NEW YORK--Nine months after the 9/11 attack in America, academics, activists and policy makers are just beginning to ask difficult questions about the global crisis and explore ways to ease tensions between America and people around the world opposed to the dominance of this only remaining superpower.
At the forefront of this new debate are women, many of whom are working on issues surrounding global terrorism, the growing economic disparity between the world's rich and poor, and the cultural conflicts that have led to violence on a massive scale.
In late April, the National Council for Research on Women, an alliance of 92 women's research and policy centres in the United States, held their three-day conference entitled "Facing Global and National Crises: Women Define Human Security." Organisers said they hoped the event would look at how terrorism, violence and poverty affect women around the world, and the role women can play in addressing these issues.
"A new concept of human security is being used that shifts the notion of security of the nation to the idea of the protection, well-being and safety of people," said Linda Basch, the council's executive director. "We wanted to bring more of a gender lens to this issue."
Academics Could Lead Activism
Unlike many conferences that focus solely on the academic, Basch said that this event--which drew about 300 participants, including some from Latin America, Central Europe and Central Asia--was also designed to rekindle the activist spirit in the global women's movement. Panelists from esteemed academic and research institutions including Harvard, the World Bank and the Soros Foundation Network spoke on the need for women to begin exploring ways of bridging the gap between academia and activism. Some speakers implored the audience to take a vigorous role in resolving the pressing security issues of the 21st century.
"It seems very important, even in our roles as women's studies and gender studies people, to begin to do more than just sort of reach out in a kind of passive way," said Alison Bernstein, vice president of the education, media, arts and culture programme at the Ford Foundation. "It's very important to take our voices and try and find solidarity with voices of people like us in countries that are in the midst of probably the most dangerous time that many of us can remember."
Although Bernstein acknowledged that the current militaristic climate has had a dampening effect on even her own sense of empowennent, she noted that small activities carry weight. Pointing to some of the seemingly insignificant protests against apartheid in South Africa, Bernstein said that people gained a sense of strength through relatively small demonstrations that enabled them to keep up a fight that eventually put an end to the racist regime.
Rightful Role in Security Discussions
Bernstein's rallying cry had the support of many of the academics, advocacy workers and policy makers in attendance, some of whom have been actively promoting the notion that women need to find their rightful place in the global peace movement.
Amy Caiazza, study director at the Institute for Women's Policy Research and a speaker at the conference, cited a report she issued in November entitled "Why Gender Matters in Understanding September 11: Women, Militarism, and Violence." The report explores the link between a society's tolerance of violence towards women and the likelihood that it would promote violence in other ways.
"Perhaps our collective neglect of the treatment of women in Afghanistan was a missed opportunity to foresee or even prevent the events of September 11, 2001," she wrote in the study.
Caiazza also pointed out that women are generally more likely to be involved with peace movements than terrorist or military activities. From the number alone of female-dominated peace groups …