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pack information

WOMEN IN WAR I - (Pack pages 5-12)



What women have been saying
Being a mum as well as a scientist
A feminist viewpoint
India's silent revolution


Guerrilla Women
A Woman's Influence
Women In The Armed Forces
Annette's letter
Martha Gellhorn : death of a fearless reporter
Women Reporting War


Standing up to be counted
Greenham Common

Healing Wounds
Keeping Going
Women Writing About War

Hawks and Doves: Protesting for East Timor
Bianca Jagger
Aung San Suu Kyi
Mary Robinson

Guerrilla Women (Pack page 6)

'I was looking forward to joining God'

Etaf is a Palestinian Arab. She was born in 1962 to a family who have been refugees since 1948, when the state of Israel was carved out of Palestine. When she was 14 her brother was beaten up by Israeli soldiers and died a few weeks afterwards. 'I became aware of my people's hardship when I was very young,' says Etaf. She became very religious as well as patriotic, and when she was 20 she joined a group of people who felt the same. Believing it to be for God as well as for her people, Etaf agreed to carry out a suicide bombing in Jerusalem. As it turned out, she was caught and imprisoned before this could happen. If she had succeeded, she would have been the first Palestinian to die in this way. 'I would have been singing in my heart, knowing I was going to heaven.'

Etaf spent a long time in prison; after a while she met Jewish women there and they began to talk to each other. Although they could not agree about the problems between Israel and Palestine, they did get to understand each other better.

In 1997 Etaf went on hunger strike. Because she was so well-known, it was feared that her action would spark off riots among the Palestinians in Israel, so she was freed. She made her home just outside Bethlehem, from where she runs a women's group.

'One person's freedom fighter is another person's terrorist.' Discuss the social, moral and emotional issues of 'fighting for a cause'.
Sometimes people find that their suffering is so great that death - and murder - lose significance. Sometimes people feel so abused, oppressed and misunderstood that they look for self-esteem in danger and in fighting for a chosen cause. Discussion of the problems of displaced peoples, and the fears of those who have displaced them, needs to be as sensitive and compassionate as possible.


Women In The Armed Forces (Pack page 8)

a. What they say

Moujila (Iran): 'At first it was hard to be a woman and a tank driver. I was very scared. But I have learnt. After the first battle it was easy.'

Batul (Iran): 'I was taught I was of no use because I was a woman. I looked on myself as a weakling, a nothing. Now I feel pride, especially since they told me I could drive a tank.'

Rosalba (Italy): 'I love holding the gun. It makes me feel strong.'

Pervinca (Italy): I'm not tough by nature, but I love the idea of discipline, strict rules, and respect.'

Julie (UK): 'Women always have to prove themselves, but if we want equal opportunities we have to push ourselves to the limit. A lot of men refuse to accept women in the army, saying women aren't physically strong enough. But as with all jobs, it's about teamwork. We can ask for help. That's what the men do.'

What do YOU think? Do women HAVE to 'prove themselves' by trying to be like men? In countries where women are regarded as inferior to men, how can they find self-confidence without having to become soldiers? Think of all the non-military, nonviolent ways in which women of any culture and society can take an equal part.

b. A British Brigadier

In 1999 long-serving soldier Patricia Purves became the army's top woman, having beaten four male applicants to the rank of brigadier. Women in the UK army at present are barred from joining the infantry, driving tanks or fighting on the front line; Tricia's job is Director of Education and Training.

Could women be natural warriors, though? Tricia isn't sure. 'I believe women are ruthless enough and could cope physically. But the level of strength required, particularly for the infantry, means only a small number could qualify. One or two lone women in this very macho world - I would worry about the psychological pressures they'd be exposed to.

'My instinct is that it's possible there is something special in the all-male infantry fighting unit. Part of me says: women in the infantry, why not? But another part says, What if it doesn't work? There are no prizes for coming second in a war.'

Tricia (married with no children - when she joined the army in the 1970s pregnancy meant dismissal) upset her parents when she joined up: they thought the army downplayed women. It's true, Tricia says, that 'sometimes individual women want so much to be part of the team they try to damp down their feminine side; and that's a shame. We should be first-rate women, not second-rate men'.

She likes her work in education. 'An educated mind produces a better, more caring soldier. It's easy to get people together, train them to be as tough and brutal as you want, and throw them into the battlefield, but what you'll get is psychopathic violence, without control. I believe even on a battlefield you must try to abide by the rules of your society.'

She adds that it would be wrong for the army to treat its married women soldiers differently, except during pregnancy. 'If you join the army to be a soldier, you take on the responsibility of being a soldier, and that includes the ultimate: dying for your country. If you're not willing to stand up and be shot at, then please don't join.'

What do YOU think about what this Brigadier says? Would you like her job? What would YOU want to ask - and say - about the position of women in the army?


3. A Woman's Influence

An army advertisement in the late 1990s showed a woman cowering in the corner of a bombed building. The caption read: 'She's just been raped by soldiers. The same soldiers murdered her husband. The last thing she wants to see is another soldier. Unless that soldier is a woman.'

The British Army is keen to add to its women personnel, and to stress its role as peacekeeper. Now people are beginning to look at women's importance in conflict situations: 'Without women's participation, there can be no real progress in the resolution of on-going conflicts'.

There's a logic here: recently fewer than 2% of UN peacekeeping forces have been female - but in almost all contemporary conflicts 80% of refugees are women and children.

This is what people have noticed:

Women are better able to control violent tendencies.
Women are seen as less of a threat, so are less likely to provoke violence.
Women seem to be more willing to look for reconciliation in disagreements, rather than use force.
Male soldiers are more likely to control aggression if women are present.
Women seem to calm stressful situations (this has been observed world-wide in police forces).

The United Nations, responsible for peacekeeping forces world-wide, hopes for the day when women soldiers aren't trained like men, but are given a real opportunity to use their peaceful, peace-making skills.

Does this make sense to YOU? What have you noticed, in your community or from the news, about the effect of the presence of women-in-uniform?

4. Annette's letter

There's a question mark over how many women actually want to be in the armed services. There are continuing reports of abusive treatment from male colleagues, and there is still widespread resistance to the idea of women killing and being killed in combat.

This prompted a woman called Annette to write to a newspaper. ‘If the public could express the same distaste at the sight of men being killed in combat, perhaps we could look forward to world peace in our time.’

Do you agree with Annette?


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