South Korea: Article on women's activism against militarisation

22 November 2011

This article in Open Democracy brings attention to the role of women in disarmament and the challenges they face in making their voices heard, and makes links to the work of IANSA Women. Calling for international action to stop to the construction of a military base in South Korea, Rebecca Johnson, Director of the Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy, highlights the contradictions between the absence of women from discussions at a UN conference on disarmament and the activism of local women against plans to build the naval base in Jeju Island. She shows how the base threatens to destroy the livelihoods of the iconic women shellfish divers and raise levels of rape and prostitution in the surrounding villages.

South Korea: destroying the lives of the Haenyo ‘sea women’
Rebecca Johnson
Open Democracy, 18 November 2011

I visited Jeju last week and met some of the Haenyo sea women, who told me of their desperate struggle to save their fishing grounds, traditions and livelihoods. Although there are several naval bases on South Korea’s mainland and Jeju has been designated an ‘Island of World Peace’ construction of this new naval base is being forced through at an estimated cost of $970 million, despite the active opposition of over 90 percent of the local people. (...) Several people were arrested trying to bring information about their plight to a high level UN conference on disarmament and non proliferation that took place at a luxurious hotel resort barely fifteen minutes drive from Gangjeong. I was one of the speakers at the conference, which is how I came to be in Jeju. (...)

Though the focus of the UN Conference was disarmament and non-proliferation, only one speaker mentioned UNSC Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security, which was passed in 2000 to recognise women as agents of change who must be fully involved and integrated in security and peace processes. No mention at all was made of last year’s UN General Assembly resolution 65/69 on Women, Disarmament, Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, which formally encouraged the United Nations and its members and agencies “to promote the equitable representation of women in all decision-making processes with regard to matters related to disarmament, non-proliferation and arms control”. Passed by consensus, this ground-breaking resolution also called on all states “to support and strengthen the effective participation of women in organizations in the field of disarmament at the local, national, regional and subregional levels”.

The panels typically featured only one woman out of eight speakers, and the panel on conventional weapons had none at all, despite the leadership of women in implementing how communities tackle the scourge of guns and other ‘small arms’. Since men continue to dominate the senior positions in arms control diplomacy, their assumptions about the world, and their stake in perpetuating a stagnant status quo, tend to exclude women’s ways of perceiving the weaponised world and how to change it.

For many years and in many countries, women have been at the forefront of opposing the weapons, bases and other tools of militarism and violence, whether organised by states or gangs of armed thugs. It’s not enough for the UN just to pass resolutions on women, peace, security and disarmament. To be effective, the policies need to be implemented, structurally, politically and operationally, at all governmental levels. Women’s experiences, expertise and the analytical challenges arising from our different perspectives must be integrated far more effectively at all levels of UN and national policy. Since military policies often have more severe and negative impacts on women, these need to be properly researched and understood before decisions are taken to go ahead.

Read the full article here: