Yesterday, former Vice President of the European Commission Margot Wallstrom spoke in IAB about “Women, Peace, and Security – Challenges Ahead.” Bwog International Affairs and Swedish Meatballs Correspondent Mark Hay reports:
Let it be known that the author does not often think about the role of gender in politics. But with three events this weekend focusing exclusively on gender relations in international security, I felt as if the universe were sending me a clear message to get in touch with my inner goddess (which is vital, considering that my inner God is dead after an encounter with Nietzsche). So last night I wound up at a lecture by Vice President of the European Commission and former Swedish Social Democratic Politician Margot Wallström, who came out swinging with one of the most jarring transitions in history—roughly paraphrased, “I recognize and appreciate the power of change President Obama has brought to this nation and the world, but you know what’s a more potent force of change in someone’s life? Rape.”
Rape has turned into a fact of life in many of the world’s areas of conflict. In some nations, incidents of rape affect as much as 70% of the population; it serves to completely destroy bonds of trust, and leads to stunning rates of passive suicide and social upheaval. In Wallström’s eyes, the issue of rape in war and peace negotiations has reached a critical point: while rape rates skyrocket, international bodies are talking loudly but failing to carry the requisite big stick, due in part to the sheer lack of accurate data coming in from war torn regions. And reporters in the West, she argues, are certainly not helping matters when they casually account rape against women as a fact of war, while reporting rape against men as a traumatizing act of torture. To her, this is an expression of a hypocritical and institutional chauvinism still present in Western politics and society.
But there is hope. Wallström believes that adequate data collection would be invaluable in allowing international organizations to create a real impact (although in response to one audience question, she admitted to being unaware of the ethical and practical risks of data collection, such as opening sources to social criticism for speaking out on rape – an issue most war-zone governments deny outright). Wallström also supports the funding of underground educational efforts to teach girls that rape is not a fact of life, and boys that it is an unacceptable act. In addition, she promotes the requirement that peace talks occur only with female representatives available to share their perspectives as war rape victims, and to ensure that adequate provisions are made for their counseling and reintegration into society.
Wallström admits, however, that promoting these measures through such means as targeted sanctions, public shaming of noncompliant leaders, and transparent monitoring of nations’ progress on binding goals is all rather hypocritical for the European Commission to pursue. By her count, the Commission and other such bodies still fall far short of granting proportional representation to women; she therefore supports affirmative action for female politicians.
After Wallström finished her address, the moderator spoke to one theory that war actually benefits women in the long run by sending them to the workplace and reshuffling society. To this point, Wallström shook her head in shame, questioned how anyone could say such a thing, and noted that the tragedy and destruction of millions of lives could hardly be worth such gains which should be acquired peacefully. She then massively facepalmed herself – possibly one of the most honest and passionate expressions of emotion a high-ranking politician has ever given.
While certain questions remain as to the viability, ethics, and practicality of many of Wallström’s plans, the situation is clear and shameful. And I must note that the question and answer period gave me cause for shame in my manhood. Of twelve men in the audience, only two asked questions. And whereas the questions of the female audience were intelligent and nuanced, the men only inquired regarding European Commission policy on completely unrelated issues – Roma rights and Global Warming. Such a deviation from the dire subject at hand felt disrespectful, opportunist, and demonstrated clearly the mindset that issues such as rape are “women’s issues” that do not concern men (one reason why Wallström supports programs to draw more men into anti-rape efforts). Between this and the fact that only a 68-30 vote in the Senate passed a recent amendment prohibiting government contracts with companies that prohibit employees from suing for rape, it would seem that Wallström’s fears about representation and media presentation are well confirmed. The issues at hand also support my personal growing suspicion that women are awesome and men are pigs (Wallström openly denies this view). I now facepalm eternally for my gender, and will be attempting to transfer to Barnard.