this paper I argue that the extreme masculinist culture which constitutes
today's world is a culture of violence in which conflict is never actually
resolved. As such, a situation exists where most women do not and cannot
feel at home.
an experience of prolonged "homelessness" or "alienation"
has serious social and psychological effects on women, and these effects
are examined in relation to violence in the home, in society and at
a global level. Women's experience of homelessness in a violent male
world is compared with the experience of displacement felt by Indigenous
peoples in many countries, Minority groups, the Palestinians and, also,
people in refugee camps throughout the world.
It is argued that
women have a central part to play in the establishment of a new, less
violent world order and that feminism must be alert to todays
challenges and be prepared to form new, appropriate global alliances
to meet those challenges.
The theme of this
section of this very important conference is: Impact of Conflicts
on Women and Children. And what I want to do in my paper today is
direct our attention particularly to the effects of global conflict
on women and children... so that the focus of my paper is both global
and personal. What is happening out there? And how is it affecting us
These are important
questions for two reasons:
1. because as
women we need to be emotionally and psychologically healthy and we can
only be emotionally and psychologically healthy if we live with our
eyes open and see and acknowledge whats going on around us; and
2. because as women our awareness enables us to relate to our children
and grandchildren in an enlightened and honest way. It is still women
who spend the most time with children and, therefore, have the most
influence on them in their early years. And if we are content to live
in ignorance of social and global issues, then it is ignorance we pass
on to our children, but if we are enlightened, theres more chance
our children will also be enlightened and much more ready to face the
So, lets begin by taking a quick look around the world. What do
we see? We see lots of positive things. But we also see war, terrorism,
hatred and suffering. We see greed, exploitation, wealth for a few and
massive poverty for many. We see violence against women and children
by men - on the world stage, in our communities and in our own homes.
And we say to the men in charge (because it is men who are in charge
of almost every nation on earth), men for whom power and holding on
to power at any cost is all important - we say: Whatever youre
doing, its not working! You may feel powerful, but its not
working for the rest of us!
. Theres terrorism, terrorist cells, terrorist acts proliferating
all around the world.
the United States, still suffering pain and humiliation as a result
of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington on September 11,
2001, but at the same time, we see them aggressively waging their so-called
war on terrorism first on Afghanistan, then Iraq and who
knows where else.
. Continuing our look around the world, we see the Middle East and the
interminable violence between Israel and Palestine. We all know it will
never end till both sides give up the philosophy of an eye for
an eye but we despair because theres no evidence that that
will ever happen.
. Here in your own country of India, you observe your government and
the government of Pakistan continuing to spar with each other in the
long-standing conflict over Kashmir and other issues. Nobody is suggesting
its a simple matter to resolve the issues. But you would see more
clearly than I the damage this history of hostility inflicts on both
countries. I was reading recently about Indian Peace activist Rita Manchanda,
founder and committee member of the Pakistan India Peoples Forum
for Peace and Democracy, and she outlines some of the damage. She says
- the continuing hostility has legitimised an arms race, diverted much-needed
development funds to military purposes, undermined democratic institutions
and strengthened the rise of ultra-nationalist religious right-wing
forces in both countries ( http://www.womenwagingpeace.net/content/articles/0051a.html).
It seems clear, doesnt it, that less bullying behaviour and more
humility on the part of both governments, with a genuine desire to resolve
the conflict, is surely what is needed.
. And what about Australia - that relatively insignificant country down
in the southern hemisphere? My country. We used to be known around the
world as a proud, peace-loving, generous country. But now, since our
government chose (against the wishes of the vast majority of Australian
people) to sell its soul to the United States and become one of what
George W. Bush called the Coalition of the Willing, my country
is now aligned with those who are prepared to wage war in an attempt
to achieve global dominance. I can tell you - it fills us with shame.
So, as we all look around the world, those of us who believe in justice
and human rights and in resolving conflict in ways that dont involve
murder and mayhem, we find ourselves grappling, at a personal, psychological
level, with what Im calling today feelings of homelessness or
alienation. We look at the attitudes and actions of our own governments
and its like we have no place to call home. No place
that feels familiar. No place with which we can identify. And Im
reminded of English writer Virginia Woolfs much-quoted words:
As a woman, I
have no country
As a woman, I want no country
As a woman, my country is the whole world.
This paper, which
I have titled No Place to Call Home: a feminist ethical
inquiry into womens experience of Alienation, is just that
- a feminist ethical inquiry into womens experience at
this time (though men who also abhor violence will readily identify
with it). And its based in a radical feminist philosophy. Surprisingly
for such a dark topic, though, my message is overwhelmingly positive.
First, Im going to ask: What is psychological homelessness? Then,
as a way of trying to understand the experience of homelessness or alienation
many women feel, I want to share with you the results of a small survey
I did into the emotional effects on Australian women of Australias
involvement in the War on Iraq. Finally, Ill conclude by discussing
in a fairly positive way the question: Is there any hope for a better
future, free from feelings of alienation?
1. First, a definition: What is psychological homelessless?
The term used in medical and psychological literature for this kind
of homelessness is alienation and, as one would expect,
there are two kinds of alienation:
- estrangement from society; feelings of being an outsider, foreigner
or outcast; and
- estrangement from oneself, feelings of unreality or depersonalisation
(Miller and Brackman Keane, 1987).
In this paper, as you will realise, Im choosing to focus on the
first. When I say: No place to call Home, Im referring
to a sense of estrangement from ones own society, ones own
country, feelings of being an outsider, a foreigner or an outcast.
2. Second question: What has
caused this sense of alienation in so many women around the world? And
what are the emotional and psychological effects of such alienation?
I want to suggest that the sense of alienation so many of us women are
experiencing at this time is due to the extreme masculinist culture,
the culture of conflict, the culture of bullying, the culture of violence
all around us. Male violence, against each other and against women,
escalating on every front. Lets not forget that the world is as
it is because men have chosen it - not women. It is men who make
the decisions. Women in every nation on earth are deliberately excluded
from decision-making on national and international issues.
When I did my survey earlier in the year, I asked two simple questions
and sent it out on an email discussion list. They were:
1. How did you feel in the months leading up to the war on Iraq? [Remember,
these were Australian women and the questions were related to Australias
involvement in the war on Iraq earlier this year]; and
2. How have you
felt since the war began?
As the responses to my survey came in, it was very revealing to read
what women had written and the more I read, the more the word alienation
impressed itself on my mind. And it was clear that their sense of alienation
had two main causes:
. They found violence and war hard to identify with; and
. They felt entirely left out of discussions and decision-making.
And its true, as Ive already intimated. Whenever the leaders
of nations (who are usually men) are considering war, women are deliberately
pushed aside, ignored, alienated. No male leader, considering involving
his country in war, ever stops to seek womens opinion. Australian
women were totally left out of decision-making about the war on Iraq
and the previous war on Afghanistan. Its like war is mens
business and women are not permitted to give an opinion. We are
silenced and, because of that, many women in my survey experienced a
huge sense of alienation.
The words which appeared in almost every womans response were
- powerlessness, helplessness, hopelessness. Many said they felt depressed.
Some mentioned grieving. Another said: I found myself
crying for no reason at all. Others spoke of despair, disillusionment,
Some spoke of fear and anxiety following the
terrorist attacks of 11 September but implied that it wasnt fear
of terrorists as much as fear of what the US would do in retaliation.
President Bushs threats of revenge, threats of a war on terrorism,
caused extreme anxiety because everybody knows that the US has the munitions
capability to destroy the entire earth. All of these feelings - powerlessnessness,
helplessness, hopelessness, depression, sadness, fear, anxiety - are
feelings which suggest a deep sense of alienation -- from ones
own society. And while the immediate feelings may subside over time,
the sense of alienation remains.
One word used by all respondents which did not suggest alienation was
anger. One woman said that once the war started, she was
angry, cynical, outraged, full of contempt for our so-called leaders....
Another said: Since (the war started) I have been seething with
anger and have been nauseated by their heartlessness toward the Iraqi
people and the insulting media propaganda they have been feeding us
day and night.
One type of comment made by most respondents centres around the issue
of the exclusion of women. Several mentioned the words male
madness, in acknowledgement of the fact that women were excluded
and that they considered the decision to go to war to be insane. Its
a madness, said one woman. Male madness caught up in its
own web of power and intrigue without a thought for anyone else in the
world. Another spoke of male power in this way: male power
abrogates everything to itself, plunders it and profits from it.
Then there was this comment about women being excluded from decision-making:
I have... been reminded just how fragile my position is... being
a woman in a society where we had hoped women had come a long way towards
making joint decisions for a better world.... And another said:
As a woman, I dont feel at home anymore. [This is where
I got the title for this paper]. All the images of war are foreign to
me - the propaganda, the lies, the threats, the violence, the ease with
which people are murdered, the sanitised language, the obvious delight
in the humiliation of the enemy. Where do I belong?, she asked.
So, for many women, the sense of alienation came from those two sources:
On the one hand, there was the foreignness of violence and war as ways
of dealing with conflict; and, on the other hand, there was the experience
of being alienated by a male-dominated system which makes little or
no room for womens voices.
Let me add that the psychological effects of alienation can be
very serious because, for a healthy personality to develop and be sustained,
there needs to be a healthy balance between a sense of individuality
and a sense of belonging with others (Erikson, 1980, p.94-97). When
that sense of belonging is lost, what usually results is one or more
of the following: confusion, anxiety, depression, despair, apathy, dissociation,
a loss of faith in oneself and a loss of hope....that is, a loss
of positive connection with the future.
Another effect of alienation is a feeling of insignificance and this
was described in various ways by respondents to my survey. It reminded
me of what Erich Fromm, Social Psychologist writing half a Century ago,
said about the effects of the experience of not belonging. Speaking
of a particular man and his relationship to the rest of the world, Fromm
said: Unless he belonged somewhere... he would feel like a particle
of dust and be overcome by his individual insignificance (Fromm,
One respondent referred to the warmongering of some of the world leaders
as a huge, unstoppable wave... and then, in another sentence,
said: ...I feel so very, very small. The words small
and irrelevant were used by several women. Another expressed
her feelings of insignificance like this: I feel diminished. Ive
always believed I could make a difference but now I know I cant.
Nothing I said or did mattered to those intent on war and Im left
wondering where I fit in and what I have to offer. All these expressions
of insignificance are the result of feelings of alienation, of isolation,
of not belonging. And while my survey was done with Australian women,
I know that these are feelings women all around the world readily identify
3. So, we come to my third and
final question: Is there any hope for a better future? Is there
any way to release ourselves from these effects of alienation? Well,
yes! And strangely, our release comes from the very fact that we are
consistently excluded from social and national decision-making. Because
we women are ignored and excluded from the structures of power in our
own societies, we can choose to stand apart from the violence. Separate
ourselves out, as it were. We dont have to own it.
We are freed up, as Virginia Woolf says, to be citizens of the world.
A radical feminist assessment of our alienation, then, suggests a course
of action involving three steps -
1. First, Acknowledge
and accept the painful truth that the male power-brokers of your
country and mine still exclude and alienate women -- and that they have
no intention of changing that in the foreseeable future.
2. Second, having acknowledged that we are excluded and alienated, we
must choose exclusion and alienation. In other words,
lets stop pretending. Lets stop demeaning ourselves. Stop
trying to think of an argument that might convince the men in power
that they ought to include us. And, lets stop making excuses for
our leaders. Stop believing that, if we chip away at them for long enough,
well wear them down. Its demeaning to us. We dont
want crumbs from the mens table. We want to sit down at the table
with men and share the meal equally. And, for as long as we are refused
that human right, we will choose to exclude ourselves.
3. Then, having chosen exclusion and alienation, we are freed up to
be citizens of the world. And this is the third step. Claim citizenship
of the world knowing that such citizenship affords us important
opportunities. For example:
- Citizenship of the world enables us to transcend the obligatory daily
effort of trying to convince men in our own countries, in our own universities,
in our own communities, to include us when we know that they have no
intention of including us in any significant way;
- Also, citizenship of the world inspires us to set about creating a
global community of women intent on changing the world -- developing
networks aimed at working together to create a global agenda focused
on justice and non-violence. Such networking is made so much easier,
of course, by our use of the Internet.
In addition to opportunities, claiming citizenship of the world
also involves certain responsibilities:
1. First, we must open our minds and understand in fresh ways
the effect male violence and greed are having on our world at the beginning
of this 21st Century.
2. We must work
to keep our global networks fresh and informed and alive.
3. We must constantly
reexamine our role, as women and as feminists, in resisting the forces
hellbent on destroying life as we know it for their own gain. We need
to ask: What do women have to offer in this new and extraordinarily
violent world? What does a feminist analysis have to offer? What new
things must we do in order to change the world?
4. We need to expand our horizons to include the possibility of working
with other radical social and human rights activists - including
men. But in working with men, lets be careful that our
values and our aims are not pushed aside in favour of theirs.
Given the experience of exclusion women have felt over the years whenever
weve attempted to work with men who we thought were on the same
wavelength as ourselves, the option of working with men has to be approached
with extreme caution and always on our own terms. But it is an
option worth exploring again, I think.
5. And finally, the opportunity afforded to us of creating a
global community of women is also a responsibility. It wont just
happen. We must work to make it happen. Already we have many examples
of women working together across national and sectarian borders to promote
peace and non-violence and healing. And I want to bring this paper to
a close by mentioning a few of those examples --
. Rita Manchanda, who I mentioned earlier, tells of a conference she
helped organise in July 2001 centred on the theme Strengthening
Women Building Peace. Over 30 women peace builders from South
Asia gathered in Kathmandu to map a plan for peace. Rita Manchanda called
it Mapping from the Margins. Women in this region working
together for peace.
. In July 2002, four women from Townsville in Australia, deeply concerned
about the state of the world, put their heads together and came up with
the idea of organising an International Conference around the theme:
Poverty, Violence and Womens Rights... Setting a Global Agenda.
I was one of those four women and Im proud to say that we
were successful in bringing together 420 women from 22 countries across
the globe to focus on the need to work together to create a new world
agenda for the 21st Century.
. Another example of women working together to promote peace is the
Women in Black movement - an International organisation with chapters
in many countries. These women demonstrate by dressing in black and
holding vigils and other rallies for peace.
. Then, there is RAWA - the Revolutionary Association of the Women of
Afghanistan - who set up their headquarters over the border in Pakistan
and worked tirelessly to free women and girls from the oppressive practices
of the Taliban. To this day, they continue to work for the education
and liberation of women and girls.
. Another example of women working together to heal the wounds caused
by male conflict and division is that undertaken by the women of Ireland
- both Protestant and Catholic. They have developed a program of healing
(based on South Africas Truth and Reconciliation process) aimed
at reconciling protestants and catholics and bringing healing to their
Nation (Monica McWilliams, paper delivered at the Activating Human
Rights and Diversity Conference, Byron Bay, Australia).
. And finally, I want to quote from a joint declaration released by
Palestinian woman, Dr. Sumaya Farhat-Naser and Israeli woman Gila Svirsky
entitled: "We refuse to be enemies". In the opening sentence
of this inspiring declaration, they say: ...we would like to world
to know that women in Israel and Palestine are ready to make peace.
For the past 13 years, women have been the most vibrant, daring and
progressive part of the peace movement on both sides of our divide.
Palestinian and Israeli women have been meeting and negotiating with
each other for years, even when the very act of speaking to each other
was illegal in Israel and prohibited in Palestine.
.... Were it left to us, we would long ago have had a peace agreement
that settles the difficult issues between us.
We women advocate an end to the situation of occupier and occupied...
And a crucial point of agreement: We condemn all forms of brutality,
violence and terrorism - whether by individuals, political groups,
governments, or the military. We have had enough of the killing on both
And, apart from our public, organizational activity, we women also operate
as secret agents. We are not just the mothers, teachers, nurses, and
social workers of our societies. We are also secret agents serving up
politics with dinner, teaching the lessons of non-violence to every
in our classrooms, every patient in our care, every client we advise,
every son and daughter that we love. We plant subversive ideas of peace
in the minds of the young before the agents of war have even noticed....
And they conclude their declaration by saying:
The womens peace movement in Palestine and in Israel believes
time has come to end the bloodshed. The time has come to lay down our
weapons and our fears. We refuse to accept more warfare in our lives,
our communities, our nations. We refuse to go along with the fear. We
refuse to give in to the violence. We refuse to be enemies (Farhat-Naser,
Following the examples of such determined and courageous women, let
me reiterate that, while the masculinist world of violence and conflict
and war leaves us with no place to call home, as citizens
of the world we have the privilege and the responsibility of working
together to envision and develop a new world agenda, based on radical
feminist and radical social justice principles.
This is our task, and its a task which is worthy of our total
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Farhat-Naser, Sumaya. (2003). Daughter of the Olive Trees: A Palestinian
Womans Struggle for Peace. Lenos Press.
Fromm, Erich. (1960). The Fear of Freedom. London: Routledge
& Kegan Paul.
Manchanda, Rita. (http://www.womenwagingpeace.net/content/articles/0051a.html)
Miller, Benjamin F. & Claire Brackman Keane. (1987). Encyclopedia
& Dictionary of Medicine, Nursing, and Allied Health, 4th edition.
Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders Company.
Woolf, Virginia. (1938). Three Guineas. New York: Harcourt Brace