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Wars: Mostly women, end losers

Huzaima Bukhari

“The world of men, which we allowed to become self-aggrandising, has suffered a shipwreck: the ruins are visible enough”—Elfriede Alscher in issue No. 8 of Der Regenbogen of 1946

War is usually understood as violent conflicts between countries or nations that are fought basically for economic, religious, political and ideological reasons.

Whatever happened to peaceful co-existence? Why must human beings, popularly known as social animals, constrained to display their physical, and now mental cum intellectual strength in a manner that causes destruction and death? Do such things as economic and territorial gains matter so much that they necessitate wars and mass killings? Why is expansion so fascinating that it causes disorder across regions? Is propagation of some divine or worldly theory so vital that this drive can drive away love and humanity, converting kindness into cruelty, beauty into ugliness, peace into chaos, yet failing to touch hearts in the way they are intended? At the same time, the resisting elements, rather than coming at the forefront themselves find it more convenient to push foot soldiers forward to be thrown directly into the walls of fire. Both sides of the warring factions cannot be absolved of the resulting mayhem, the bloodshed and atrocities committed by anyone during these horrible occurrences.

While it is not possible to survive alone in this world, one cannot deny the fact that every person is a universe in himself/herself. Generally, around every human being there are certain attachments that cannot be ignored. These are in the form of their closest relatives who are intricately connected in a way that their absence can ruin their very existence; just like a tree, whose each component plays an important role in its life that can be rendered useless if its roots are damaged beyond repair. Similarly, loss of the only bread-winner of a family, especially the under-privileged one, can tear apart every member resulting in unthinkable harm in a number of ways. Even in today’s world, where there is so much going on with reference to emancipation of women, the gender gap in global labour force is 25 percentage points with 72% for men against under 47% for women. This means that predominantly, females rely on men for their sustenance which is why their absence can become extremely detrimental.

One of the most powerful and progressive countries of the world today is Germany but the path to achieving this status was strewn with mass devastation, sufferings of humanity in general and females in particular in the horrific outcomes of World War II. The period between 1945 to 1955 has been brilliantly portrayed by Harald Jahner in his internationally acclaimed historical treatise “Aftermath” where first person accounts from articles and diaries show how this politically, economically and morally bankrupt country transformed itself into the modern state that we see today. At present no one can ever imagine the magnitude of displaced population, millions of released forced labourers and prisoners of war who were condemned to face an uncertain future in a totally wrecked homeland devoid of basic facilities and above all, the kind of afflictions that the women folk had to bear. The heart-wrenching stories speak loud and clear about the torment borne by women as a consequence of war started off by men whose actions were strongly resented in widely read periodicals of those times. Narrating women’s stance, the book says: “It was a fundamental female conviction that the lost war had been a male invention, even though women had in no way lagged behind in their enthusiasm for Hitler”. The author mentions the magazine Der Regenbogen, that contained articles whereby men were seen as the chief cause of war while women, were more inclined towards peace. “Just as the woman who brings life into the world must always hate life destroying war, she can never, if she is to remain true to her innermost feelings, agree with a dictatorship”.

There are many debates raising arguments in favour and against women in power and whether they would prove more compassionate rulers compared to men. A few examples from the past may show that women can be equally hostile and vindictive but these are insufficient to lay a solid claim. The number of recorded women rulers in history is approximately eleven in the ancient world (2400 BC to 272 BC), around eight during the middle ages (c495AD to 1499AD), fifteen (1500AD to 1900AD) and an estimated twenty six in the modern era; which facts prove that wars are mostly started by men. Not that these women never initiated a conflict but their participation was more for resistance rather than aggression.

Interestingly, in December 2019, former President of the United States, Barack Obama remarked: “If more women were put in charge, there would be less war, kids would be better taken care of and there would be a general improvement in living standards and outcomes”. He also suggested “putting women in power, because men seem to be having some problems these days”. Abigail S Post in her research, co-authored with Paromita Sen, suggests that Obama is both right and wrong. While she admits that more women in legislatures help increase peaceful policies, countries with women as leaders—prime ministers, presidents, etc—participate in more violent disputes. This is because most societies (including Americans) often stereotype female leaders as “weak,” which they compensate by acting more aggressively and critics condemn their gentle approach (such as compromise) as weak, but call a strong approach (such as military force) too aggressive.

Regardless of whether males or females hold the destiny of nations in their hands, the truth is that women are the principal sufferers in the event of conflicts, on a small scale and in times of major wars. They lose their principal supports in the form of their fathers, brothers, husbands and sons; they are deprived of the security of their homes and thrown in uncomfortable shelters; if not killed they are subjected to rape, violence and brutality; they are forced to do menial jobs and sometimes even hard labour that may be beyond their physical strength.

Yet it appears that as of today, men have not learnt their lessons and take pleasure in the tribulations of their deeply cherished females. In the end one can only say with due apologies to the supporters of planned parenthood, for twisting their infamous slogan, ‘if men got pregnant, abortion would be legal everywhere’ to ‘if men could suffer pangs of delivery, wars would be banned forever’.


The writer, lawyer and author, is an Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), member Advisory Board and Senior Visiting Fellow of Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE)

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