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Beyond the conventional gender roles: The Role of Women in Anti-nuclear Movements

Eugene Gordon/The New York Historical Society/Getty Images

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Nuclear weapons have been at the core of all major international discussions since its creation. It represented a state of revolutionised human affairs and kept decision makers on their toes. The destructive potential of the weapon hit the human conscious when the United States of America dropped the atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which altered the nature of war thereafter. The seed for Anti-nuclear movements were sown almost immediately after the nuclear attack on the two Japanese cities.

The Anti-nuclear movements are social movements that raises questions about the existence of the nuclear weapons; the threat (physical and mental) revolving around it, its uses and the presence of knowledge regarding nuclear technologies. The goals of the movement range from peace to environmental, from moral to intellectual activism. Unlike most of the social movements that emerged after the Second World War, the Anti-nuclear movements were unique with two key characteristics- meticulous planning and non-violence. These characteristics could be channelled and practiced because most of these Anti-nuclear movements were led by women. I was quite intrigued to investigate how a destructive weapon often associated with masculinity, power dynamics and rationale was fought against by women to generate awareness about its deadly potential. Women did not only participate but also organised campaigns of varied forms to educate the masses about the deadly weapon. All of these were done through demonstrations, speeches, rallies, posters and songs. It is quite interesting to study how the methods adopted for the movement were in sharp opposition to the harsh aggressive and deadly nature of the weapon.

This article will analyse the varied roles adopted by women while voicing against the Bomb by considering four anti-nuclear movements- Women Strike for Peace, Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, Greenham Common Women’s Peace Movement, and Seneca Women’s Encampment for Future Peace and Justice. This paper will end on a discussion on the relevance of anti-nuclear movements in the world today and what are the ways through which awareness regarding nuclear weapons can be generated.

The dropping of the nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 amassed a veil of horror across the world and received sharp criticism. A number of movements came up immediately to protest against nuclear weapons which were mostly led by men. However, the period between 1950’s and 1960’s witnessed some interesting turn of events which altered the conventional gender roles. Women started voicing against the presence of nuclear weapons and challenged the prevailing gender-power nexus through a number of movements. The following section will delve into a discussion on four types of role that women adopted during the Anti-nuclear movements.

Humanity with Responsibility

The involvement of women in anti-nuclear protests brought about a humanitarian dimension in understanding the presence of the destructive weapons. Ever since its introduction, the nuclear weapons have been associated with ‘Masculine’ attributions that even the initial movements against the weapons were led by men. The National Committee for Sane Nuclear policy, one of the first such movements and majorly led by men published in one of their Ads-“Act Now for Man’s Sake”. However, women realised the need to come out on the streets to voice not only against the weapons but the whole power dynamics around the nuclear discussions which were primarily dominated by men. In 1961, an iconic Anti-nuclear movement called Women Strike for Peace came up to demonstrate against testing of nuclear weapons. They were overcome by the fear of radioactive milk and where agitated by the inconsistency of the peace groups ran by men. The group comprised of educated middle-class women, mostly housewives led by Dagmar Wilson as they marched in thousands towards the White House, to demonstrate against the testing of the weapons and eventually, were able to push the power blocs into signing the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. Women, who were perceived as peace lovers and intellectually subordinate to men, altered this conventional notion by adding their ‘womanly touch’ with a sense of responsibility. Women felt a special responsibility to protect the children and the future generations.

Struggle for Survival

The nuclear attack on the Japanese cities wiped out almost half of the population; but what was even more traumatic was the account of the survivors. Even after 75 years of the nuclear attack, its aftermath is still fatal and catastrophic. The survivors of the nuclear attack who are called the “Hibakusha” played a prolific role in protesting against the nuclear weapons. The testimonials of the women were heart wrenching. Sayoko Fujioka, a Hiroshima Hibakusha, who lost her six month old daughter said in her testimonial,

“The atomic bombing was unforgiveable, but it couldn’t be avoided.” She further added, “I don’t have a photo of Shigeko, or a piece of clothing.”

Some of the survivors who immigrated to North America started documenting their survival stories which became a source for other women to empathise and join in the Anti-nuclear protest. The impending doom surrounding the weapons made the struggle for survival from a cataclysmic attack among women even more. In Japan, housewives launched the widespread petition campaign that resulted in the formation of Gensuikyo. The women within The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament came up with slogans like “Let Britain’s Women Lead” to counter against the male domination and slack in pushing for disarmament. Women are identified as caregivers and the effects of the weapons on children, pregnant women and unborn child terrified their thought.

Hysterical motherhood

Gender plays a significant role in understanding the dynamics around the nuclear weapons. A very prominent and striking role adopted by women during the Anti-nuclear protests was that of ‘motherhood’. Helen Caldicott, one of the key proponents of the anti-nuclear movements in one of her addresses stated,

“I want you to sit down tonight and write a letter. If you’ve got your own children: to them. If you haven’t: to the children of the earth.”

It addresses the women as ‘mothers’ to unite and urges them to save their children. Many of these movements were explicitly run by women where the ‘child metaphor’ was prominent. In the famous Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp, women identified themselves as ‘mothers’ to give legitimacy to their protests for the safety and he future of their children. (Shepherd,8). The women are passionate, quite hysterical when it comes to their child. The collective identity of ‘women as mothers’ were a great way to make women emotionally connect, empathise and to save the future generation. It highlighted their importance in the public sphere as moving beyond the ‘kitchen space’.

Altering power dynamics

A very significant change in the 1960’s was the Second Wave of Feminist Movements which coincided with the Anti-nuclear protests. It encouraged women to question the existing power dynamics at the political level. Starting from state leaders to diplomats, from policy makers to even the presence of the nuclear weapons, everything was dominated by men. Women were considered intellectually subordinate to men and were attributed with the qualities of peace, love and calmness. Women realised the need to raise their voice within the public sphere to bring about gender equality. The Seneca Women’s Encampment for a Future of Peace and Justice was a movement against nuclear weapons, militarism and patriarchy. It supported the need for Nuclear Education for all and brought about the discourses on Ecofeminism and Non-Violence. Women came forward to eliminate the distinction between the ‘private and the public space’ and to deconstruct the existing notion of power dynamics in the international system.

The nuclear weapons which emerged during the Second World War period thrived and prospered during the Cold War and continue to dominate in the post-Cold War period. The Anti-nuclear movements posed a challenge not only to the existence of the weapons but also in the other politico-social dimensions. The critics of these movements were sceptical about its success in bringing about disarmament. However, one cannot deny the substantial amount of influence these movements had on some of the major nuclear arms control treaties during the Cold War period. Therefore, as long as the weapons exist the prominence of anti-nuclear movements will persist. What is more crucial in this century is to acknowledge the fact that there are more nuclear power nations and therefore the threats are higher. In the context of South Asia, there is a major need to bring about Confidence Building Measures to ensure transparency and stability.

Some of ways in which nuclear awareness can be build are- through nuclear education, discourses within the academia, varied levels of diplomatic talks, awareness campaigns in schools and engagement between different civil society bodies. As Tenuko Ueno, another hibakusha says, “…the first step is to make the local government take action,” it all starts at home. Women have played significant roles in generating awareness about the weapons and have paved the path for the future generation to carry forward the baton.

Saanjana Goldsmith, currently pursuing MA Politics(International & Area Studies) at Jamia Millia Islamia University , New Delhi.

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New Social Compact

Demand for Investigation of COVID-19 gained momentum

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Human history is full of natural disasters like Earthquakes, Floods, Fires, Vacanos, Drought, Famine, Pandemic, etc. Some of them were really huge and have been damaged a lot. The outbreak of diseases was also very common in the past, like Spanish Flu, Tuberculosis, Cholera, Ebola, SARS, Middle-East-Virus, etc. However, the most damaging in recent history is COVID-19.

According to Worldometer, the latest data reveal that Coronavirus Cases has reached :

193,422,021, and death toll touched: 4,151,655. However, these are the official data provided by each individual country to Worldometer. The actual data is much more, as some countries have limited resources and could not test their population on a bigger scale, whereas few countries hide the actual data to save face, like India. Prime Minister Modi has mishandled the Pandemic and politicized it. His extremist approach toward minorities and political opponents has worsened the situation. He is afraid, if the public comes to know the actual disasters, he may lose political popularity and have to leave the office. Unofficial sources on groud estimate the actual figures are almost ten times higher. He has taken strict measures to hide the actual data and control media on reporting facts.

Whatever the actual data, even the official data shows a big disaster. Almost all nations became the victim of it and suffered heavily. The loss of human lives and the economic loss have made the whole World think seriously.

It is time to investigate the origin of COVID-19. There are many theories, and some are part of the blame game and politics, without proper investigations and reliable evidence. The World is so much polarized that it is very difficult to believe any side of the views and blames. Under this scenario, it is the World Health Organization (WHO) responsibility to conduct a transparent investigation and reach the source of COVID-19. It is believed that the whole World may trust WHO.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian demanded on Wednesday that the United States show transparency and conduct a thorough investigation into its Fort Detrick laboratory and other biological labs overseas over the origins of COVID-19 in response to appeals from people in China and around the World. By Wednesday afternoon, an open letter published on Saturday asking the World Health Organization to probe Fort Detrick had garnered nearly 5 million signatures from Chinese netizens.

“The soaring number reflects the Chinese people’s demands and anger at some people in the US who manipulate the origin-tracing issue for political reasons,” Zhao said at a regular news briefing in Beijing.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a “cease and desist order” in July 2019 to halt research at Fort Detrick that involved dangerous organisms like the Ebola virus. The same month, a “respiratory outbreak” of unknown cause saw more than 60 residents in a Northern Virginia retirement community become ill. Later that year, Maryland, where Fort Detrick is based, witnessed a doubling of the number of residents who developed a respiratory illness related to vaping.

But the CDC never released information about the shutdown of the lab’s deadly germ research operations, citing “national security reasons”. “An investigation into Fort Detrick is long-overdue, but the US has not done it yet, so the mystery remains unsolved,” Zhao said, adding that was a question the US must answer regarding the tracing of the origins of COVID-19.

There are 630,000 of its citizens lost to the Pandemic. The US should take concrete measures to investigate the origins of the virus at home thoroughly, discover the reason for its inadequate response to the Pandemic, and punish those who should be held accountable. Especially in the initial days, the mishandling of the Pandemic by then-President Trump was a significant cause of the rapidly spreading of the virus, which must be addressed adequately. Washington remains silent whenever Fort Detrick is mentioned. It seeks to stigmatize and demonize China under the pretext of origin-tracing.

It appealed that the WHO may come forward and conduct through research and investigation in a professional, scientific, and transparent manner to satisfy the whole World.

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New Social Compact

How to eliminate Learning Poverty

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Children learn more and are more likely to stay in school if they are first taught in a language that they speak and understand. Yet, an estimated 37 percent of students in low- and middle-income countries are required to learn in a different language, putting them at a significant disadvantage throughout their school life and limiting their learning potential. According to a new World Bank report Loud and Clear: Effective Language of Instruction Policies for Learning, effective language of instruction (LoI) policies are central to reducing Learning Poverty and improving other learning outcomes, equity, and inclusion.

Instruction unfolds through language – written and spoken – and children learning to read and write is foundational to learning all other academic subjects.  The Loud and Clear report puts it simply: too many children are taught in a language they don’t understand, which is one of the most important reasons why many countries have very low learning levels.

Children most impacted by such policies and choices are often disadvantaged in other ways – they are in the bottom 40 percent of the socioeconomic scale and live in more remote areas.  They also lack the family resources to address the effects of ineffective language policies on their learning. This contributes to higher dropout rates, repetition rates, higher Learning Poverty, and lower learning overall.

“The devastating impacts of COVID-19 on learning is placing an entire generation at risk,” says Mamta Murthi, World Bank Vice President for Human Development. “Even before the pandemic, many education systems put their students at a disadvantage by requiring children to learn in languages they do not know well – and, in far too many cases, in languages they do not know at all. Teaching children in a language they understand is essential to recover and accelerate learning, improve human capital outcomes, and build back more effective and equitable education systems.”

The new LoI report notes that when children are first taught in a language that they speak and understand, they learn more, are better placed to learn other languages, are able to learn other subjects such as math and science, are more likely to stay in school, and enjoy a school experience appropriate to their culture and local circumstances. Moreover, this lays the strongest foundation for learning in a second language later on in school. As effective LoI policies improve learning and school progression, they reduce country costs per student and, thus, enables more efficient use of public funds to enhance more access and quality of education for all children.

“The language diversity in Sub-Saharan Africa is one of its main features – while the region has 5 official languages, there are 940 minority languages spoken in Western and Central Africa and more than 1,500 in Sub-Saharan Africa, which makes education challenges even more pronounced,” says Ousmane Diagana, World Bank Regional Vice President for Western and Central Africa. “By adopting better language-of-instruction policies, countries will enable children to have a much better start in school and get on the right path to build the human capital they need to sustain long-term productivity and growth of their economies.” 

The report explains that while pre-COVID-19, the world had made tremendous progress in getting children to school, the near-universal enrollment in primary education did not lead to near-universal learning. In fact, before the outbreak of the pandemic, 53 percent of children in low- and middle-income countries were living in Learning Poverty, that is, were unable to read and understand an age-appropriate text by age 10. In Sub-Saharan Africa, the figure was closer to 90 percent. Today, the unprecedented twin shocks of extended school closures and deep economic recession associated with the pandemic are threatening to make the crisis even more dire, with early estimates suggesting that Learning Poverty could rise to a record 63 percent. These poor learning outcomes are, in many cases, a reflection of inadequate language of instruction policies.

“The message is loud and clear.  Children learn best when taught in a language they understand, and this offers the best foundation for learning in a second language,” stressed Jaime Saavedra, World Bank Global Director for Education. “This deep and unjust learning crisis requires action. Investments in education systems around the world will not yield significant learning improvements if students do not understand the language in which they are taught. Substantial improvements in Learning Poverty are possible by teaching children in the language they speak at home.”

The new World Bank policy approach to language of instruction is guided by 5 principles:

1. Teach children in their first language starting with Early Childhood Education and Care services through at least the first six years of primary schooling.

2. Use a student’s first language for instruction in academic subjects beyond reading and writing.

3.  If students are to learn a second language in primary school, introduce it as a foreign language with an initial focus on oral language skills.

4. Continue first language instruction even after a second language becomes the principal language of instruction.

5. Continuously plan, develop, adapt, and improve the implementation of language of instruction policies, in line with country contexts and educational goals.

Of course, these language of instruction policies need to be well integrated within a larger package of policies to ensure alignment with the political commitment and the instructional coherence of the system.

This approach will guide the World Bank’s financing and advisory support for countries to provide high-quality early childhood and basic education to all their students. The World Bank is the largest source of external financing for education in developing countries – in fiscal year 2021, it broke another record and committed $5.5 billion of IBRD and IDA resources in new operations and, in addition, committed $0.8 billion of new grants with GPE financing, across a total of 60 new education projects in 45 countries.

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World leaders must fully fund education in emergencies and protracted crises

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Many schools in Afghanistan have suffered the effects of long-term conflict. ©UNICEF/Marko Kokic

During June’s UN Security Council High-Level Open Debate on Children and Armed Conflict, leaders from across the world stood up to call for expanded support for education in emergencies to protect vulnerable children and youth enduring armed conflicts, climate change-related disasters, forced displacement and protracted crises.

In our collective race to leave no child behind and to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals in just nine short years, now is the time to translate these universal values and human rights into action.

The will is there. Nations across the globe, UN leaders and other key stakeholders stood up to address the horrific attacks on education happening on a daily basis and called for increased funding for organizations working to ensure crisis-affected children have access to safe, quality education.

Irish President Michael Higgins focused on education, protection and accountability in his address.

“I am sure that we can all agree that it is morally reprehensible that 1 in every 3 children living in countries affected by conflict or disaster is out of school. Schools should be protected, be a safe shelter and space for learning and development,” said Higgins. “Ireland prioritizes access to education in emergencies. We have committed to spend €250 million on global education by 2024. That is why we are launching the Girls Fund to support grassroots groups led by girls, advancing gender equality in their own communities.”

Nicolas de Rivière, Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations, highlighted support from France to Education Cannot Wait, as well as the importance of protection for children caught in emergencies.

“The socio-economic consequences of the pandemic and school closures put children at greater risk: inequalities are increasing in all regions of the world. Acts of domestic violence, rape and other forms of sexual violence, and school dropout have increased,” said de Rivière. “School closures increase recruitment by armed groups as well as child labor. Here, as everywhere, girls also have specific vulnerabilities. I am thinking in particular of the risk of early and forced marriage. For its part, France will continue to play an active role and promote the universal endorsement of the Paris Principles and Commitments. In the field, we support projects that guarantee access to education in emergency situations, notably the Education Cannot Wait Fund.”

Children under attack

The number of grave violations against children rose to 19,000 in 2020 according to the UN Secretary-General’s Report on Children in Armed Conflict, released in May 2021. To put this number in context, that’s over 50 girls and boys every day that are killed or maimed, recruited and used as soldiers, abducted, sexually violated, attacked in a school or hospitals, or denied their humanitarian access to things like food and water. 

The numbers are staggering. Last year, more than 8,400 children and youth were killed or maimed in ongoing wars in Afghanistan, Somalia, Syria and Yemen. Another 7,000 were recruited and used as fighters, mainly in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Myanmar, Somalia and Syria. With COVID-19 straining budgets and humanitarian support for child protection, abductions rose by 90 per cent last year, while rape and other forms of sexual violence shot up 70 per cent.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres underscored the need to support the Safe Schools Declaration and the Children in Armed Conflict mandate in his address to the UN Security Council.

“We are also seeing schools and hospitals constantly attacked, looted, destroyed, or used for military purposes, with girls’ education and health facilities targeted disproportionately. As we mark the 25th anniversary of the creation of the Children in Armed Conflict mandate, its continued relevance is sadly clear and it remains a proven tool for protecting the world’s children,” said Guterres. 

This is a vast human tragedy playing out across the globe. And despite efforts to support the Safe Schools Declaration, to re-imagine education during the COVID-19 pandemic and to align forces to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, we seem to be backsliding on our commitments.

Just imagine being a mother and learning that your daughter will not be coming home from school today. That she was abducted, along with 150 other students at their school in Nigeria. Imagine seeing your son, Sabir, lose his leg after being shot by armed gunmen in South Sudan. Imagine being a Rohingya girl like Janet Ara, who hid in forests, forged rivers and is now seeking a better life and opportunity through an education in the refugee camps of Bangladesh.

Imagine the trauma and terror … now imagine the opportunity.

A wake-up call

If we can come together to give every girl and boy on the planet access to a quality education, we can build a more peaceful, secure, humane and prosperous world.

Before COVID-19 hit, we calculated that at least 75 million children and youth caught in crisis and emergencies were being denied their right to an education. But with schools closed and many children at risk of never returning to the classroom, that number has jumped to around 128 million. That’s more than the total population of the United Kingdom. That’s more than the total populations of Canada, Denmark and Norway combined.

Denying these children their right to a quality education perpetuates cycles of poverty, violence, displacement and chaos.

As the United Nations global fund for education in emergencies and protracted crises, Education Cannot Wait (ECW) offers a new approach to break these negative cycles for good.

This means embracing a New Way of Working that brings in actors from across all sectors – national governments, donors, development, humanitarian response and education actors, national and local civil society, the private sector and more – to break down silos and work together to deliver whole-of-child solutions for whole-of-society problems.

In doing so we are bridging the humanitarian-development-peace nexus. Through ground-breaking collective action with partners across the globe, ECW has already launched multi-year resilience programmes and first emergency responses across more than 30 countries and crisis contexts and is on track to do more.

By doing so we can replace the cycle of poverty, violence, displacement and chaos with a cycle of education, empowerment, economic development, peace and new opportunities for future generations.

Delivering on our promise for universal, equitable education

The ECW model has proven to work. 

In just a few short years of operation, ECW has already provided 4.6 million crisis-affected girls and boys with access to a quality education. We’ve worked with national governments, donors, UN agencies and NGOs to reach 29.2 million girls and boys with our education in emergency response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In Bangladesh, girls like Janet Ara are returning to school, children with disabilities like Yasmina are accessing the support they need to learn, grow and thrive, and organizations like BRAC are receiving the support they need to build back better from the fires.

In Afghanistan, girls like Bibi Nahida are attending school for the first time, remote learning is helping children to continue their education during the pandemic, and female teachers are being recruited to teach biology, science and empower an entire generation of girls.

In Colombia and Ecuador, refugee children fleeing violence, hunger and poverty in Venezuela are being brought into schools, provided with laptops and cellular plans, and the psychosocial support they need to recover from the anxiety and stress of displacement.

Our call to action

An investment in education is an investment in the present and the future.

Recent analysis indicates that the likelihood of violence and conflict drops by 37% when girls and boys have equal access to education. Incomes go up by as much as 10% for each year of additional learning, while an estimated $15 to $30 trillion could be generated if every girl everywhere were able to complete 12 years of education.

We are making important headway with partners across the globe. The amount of humanitarian funding for education increased five times between 2015 and 2019 – and accounted for 5.1% of humanitarian funding in 2019.

Nevertheless, just 43.5% of humanitarian appeals for education were mobilized that same year.

That means girls like Bibi and Janet Ara may be pushed out of school, boys like Sabir might be recruited into armed groups. And children with disabilities like Yasmina will be pushed to the sidelines.

We have the will. Now it’s time to turn that will into action.

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