Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Gender and security: A Tokyo Symposium

Gender and security in the shadow of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

For many of us, our gender and our security (broadly defined) affect, influence and shape our lives. Daily. This is so in Japan as well. But two months each year in particular bring these issues into focus: May and August. 

In May, specifically 3 May, Japan commemorates, via public holiday, the promulgation of the 1947 Constitution, the postwar constitution drafted by the Allied forces which includes the famous Peace clause, Article 9, renouncing war and maintenance of war materiel. This year, the 70th anniversary included a special exhibition at the National Archives, where visitors got to see the original constitution, albeit behind a glass case. 

In August each year, we are reminded in the most forceful of ways of devastation caused by the dropping of atomic bombs on 6 August (Hiroshima) and 9 August (Nagasaki) and 15 August, the declaration of the end of the Pacific War and World War Two. 

For much of the time I have been a student of Japan, it was something of an example of how an economically strong country did not have to necessarily maintain an equally large military to demonstrate power as defined in most international relations textbooks. And while the merits or otherwise of Article 9 of the Constitution have always been contested, in more recent times, Prime Minister Abe has ramped up his campaign to restore Japan's military legitimacy by announcing an amendment to Article 9 which will recognise what is currently referred to as the Self-Defence Force, effectively the army, navy, and air force. Abe cites growing military tensions in the region, notably North Korea and China. Of course, if you build arms to deter arms, all you do is feed the spiral into infinite militarisation. It is an illogical path to 'peace'.

Japan's allies (including Australia) are supportive of the strengthening of arms. Commentators and analysts outside Japan speak of an inevitability of Japan re-arming and so the world ought to adjust to this reality.

Or not.

And it is in this context that symposia and like gatherings that oppose the re-arming of Japan and amendments to the Constitution are on the increase. Domestic opposition to a remilitarised, or a norm-securitised Japan, is subject of one of my ongoing research projects while based here in Tokyo. This post focusses on a symposium I attended recently, 'Security legislation and Gender', at Meiji University, 5 August 2017.

Ohwaki Masako
It was a full program, five presentations by specialists in their fields (four women, one man) and a special presentation by lawyer and former upper house member for the Japan Socialist Party, Ohwaki Masako. 

Hosted by the Japan Society of Gender and Law, the presentations had a strong legal focus. The theme was 'without peace there is no equality, without equality there is no peace'. It was attended by about 400 people, mostly women, a number of whom I have seen at similar events around Tokyo in the last year or so. There is a strong, persistent movement for peace. 

Each presentation was supplemented with detailed notes which allowed for time afterwards to read and reflect on the cases presented. 

Presentations examined the constitution and the rights it gave women at the time and the importance for women to ensure these rights are not undermined through amendments. The first paper was wide-ranging and in dealing with these constitutional issues also drew on examples of rape as a weapon in war, and what militarisation might imply. 

Another of the papers asked the question why so many conservative party women appeared to come out in support of greater militarisation. Timely given that Japan's second female defence minister Inada had resigned just the week before (resigned before she was pushed according to reports). 

Perhaps the most compelling presentation though was that given by former parliamentarian Ohwaki who introduced herself as the only member of the panel with wartime experience and memories. She is 82. Her parliamentary work included overseas delegations for peace, she gave examples though her working life of her commitment to securing peace both domestically and internationally. 

There is something compelling about the stories our elders tell about war, and peace. In Japan, during August and now increasingly so, Hiroshima and Nagasaki survivors, dwindling in numbers (their average age is estimated at 81) speak out about the horrors, their memories while they can. They implore the current generation of political leaders to rethink the path to militarisation, to re-arming. 

One can't help but come away from these symposia with a renewed sense of endeavour, to teach for peace to aim for it. The women at this symposium,both on the stage and in the audience, show they continue to push for it in spite of the pressure from Japan's government. 

It is a movement worth participating in. 

In a lot of my work I reflect on the words of Kant and Arendt. In her reflections on violence Hannah Arendt in the New York Review of Books (1969) noted: 

"The technical development of implements of violence has now reached the point where no political goal could conceivably correspond to their destructive potential or justify their actual use in armed conflict". 

And because we are in the week of reflecting on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the end of the Pacific War, and because we seem to need reminding, Magnum photographer Rene Burri on the Nuclear Highway has captured some compelling images here.