Alumna Kerry Crawford gives Speech on Sexual Violence, National Security

On March 5, Dr. Kerry Crawford returned to her alma mater to give a lecture for the Phi Beta Kappa 20th Year Celebration Lecture.  Crawford graduated from St. Mary’s College of Maryland (SMCM) in 2007 and has since gone on to obtain her doctoral degree and become an assistant professor in political science at James Madison University.

The focus of this talk was the intersection of advocacy groups and foreign policy, following in the footsteps of her recent book “Wartime Sexual Violence: From Silence to Condemnation of a Weapon of War.” Crawford began her lecture by exclaiming that SMCM “still feels like home, a lot of years later,” and thanking the College for welcoming her back, before diving straight into her research.

Crawford explained that her field is a “study of change,” meaning the politics surrounding everything, including her focus of sexual violence and conflict, is ever changing. She began by describing the importance of framing and the rhetorical frames we use to alter how events are portrayed. She emphasized that no matter what, “persistence was and still is the key to keeping this issue alive and to expanding its scope,” noting that this formula was useful to anyone working to bring about a more just and civil world.

The framing of sexual violence as a weapon of war, as opposed to just something that happens in general, was not accidental according to Crawford. Instead, this framing was the work of dedicated advocates who urged the redefining of the issue, in order to allow it to stand out as horrific and in need of urgent attention. Though she admits frames can be limiting, because the idea of a frame is that it includes certain aspects while excluding others, she argues that how we speak about things matter. In this case, the ‘weapon of war’ frame is essential for understanding of sexual violence, as it allows the issue to be proposed to those who can shift policy, and effect change.

Crawford cites former Yugoslavia as the beginning of the discussion of systemic rape during conflict. She reads off a quote from her powerpoint from Roberta Cohen stating “Yugoslavia. That was the real opener,” explaining that before the devastating effects of conflict there, rape and systematic rape were not talked about, especially not in the context of war. This however was the galvanizing moment for the international community, especially governmental bodies whose job titles conveyed the protection of dignity, human rights and safety. Crawford also stated that “international law was largely silent before the 1990s. Sexual violence was too taboo to talk about, or not considered as high of a priority when you have, say, a genocide happening.”

Not only was the framing of sexual violence as a weapon of war useful for headlines, it also allowed advocates to link sexual violence back to the Geneva Convention. This link allowed activists to argue that as stated under the Convention, there were certain things in war that were off limits, and for their argument, it was the systemic rape of women in conflict. This framing was above all else, a strategic effort in order to make powerful leaders listen and care.

Crawford also went over some of the notable United Nations (U.N.) Security Council resolutions, regarding sexual violence as a weapon of war, such as Resolution 13.25, which noted that war has a disproportionate impact on women and girls. She also mentions Resolution 1820, which made sexual violence a tactic of war, as well as linking war more directly as a women’s issue.

These resolutions, Crawford noted, were the work of advocates who lobbied, campaigned and worked together in a coordinated effort to ensure that the issue was brought to light.

The distinction between ‘ordinary rape’ and ‘war-time rape’ was one that needed to be made, and though Crawford acknowledges the problematic nature of this wording, she explained that it had to be fit into this language so that the Security Council could be convinced that rape was not just an ordinary occurrence, but something that was making war worse.

Above all other factors, Crawford points to powerful allies, and what she terms embedded advocates, as the most essential factor driving the campaign to recognize the impact of wartime sexual violence. She pointed to the likes of William Hague, a British former Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, who stated that “sexual violence in war is the 20th century slave trade.” She also gave much credit to the U.N. Security Council members spouses, who read about sexual assault in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and spoke continuously about it at breakfast, lunch and dinner until it became so annoying their spouses took it seriously. Crawford says these women, and some men, “effectively brought a Security Council Resolution to the table.”

Embedded advocates were most useful because of their inherent status as being embedded within the state and thereby able to take up a cause they are passionate about and give it a voice in the political arena. She also noted the effectiveness of grassroots activism such as a letter-writing campaign to sway the opinion of a judge during the International Criminal Tribunal.

Crawford noted that international lobbying is a give-and-take process, so when campaigning for a cause citizens may not get all of what they want, but they will still get some. She explains that how people speak about things, how they frame them, decides what traction they get within the complicated political world. She also noted that this framing of sexual violence as a weapon of war is not perfect, and that states still have ‘outs’ regarding holding their allies accountable.

At the end, there was a brief question-and-answer section where Crawford was asked about the future of women’s issues around the globe given the perceived animosity towards women under the Trump administration. She replied by stating that “the signs are troubling” and that “there would be some backsliding.” She explained however that she remains positive, stating, “If the leadership doesn’t come from the U.S., I’m confident it will come from somewhere.”

Termed “The Forgotten War,” the conflict in Yemen rages on

“It was like something out of judgment day. Corpses and heads scattered, engulfed by fire and ashes…”

This is a quote from Amal Sabri, a resident of Mocha, Yemen, where right now the Yemeni people are experiencing their third year of civil war. Yemen continues to be the site of a brutal conflict between two warring factions that came to a head after the 2011 Yemeni revolution and subsequent transfer of power.

This conflict has been termed The Forgotten War by Amnesty International due to the lack of attention it has received from the international community. Similar crises rage on, like that in Syria which receives near-global condemnation, however, the world seems to turn its head the other way for Yemen.

The conflict, which began in 2015, has devolved into what the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs has called the “largest humanitarian crisis in the world” on Twitter. Many have also noted that the war in Yemen seems to be acting as a proxy war for Iran and Saudi Arabia, a conflict in which two actors do not directly engage in conflict with one another, but do so through another means of engagement.

Yemen, a Muslim-majority Arab state, was already one of the poorest countries in the Middle East before the civil war began, with the effects of the ongoing conflict only compounding that economic status. It is important to consider the Arab Spring uprisings when the successful uprising in Tunisia against former leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali emboldened similar anti-government protests in most Arab countries in 2011. Just as the Tunisian and Egyptian Revolutions were occurring, Yemen was also rising up against the regime of their former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh. As a result of this sustained protest, former President Saleh was forced to transfer power to his then vice president, Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi. Once in power, President Hadi faced many obstacles to economic and political stability, namely corruption, unemployment, the continued loyalty of many military forces to Saleh and an increase in the presence and attacks carried out by Al-Qaeda.

After the Yemeni Revolution, two main factions emerged: the Houthis and the Hadi government. The Houthis are loyal to former President Saleh and formed the Supreme Revolutionary Committee, also known as the Supreme Political Committee, which hopes to mount an armed resistance to the current regime and its supporters. The Hadi faction is composed of current President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi’s supporters. In addition, it is being buffered by the Saudi Arabian coalition, which has proved to be crucial for the president. The situation is further complicated by Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, Yemen Province, both of which have staged suicide attacks throughout the already war-torn country.

The conflict has been called a proxy war for Iran and Saudi Arabia, two long-standing adversaries, because each country has sided with one of the two main factions, buffering them through financial support, military action and causing a general sense of confusion for the international community. Iran backs the rebel Houthi faction, and a Saudi Arabian coalition provides critical support for the Hadi government. Saudi Arabia and the United States of America have accused Iran of supplying weapons and using the Houthis as a puppet to gain influence in the area, an accusation which Iran vehemently denies. The Saudi Arabian coalition is composed of many nations, including the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Jordan. The coalition is also supported by the U.S., the United Kingdom. and Australia, among others. The Saudi Arabian coalition has garnered widespread, international condemnation for its bombing of civilian areas.

Saudi Arabia also implemented a blockade, which is a coordinated effort to seal off a specific location to prevent goods and people from leaving or entering, which has proven to be deadly for the Yemeni people desperately in need of humanitarian aid. The blockade was tightened in November of 2017, but eased slightly after three weeks due to intense international pressure. Numerous deaths occurred due to lack of access to hospitals, life-saving medical supplies, a lack of food and water and rampant disease, all of which was exacerbated by the blockade.

The humanitarian effects of the conflict are indescribable. The United Nations has warned that the crisis has the potential to become the worst humanitarian disaster in half a century, reported Al Jazeera. The human toll of the conflict has become apparent through the loss of life and quality of life of those who remain; many of whom have become internally displaced persons or refugees. United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has recorded 62,052 casualties, with 52,807 injuries. They emphasize that the number is most likely higher, but many facilities are inoperable, meaning they cannot report deaths. 17.8 million people are food insecure and three million are internally displaced, according to UNOCHA.

The lack of infrastructure from the constant fighting and bombings has only compounded the problems within Yemen, leading to what United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) warned could be “the worst cholera outbreak in the world,” with one million Yemenis impacted. Cholera is a disease which is easily protected against and treated, provided one has access to clean water; something many people in Yemen lack. The water shortage was only made worse during the Saudi blockade and the Saudi coalition bombing of hospitals and aid facilities. Cholera is also made worse when malnutrition is rampant, and in Yemen 1.8 million children are acutely malnourished while half a million babies and toddlers are starving, according to The Washington Post.

The U.S. also plays a role in the conflict through its support of the Saudi coalition, to which the U.S. government provides intelligence about where to strike, logistical support and raids. One of these most recent raids resulted in the first death of an American soldier in combat under the Trump administration, that of William “Ryan” Owens, who was killed during a ground mission. The Pentagon and U.S. military has acknowledged the death of Yemeni civilians, as well as the loss of their own. The discussion seems to end after this brief acknowledgment, reported NPR.

Regardless of the factions fighting for control, the influence of terrorist organizations and the Saudi Coalition, the war in Yemen seems to have largely been forgotten, with the international community often silent as lives are lost each day. The conflict is ongoing, with no end in sight, as human rights abuses are being committed on all sides and outside intervention has resulted in massive civilian casualties. To put it into perspective, 17.8 million Yemeni are unsure where their next meal will come from, with many describing this as a slow and painful death, according to the New York Times.

Professor Panel Discusses Status of War

As part of the political science department’s ongoing lecture series, a panel made up SMCM’s very own political science professors Susan Grogan and Todd Eberly discuss what it means to be at war.

They said that in recent years, there has been a widening “disconnect” between what war is and is not.  The U.S. Constitution, Article 1 Section 8, gives the power to declare war to Congress.  However, the United States Congress has not declared war since World War II.  In other words, you could say that since 1945, the United States has been at peace.

Yet, in the past 65 years, the United States has been involved with many “armed conflicts” that include but are not limited to conflicts in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, and now Libya.  This leads to the central questions of the talk: what counts as a war and who determines what it is?

According to Grogan, who gave a brief history of war in the United States, Congress has on several occasions deferred the war-making powers to the President without declaring war. For example, Congress authorized President John Adams to use privateers against the French government, and President Thomas Jefferson had Congress authorize military actions against the Barbary Pirates.

The most impressive authorization without a declaration of war from Congress was the Civil War.  According to Grogan, the Civil War was not a legal war and that the name is actually a misnomer; a better name for the conflict would be “The Great Suppression.”  Eberly seconded this comment by saying that the Civil War should really be called the great “Civil Police Action.”

Eberly then discussed the two opposing views within political science about if the President should have the power to use the military and force without authorization of Congress.  On the one hand, it could be argued that the world has changed and that the country needs a President who can make quick decisions about the use of force without waiting for Congress to debate.  On the other hand, there is the belief that even if times have changed, one can not run around the Constitution.

“If we like the [President having more war-making powers], we have to change the Constitution,” Eberly said, “the Constitution is the law.”

Even though the Congress in the past has authorized the use of force, in the present case of Libya, President Obama has not asked for authorization from Congress, thereby skipping the branch entirely.   There is now questions whether this was the legal move.

Eberly continued by saying that he is, “hung up on if American force in Libya is legal or constitutional.”

After the discussion ended, several members of the audience asked questions. One concerned student asked, “can we fix this problem by defining what ‘war’ means?” Grogan answered by pointing to the War Powers Act.  This act was Congress’ attempt to regulate the President’s power after Vietnam; however, it did not work.  This act has opened the door to a greater increase of power, since the President is allowed to send troops for a set period of time before he must ask for re-authorization.

Grogan ended the talk by saying that in the end, if Congress wants the power, it must fight for it.  “Congress doesn’t call the President out,” concluded Grogan.

Sophomore and former student in Eberly’s American Politics class Kristen Diehl said she “found [the talk] very interesting, including the question whether its right or legal for the President to send troops into conflict without Congress’ approval.”


Twelfth Annual WGSX Colloquium Explores Women & War, Today and Past

This year’s Women, Gender, and Sexuality (WGSX) Colloquium, Women in War: Object/Subject, explored the often tragic use of women to both commit and justify warfare.

The colloquium, according to Associate Professor of Political Science Sahar Shafqat, was “started by a number of faculty on campus that wanted a unique intellectual experience in Women’s studies.” The committee created for this year’s colloquium, headed by Shafqat and Professor of History Gail Savage, chose the theme of women in war in part  because , according to Shafqat, “the intersection of [WGSX and war is … ] very timely and frankly a very urgent topic that needed to be discussed.” She added that the topic had also come up many times before as a possibility.

This year’s colloquium, which took place on Wednesday March 23 and Thursday March 24, consisted of four speakers connected by their focus on women in wartime.

The first colloquium lecture was led by Isis Nusair, Associate Professor of Women’s Studies and International Studies at Denison University in Ohio. Her presentation, titled Gendering the Narratives of Three Generation of Palestinian Women in Israel, focused on how Palestinian women define themselves and their culture in light of the ongoing Palestinian/Israeli conflict.

Nusair, having conducted more than 100 interviews with Palestinian women, stated that many had experienced war first-hand and throughout most of their lives. Their narratives, according to her, focused on two major themes: the imposition of the Israeli government on their economic opportunities and personal well-being and the ever-increasing surveillance over their bodies by men in the communities with which they identified.

Nusair said many of the women interviewed emphasized the loss of their home and land. Second generation women in particular reported an experience of being “under siege” and “crushed” by the Israel government, and living in communities in which the fear of possible rape by outsiders or cultural assimilation of more liberal Israeli values may make them “loose” and embarrass the men in their communities. She added that the third generation in particular was most willing to adopt some Israeli values of feminism, but still felt the need to protect their bodies and still maintained a communal rather than national affiliation.

The second colloquium lecture, titled Collateral Image: Portrait of Iraqi Refugees, was by documentary photographer Gabriela Bulisova. Her focus was on the under-reported situation of close to five million Iraqis who have been displaced by the U.S. invasion of Iraq. According to Bulisova, many of these displaced women and men had to flee because they had helped the U.S. during invasion and largely left without protection or assistance from the U.S. government.

Many of her pictures, which were also on display in the Montgomery Hall Upper Commons during a reception the day before, highlighted the turmoil these people had faced as a result of their choice to help the United States. Many of the refugees photographed and interviewed lived in squalid conditions with few opportunities for employment or money as a result of their status as illegal aliens. Many also had experienced estrangement from or the death of their friends and family as a result of their fleeing Iraq.

The third colloquium lecture, titled Neither Battle Field Nor Home Front: The Liminality of Women in Early American Warfare, Real and Imagined, was led by Assistant Professor of History at Macalester College Andrea Robertson Cremer. Cremer took a historical approach to the use of women as justification of war against Native Americans. Shafqat said, “we wanted to be very sure … not to just make this colloquium about the here and now.”

Cremer’s lecture centered around the idea that warfare is as much a matter of rhetorical justification as it is actual combat. The “purity” of women was often an excuse used to justify the Peaquot War. She noted that women on both sides of the divide were often kidnapped as a form of leverage, and that “rape function[ed] as a primary tool of coercion and conquest [for colonialists].”

Her study was on “women’s Indian captivity narratives,” a collection of very popular semi-biographical stories about women who were kidnapped or captured by American Indians and, at least according to the telling of these stories, forced to guard their own purity and chastity against their captors. Cremer added, however, that these stories were often either written or at least approved by men, and were therefore likely edited to accentuate the justification for violence against the Peaquots.

Her specific study, however, was of the off-hand captivity narrative of a Peaquot woman at the hands of the colonialists. Using the narrative of this woman, she demonstrated how, in wishing to protect herself and her children, she was not only acting with her personal well-being and chastity in mind (as these stories are usually portrayed), but as a shrewd political negotiator trying to maintain the political power of her family and tribe.

The final lecture, titled A Woman Among Warlords: The Extraordinary Story of an Afghan Who Dared to Raise Her Voice, was to be given by the Afghan politician, teacher, and activist Malalai Joya. However, according to Shafqat, Joya could not attend; she had been denied a visa by the United States government due to her living “underground.” Shafqat noted that Joya has to live in hiding as a result of multiple death threats she has experienced since speaking against other members of the corrupt Afghani Parliament, and that she is in fact “the kind of woman that our government claims to want to protect.”

In her recorded message to those in attendance, Joya noted that despite the fact that the United States government had used the “liberation of women” as part of the justification for the beginning and continuation of the war in Afghanistan, and that she herself had initially been hopeful, the occupation had in no way improved the rights or lives of women. She added that the only possible solution would begin with the United States withdrawing from Afghanistan. Joya also discussed her status in Parliament, and how the fact that she simply spoke up against the oppression of women in the country was enough to be forced out of government and into hiding.

In a later interview, Shafqat explained that Joya had actually received a visa shortly before the colloquium after the United States government saw substantial public pressure. Though the visa was granted too late for her to make the colloquium, Shafqat confirmed that Joya will be speaking on campus Wednesday, April 13.

At the end of Joya’s video, the three presenters at the colloquium sat down to discuss the striking similarities between each of their topics. Cremer said, “there are so many parallels between women of the 17th and 18th century and today…[the] legislation and language used to describe victims has not changed.” She added that the “liberation” motto and the rhetoric of American imperialism is still very present in the notion of “American exceptionalism” present today.

Shafqat said the next WGSX colloquium is already in the planning stages and that the topic will be Women and AIDS.