Last week the Pink Paper ran a story detailing the lack of human rights for gays in the Middle East and suggested that the Allied bombing of Afghanistan may be justified if the Taliban and other repressive regimes were ousted as a result. As a 'gay' take on the war, this argument borders on the dangerously simplistic in that it privileges equal rights for gays over a wider humanitarian questioning of the legitimacy of war. We visited a women's anti-war protest organised by lesbian activists to get an alternative perspective from the gay community...
Walking down Whitehall towards the women's picket of Downing Street to protest against the Allied war being waged against Afghanistan, I pass a separate demonstration outside McDonald's with zealous drum-banging protesters causing mild alarm among passing tourists. Dissident voices are in the air tonight...
When I reach the demonstration, a band of 50 or so women are gathered around a speaker with a megaphone, waving home-made banners and joining in anti-war chants. There are plenty of media cameras here too, belying the growing acknowledgement of a sizeable section of the UK population who are not convinced about the means or possible outcome of this war. As testified by a peaceful protest on October 13 in Trafalgar Square by 20, 000 people from all over the UK - organised by the Stop the War Coalition - the growing opposition to Tony Blair's 'Shoulder-to-shoulder' stance with George W Bush cannot be ignored.
The women's weekly picket takes place every Tuesday from 5-6pm and is run by Wages Due Lesbians (WDL), a grassroots organisation set up in 1975 to achieve recognition and wages for all the unpaid work that women do as carers worldwide.
One of protest organisers, Cristel, explains the reasons behind the demo: "Lesbians have a long, long history of anti-war organising, and we just felt that we were being completely sidelined in the organising against war and when that happens, women's perspectives about war and its impact becomes invisible. "
Another WDL representative, Kim, a single lesbian mother of two, dismisses as a red herring the Pink Paper's argument that the war may be justified if it removes the regimes that oppress gay and lesbian people.
"If anybody thinks that bombing Afghanistan is going to replace any of those repressive regimes, especially when many of those regimes were put there by the United States in the first place, they're mistaken. It's just US propaganda. Those lesbian and gay people who fought very hard to be in the military now have to decide between caring and killing. Do you think the people in Afghanistan are going to care that the bombs are being dropped by a military which is integrated with lesbian and gays, women or people of colour? Do you think that makes one scrap of difference?"
She goes on to say that one of the main aims of tonight's demonstration is to reinforce that "every life is of value. The lives of mothers and children and grandparents and men in Afghanistan are as important as the people who died in the Twin Towers and in the Pentagon. "
The Allied dual drops of bombs and food have been criticised by some as a tactical PR move to undermine protests about the impact of the military campaign on innocent Afghans.
Outside Downing Street, an Afghan woman takes the mic and addresses the Allies, pleading: "On the one hand you are dropping food and on the other hand you are dropping bombs. The two do not go together. " She goes on to recount the fate of Afghan children killed by unexploded landmines while running for food parcels, and of nomad Afghans who claim to never even have heard of Osama bin Laden, let alone understand why bombs are raining on their village.
Kim stresses that in any war, although it's ostensibly men who go out to fight, it is the Civilian women and children who suffer most in the long-term. In Afghanistan, women are the ones who will be left without menfolk, incomes and homes, and as chief carers within the family are the ones who will have to care for their wounded men or preserve the lives of their children in desperately overcrowded refugee camps. Already persecuted mercilessly by the Taliban for years, it is now women and children who constitute the civilian casualties. Another WDL speaker Anna states: "It's primarily women and children who are being killed because most of the men are in the army or in hiding. "
Kim also points out that worldwide it is women who constitute the main force behind antiwar movements, and that with 50% of the world's families now headed by women they will acutely feel the aftershocks of this war on an economic and social scale: "£800 billion is spent annually on military budgets globally, but it would only take £80 million a year for the entire world's population to have a basic income and a decent standard of living. "The world then has the funds and resources, and therefore the choice, to sustain Itself or to destroy itself, and we all have a say in that, in terms of how we use our vote to elect governments, and in how we respond to the policy decisions taken by those leaders. As Cristel puts it: "Greenham Common was virtually led by lesbian women and they won the battle. They actually removed the base camp; it's gone. So we do know that we can win struggles against what seem like overwhelming odds, providing we pull together. You have to make a choice: are you for war and its killing machine or are you for life? Cos there isn't a fence position anymore. "