The “Unknown Wartime Woman” has long been a relatively unknown concept. Most people only think of the “Unknown Soldier”, whose statues are to be seen in many town and village squares.
The “Unknown Soldier” has always been recognised. But how did women experience war and how have they lived through ethnic conflict as women? What was their role during wars? What did they undertake for peace?
In war and conflict women suffer in very specific ways, different from men. For this reason, women do have their own approach to war and conflict. Because of the suffering women endure and their vulnerability in war and conflict, they can make an important contribution to peace and solidarity.
Women suffer more than just through the impact of the weapons. Also, the disruption of social, family, and cultural structures as consequences of the use and contamination of f.i. depleted uranium, cause suffering, pain, and exclusion. For example, a woman giving birth to a malformed child after radio-active contamination, is often stigmatized by her community. She will not only suffer from giving birth to a malformed baby but will be further affected by stigmatization. The fear of contamination has a major impact on communities.
The International Commission on Radiological Protection, which calculates radiation dose limits for the entire world, knows about this greater sensitivity of women, children and the unborn, but all existing limits are based on the average of an adult man. EURATOM uses these limits for the EU, followed by the Member States.
What is almost never discussed is that in the children’s age group little girls are twice as vulnerable as boys. This means that for every boy, there will be two girls who will acquire a fatal or non-fatal cancer.
Women’s power is power for peace
Nobody can deny that during war between nations and inter-ethnic conflict women are regarded differently. Whereas in a conflict, men, as a group are seen as soldiers and warriors, as those who are out defending the state, women as a group are considered as being important for reproduction of humankind, for the protection of children, house, and home. The fact that women are raped during war has symbolic and strategic significance; violating women deals a targeted blow at the enemy, to men as a group. These acts of violation are often a group phenomenon, which can develop into organised crime, as happened recently in Africa and ex-Yugoslavia, a war crime that was recognised as such by the International Criminal Court.
Women lose their sons and partners in war and conflict. For this reason, they are the first to avoid war, to protest against armed conflict, militarism, and patriarchal systems and to work towards lasting peace. Women must be more included in the process of building lasting peace.
There is great potential mobilising women in the cause for peace and against war, violence, and militarism. Women together can be an enormous power which up to now has not been sufficiently exploited for prevention of conflict and peace building. As a clear example of the potential of women, the Unknown Wartime Woman stands as an alter-ego near the Unknown Soldier.
However, the statue of the Unknown Wartime Woman is not simply a memorial to a particular war, but rather the expression of an ideal: that we should work together, women and men, worldwide, to build lasting peace. It also stands as a strong call to all women to unite and to work for the prevention of and for the peaceful resolution of conflict.
Important international documents and agreements related to this, already exist. Resolution 1325 of the United Nations Security Council and the nine follow-up resolutions in which the UN member states, have signed, to see women not only as victims of war and conflict, but foremost as legitimate and fully-fledged participants in peace negotiations and the building of peace. Every year the member states have to report on how they have followed up on the resolutions.
Peace Needs Women
Violence is gender determined and war and conflict are rooted in social inequality and lack of justice.
The statue in Leuven Belgium of the “Unknown Wartime Woman – Peace Needs Women” tells a story of hope and belief in a peaceful future and a clean environment to live in.
That women have an enormous power when they engage actively for peace and justice was highlighted by the Leuven Peace Movement by unveiling a statue on the 11th of November 2021, national holiday on Armistice Day of the first world war in Belgium: 11 November 1918.