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COVID-19: We are Not Soldiers

Professor Vicent Martínez Guzmán, prestigious international researcher for peace studies, used to say that a decolonization of our minds was necessary to transform the cultures of war into cultures of peace. The coronavirus crisis has highlighted the lack of collective imaginaries that would allow us to become aware of the importance of care, of responsibility, of respect for one another, of a common wellbeing. Values that are traditionally associated with the feminine world are undervalued and we resort to the language of war to raise awareness of the greatness of the heroic deed.

Image credit: WILPF
Elena Couceiro and María del Vigo
25 March 2020

Written and translated by Elena Couceiro and María del Vigo (WILPF Spain)

Originally published online in Spanish on El Diario
Este artículo fue originalmente publicado en español.

Professor Vicent Martínez Guzmán, prestigious international researcher for peace studies, used to say that a decolonization of our minds was necessary to transform the cultures of war into cultures of peace. In these times of confinement, his teachings should invite deep reflection. The coronavirus crisis has highlighted the lack of collective imaginaries that would allow us to become aware of the importance of care, of responsibility, of respect for one another, of a common wellbeing. Values that are traditionally associated with the feminine world are undervalued and we resort to the language of war to raise awareness of the greatness of the heroic deed.

“I must congratulate every Spanish citizen for the discipline that they are showing. All Spanish citizens are behaving like soldiers at this difficult time. In this irregular and strange war that we are living or fighting in, every one of us is a soldier”. The Spanish Chief of Defence Staff, General Miguel Ángel Villaroya, pronounced these words last Friday, during his regular morning appearance to discuss the coronavirus crisis. We are told that there is a war against the coronavirus, we are reminded that, in this war, we all fight together. It is said that “there are not enough weapons on the front lines” to denounce that the health staff is being exposed to the virus without adequate protective equipment. Is their deed not epic enough? Do we have to cover it up with a patina of warlike heroism so we can admire them more?

The members of the Military Emergency Unit who have set up a field hospital in Madrid’s Exhibition Centre know full well that this is not a war. Bombs do not fall from the sky while they are constructing it. The enemy is not political, it is not human, it can’t be killed with bullets. And yet they risk being infected, they know it, and they take care of themselves and of each other, washing their hands, protecting and covering their mouths. Why does all of this not seem heroic enough to us?

We are not soldiers, we are citizens. We are doctors, nurses, porters, carers, greengrocers. Caring neighbours. We are a supportive comment through the window and a 3D printer making respirators at home. We are the applause for supermarket cashiers every day at 8 p.m. None of this is anything but epic. Supporting each other as society, weaving a net that will not let us fall, is no small thing.

Most people are staying at home, but not because they think this is a war and they must obey a superior command. They are doing so because they know that this protects the groups most at risk by preventing the spread of the virus. In the face of a warlike framework, we propose a framework of care and solidarity. As part of a feminist and pacifist organization with more than one hundred years of history, we, the activists of WILPF, are sorry that in the communicative management to stop this disease, the language of care has been replaced by that of war.

We do not want to, by any means, downplay this crisis. On the contrary, we are well aware that the world is facing a moment that is exceptional, tremendously serious and particularly catastrophic in the most impoverished families. We are shouting at the world to tell everyone to wash their hands properly but there are people in some areas of Buenos Aires that have no access to clean water. We can’t help but think that in some regions of Latin America and of Africa, the virus will be irremediably devastating. But this is still not a war.

When the pacifist movement defines peace not only as an absence of war, it is referring to this type of situation. It is not decent to assume that those who have less will be more affected by this virus. That is why we stand up for social justice. That is why it was important not to reduce the number of beds in public hospitals ten years ago. This crisis shows that care sustains life and this care must therefore be collective. Perhaps it is time to reflect on the priorities in terms of public funding, and on the concept of security that we have.

We learned a few days ago that arms sales in the United States of America had increased to deal with the coronavirus. If we see the stockpiling of toilet paper during the first few days of this health crisis as something illogical, it is something far more dangerous to trigger an increase in arms sales. In the face of this individualism, we advocate the defence of common care and solidarity. This is the only way to overcome this pandemic.

There is no need for weapons, we need water and soap. There is no need for soldiers, but for health workers. There is no need for helmets but for medical masks. Respirators, not assault rifles.

We do not want to be soldiers, but citizens who are well aware of the fact that it is cooperation and the proper functioning of what is common that will save our lives. Peace is not only the absence of war. Peace is also the guarantee of a universal access to healthcare, social justice, everybody’s participation in designing the society we want, the advocacy for human rights and the recognition of care for what it is: the heroic task that keeps us all alive.

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Elena Couceiro and María del Vigo

Elena Couceiro is a journalist passionated about communication and solidarity. She is an activist for peace and feminist movements. María del Vigo is an activist with WILPF Spain.

Melissa Torres

VICE-PRESIDENT

Prior to being elected Vice-President, Melissa Torres was the WILPF US International Board Member from 2015 to 2018. Melissa joined WILPF in 2011 when she was selected as a Delegate to the Commission on the Status of Women as part of the WILPF US’ Practicum in Advocacy Programme at the United Nations, which she later led. She holds a PhD in Social Work and is a professor and Global Health Scholar at Baylor College of Medicine and research lead at BCM Anti-Human Trafficking Program. Of Mexican descent and a native of the US/Mexico border, Melissa is mostly concerned with the protection of displaced Latinxs in the Americas. Her work includes training, research, and service provision with the American Red Cross, the National Human Trafficking Training and Technical Assistance Centre, and refugee resettlement programs in the U.S. Some of her goals as Vice-President are to highlight intersectionality and increase diversity by fostering inclusive spaces for mentorship and leadership. She also contributes to WILPF’s emerging work on the topic of displacement and migration.

Jamila Afghani

VICE-PRESIDENT

Jamila Afghani is the President of WILPF Afghanistan which she started in 2015. She is also an active member and founder of several organisations including the Noor Educational and Capacity Development Organisation (NECDO). Elected in 2018 as South Asia Regional Representative to WILPF’s International Board, WILPF benefits from Jamila’s work experience in education, migration, gender, including gender-based violence and democratic governance in post-conflict and transitional countries.

Sylvie Jacqueline Ndongmo

PRESIDENT

Sylvie Jacqueline NDONGMO is a human rights and peace leader with over 27 years experience including ten within WILPF. She has a multi-disciplinary background with a track record of multiple socio-economic development projects implemented to improve policies, practices and peace-oriented actions. Sylvie is the founder of WILPF Cameroon and was the Section’s president until 2022. She co-coordinated the African Working Group before her election as Africa Representative to WILPF’s International Board in 2018. A teacher by profession and an African Union Trainer in peace support operations, Sylvie has extensive experience advocating for the political and social rights of women in Africa and worldwide.

WILPF Afghanistan

In response to the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban and its targeted attacks on civil society members, WILPF Afghanistan issued several statements calling on the international community to stand in solidarity with Afghan people and ensure that their rights be upheld, including access to aid. The Section also published 100 Untold Stories of War and Peace, a compilation of true stories that highlight the effects of war and militarisation on the region. 

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WILPF Germany (+Young WILPF network), WILPF Spain and MENA Regional Representative

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Demilitarisation

WILPF uses feminist analysis to argue that militarisation is a counter-productive and ill-conceived response to establishing security in the world. The more society becomes militarised, the more violence and injustice are likely to grow locally and worldwide.

Sixteen states are believed to have supplied weapons to Afghanistan from 2001 to 2020 with the US supplying 74 % of weapons, followed by Russia. Much of this equipment was left behind by the US military and is being used to inflate Taliban’s arsenal. WILPF is calling for better oversight on arms movement, for compensating affected Afghan people and for an end to all militarised systems.

Militarised masculinity

Mobilising men and boys around feminist peace has been one way of deconstructing and redefining masculinities. WILPF shares a feminist analysis on the links between militarism, masculinities, peace and security. We explore opportunities for strengthening activists’ action to build equal partnerships among women and men for gender equality.

WILPF has been working on challenging the prevailing notion of masculinity based on men’s physical and social superiority to, and dominance of, women in Afghanistan. It recognizes that these notions are not representative of all Afghan men, contrary to the publicly prevailing notion.

Feminist peace​

In WILPF’s view, any process towards establishing peace that has not been partly designed by women remains deficient. Beyond bringing perspectives that encapsulate the views of half of the society and unlike the men only designed processes, women’s true and meaningful participation allows the situation to improve.

In Afghanistan, WILPF has been demanding that women occupy the front seats at the negotiating tables. The experience of the past 20 has shown that women’s presence produces more sustainable solutions when they are empowered and enabled to play a role.

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