfit the men in Iraq who come for women in the middle of the night. It is our money that is not funding health insurance, job training and child care here at home. There is all this pressure on Congress to de-fund the war—but we can de-fund it too—by withholding our money, insisting on gender equity from the United States to Iraq.

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