Understanding Militarism’ Environmental Damage as Violence Against Women


Penelope Howes

U.S. military violence against women can be found in many different forms. The most talked about forms of violence against women are physical and sexual violence. So, what happens when the “violence” is indirect, but still inflicts harm? Is it still considered a form of “violence”? I would argue that, indeed, it is. Through the lens of an ecofeminist perspective, one could say that a military’s presence on foreign soil (or domestic, for that matter) is harmful to its inhabitants. I would go further to say that women, in particular, are indirectly affected by militarism. In societies outside of the Western culture, women in rural areas rely on the land for survival. These rural areas are overwhelmingly the unsuspecting victims of military presence.

According to the article, “Women’s Relationship with the Environment”, Joan Davidson asserts that, “Women are the centre of subsistence food production” (p. 5), and “…women are ‘invisible’ water managers, responsible for supplying the water needs of the family, domestic animals, and sometimes agriculture” (p.6). These facts support my earlier claim of women’s indirect link to their surrounding environments via domesticity. It is clear that women’s responsibility in many rural areas is to the private sector, which includes cultivating the land and supplying water. When a rural area such as this is inflicted by war or military presence, in general, the natural and sometimes traditional practices, of caring for the land and surrounding environment, are destroyed. When the environment is altered or destroyed by militarism through buildings, infrastructure, and/or bombs, this disallows or hinders the safe and proper land cultivation. Dorothy Goldin Rosenberg writes in “Health, Peace and the Environment: Intagrating Relationships in Women’s Health Movement”, that “The military is the single largest polluter and waster of resources in the world” (p.26). This statement is not hers alone; it is a well-known, but sometimes not well-accepted fact in our global community. Rosenberg also notes that, “According to The Research Institute for Peace Policy…it is estimated that 10 to 30% of all global environmental degradation is due to military related activity” (p.26). These statistics go to show what a profound impact militarism has on the local and global environment, and furthermore, the “violence” that indirectly affects women in this way. If not victims of war-related sexual assault, rape, or prostitution – the women who rely on the land to feed and support their families are violated in a more subtle ways. This phenomenon has overwhelmingly long-term effects on women’s lives, their families’ and their own well-being.

The first steps in protecting women and their families from this type of violence, is to recognize how an effect the damaging of environments by militarism can have on women. Once this is acknowledged, we will be able to move toward more environmentally conscious and peaceful practices. Also, in acknowledging women’s, we must advocate for women’s voices to be heard in these communities when the time comes for restoration, if such is possible. Only then will environmental practices represent women’s best interests and the overall well-being of the ecological system. Joan Davidson supports this notion that, “Women’s efforts to resist environmentally damaging policies and to restore and protect the status of women will be decisive for the protection of the environment and natural resources” (Women’s Relationship with the Environment, p. 10).

Works Cited

Davidson, Joan. “Women’s Relationship with the Environment.” Focus on Gender 1.1 Feb. (1993): 5-10. Women’s Studies International.

Rosenberg, Dorothy G. “Health, Peace and the Environment: Integrating Relationships in Women’s Health Movement.” Women and Environments International Magazine 2003: 25-27. Women’s Studies International.