Focus: Demilitarisation: Invest in comprehensive security for all

wall with anti-war graffiti and picture of a women with a headscarf

Since the beginning of the Russian war of aggression in Ukraine, there have been calls for rearmament and higher military spending. As a feminist peace organisation, we oppose the claim that more weapons lead to more security. We call for demilitarisation and disarmament, because this is the only way to achieve genuine peace and comprehensive security. Our Board member Margo Okazawa-Rey and our programme and network manager Annemarie Sancar explain why the world is at a crossroads today.

Several parties, including some left-of-centre, and also some women, are either calling for rearmament or support arms deliveries to Ukraine. How is this possible? “The patriarchal ideas of security are firmly anchored in the social structures of the countries of the Global North,” says Annemarie Sancar. In crisis situations, such as the war in Ukraine, many people would therefore “fall back on what seems to give them security, namely weapons, tanks and fighter planes”. With a simplified black-and-white model of an “enemy”, any militarised decision can be pushed through, from increasing the military budget to buying fighter jets, using the argument of protecting one’s own community.

Even before Russia escalated the war in Ukraine, global arms spending reached a new high: in 2021, for the first time, states worldwide invested more than two trillion US dollars in their armed forces. UN Women has calculated that global military spending in one year could cover the regular budget of the United Nations for 650 years.

War is the tip of the iceberg. It’s the visible manifestation of how many countries’ political and economic institutions are organised, and now re-organising, to prepare for wars and armed conflicts.

— Margo Okazawa-Rey, co-founder of the International Women’s Network Against Militarism

Says Margo Okazawa-Rey, co-founder of the International Women’s Network Against Militarism, citing the USA, China or Israel as examples. Switzerland, too, after almost 30 years of slightly decreasing military spending, now wants to increase the Swiss army budget by 2 billion Swiss francs annually, to 1% of the gross domestic product.

People instead of profit maximisation

Militarisation is more than “just” more spending on armed forces. From a feminist perspective, militarisation is a form of violent masculinity that reinforces or reconstructs a patriarchal system and is closely intertwined with other systems of oppression, such as racism and colonisation. Spending on the military is “investing in security geared towards war”, explains Annemarie Sancar, and falls well short of the goal of comprehensive security.

The consequences of these investments are far-reaching and profound for the whole of society, and especially for women. When a state spends more money on armaments, it has to be taken from elsewhere. Rearmament happens at the expense of spending on education, health and development cooperation. When men are sent to war, women often remain in contested areas for a long time. They bear the consequences of war: violence, food and drinking water shortages, polluted environments and additional care responsibilities.

Security should not be understood in military terms but in socio-political terms, says Annemarie Sancar. “Security has to mean that the economy focuses on people and not on maximising the profits of individuals and companies.” Demilitarisation consequently requires a shift in investment away from military build-up towards a society “that sees the well-being of all people at its centre”. To this end, notions of strength must be rethought and all the voices must be heard

Security has to mean that the economy focuses on people and not on maximising the profits of individuals and companies.

— Annemarie Sancar

Voices for a just peace

What is often dismissed as banal is the only route to more peace and more security for everyone. Feminists in particular need to react. “Wars and militarism are patriarchal, masculinist ideals and practices. Women participate and support these as well. As feminists we must challenge these ideals – ideologically and in practice,” says Margo Okazawa-Rey. She sees the world at a crossroads. “At this point in human history and given the current situation, we – people of the planet – stand either on the side of culture of killing or culture of life.”

What could the response to this be? Margo Okazawa-Rey believes a global movement confronting militarism with non-violent action is needed now. The voices of those demanding a just peace, in Ukraine and in the many other countries affected by armed conflict, must be amplified.

In our work in Switzerland and abroad, these voices are central. We are committed to disarmament and to the conditions that make a secure life possible for all, says Annemarie Sancar. Whether in the series of events on demilitarisation, in the “Feminist Peace Initiatives” projects from the global network or at the Women’s Peace Tables, together with our project partners, we demonstrate the diversity of peace policy work “when the security of women doing care work in particular is at the centre.”