NAHA CITY, Okinawa, Japan–As she stood before the crowd, a 92-year-old Okinawan woman raised her fragile shoulders and arms as if conducting a chorus. Other women from her town of Henoko began to drum and she started her dance protesting the planned installation of a U.S. naval heliport on her island.
"I want to thank you for coming here from far away to hear our truth," she said to the women from Japan, Korea, the Philippines, Puerto Rico and the United States who had gathered here during the last week of June to attend the third Women’s Summit on redefining global security.
And as the entire crowd of about 100 women began to sway to the insistent reverberations of the music, it was clear that their thinking was in unison as well. The Women’s Summit was subtitled "Redefining Security" for a reason.
"The purpose of this meeting is to challenge the principle of ‘national security’ on which the economic policies of the G Eight are based," said San Francisco State University professor Margo Okazawa-Rey. (The Group of Eight nations is composed of the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Canada and Russia.) "These economic policies can never achieve genuine security."
The definition of "security" agreed upon by participants included a healthy environment; basic survival needs such as food, clothing, shelter, health care and education; and protection from avoidable harm.
The meeting held in Okinawa declared that U.S. military bases and personnel are dangerous to women, children, their communities and the environment.
And they are teaching each other such protest strategies as building databases of rapes and sexual assaults believed to have been committed by U.S. military personnel.
Moreover, the activists plan to confront the leaders of the United States and seven other industrial nations meeting here next month–for their summit on global security and economy–with their own ideas on the subject.
The women’s summit was hosted by Okinawa Women Against Military Violence, a group founded in 1995 when three U.S. Marines abducted and raped a 12-year-old girl.
The group organized a 1996 island-wide referendum in which 95 percent voted to demand that the U.S. bases be removed. One of its members recently was elected to the Diet, Japan’s national legislature.
Reflecting the intense political beliefs here, Suzuyo Takazato the founder of the Okinawa group,: asked the summit:
"Why is the Group of Eight coming here? Because Okinawa is now the cornerstone of their militarized peace."
A State Department spokesman, in a briefing for Japanese media, cited "the importance of the United States and Japan working together, to make sure that the forces of globalization work in favor of the prosperity and the security of our people. And that means dealing with … the aftermath of Seattle," a reference to mass anti-globalization protests in November.
The U.S.- Japan security treaty is being renegotiated this year to allow greater participation by Japan’s military in new international security arrangements. Since the end of World War II, Japan has strictly prohibited its military from engaging in anything but domestic and regional security.
The women agreed to insist that the U.S. and other members of the United Nations accept the jurisdiction of the international criminal court and that the test firing should end in Vieques, Korean testing grounds and on the Philippine island of Mindanao, where they say about 180,000 persons have been displaced by U.S. and Philippine troops.
They also are seeking compensation to host countries for environmental damage and violence against women, as well as revision of bilateral military agreements in order to address women’s concerns.
The women spent much of the time hearing about each other’s strategies and boosting each other’s determination.
Even though the U.S. military began testing again at the Vieques firing range just as the summit was getting underway, Maria Reinat Pumarejo of Puerto Rico remains undaunted. She had spent the past year camped out at the range but still believed her protest was effective.
"Winning is possible," she said. "We stopped them for a while."
The protesters and others who object to the bombing believe that chemicals released by the explosions become wind-borne and drift across their regions.
"Use every strategy," Pumarejo advised the group. "We do prayer vigils, marches, teach-ins. All of it contributes."
In both Korea and the Philippines, the women organized in response to the military "camptowns," communities that coalesce outside a military base, drawn by its economic power, and provide recreation facilities to American soldiers, including prostitution.
"Now that we will have peace, the GI.s must leave. It will be better for the women and for the whole country," said Park Young-ja from South Korea. She said she began working as a prostitute for soldiers when she was 17, as a way to survive. Now she counsels other women through My Sister’s Place, one of two rehabilitation centers for prostitutes in her nation.
In the Philippines, a similar center, Buklod, is run by Alma Bulawan who describes herself as a "survivor" of "working in the bars."
U.S. bases in the Philippines were shut down in the early 1990s, but an agreement allows for joint military exercises. As the women met in Naha City, 5,000 U.S. troops were participating in military exercises in the Philippines.
Buklod is documenting all military personnel’s crimes against women and entering them into a common database which stores information that can be used with the new International Criminal Court in the Hague.
Women from Korea, where four prostitutes were murdered in the past year, pledged to begin their own documentation, although they are hindered by Korea’s national security laws. Anyone who accuses a member of the U.S. military of a crime could face prison.
Okinawan women already have a comprehensive list of rapes and murders committed by soldiers dating back to 1945.
Dorothy Mackey, a former U.S. Air Force captain and executive director of STAMP, Survivors Take Action Against Abuse by Military Personnel, was asked if it were still possible to find someone who committed a crime that long ago.
"It’s possible, if you know where he was based when he committed the rape," said Mackey, a survivor of military sexual assault and an advocate for other women.
She warned the audience, however, that the soon-to-be-established International Criminal Court’s power and jurisdiction will be severely limited because the United States refuses to accept the court’s authority unless it specifically exempts U.S. service personnel from prosecution.
Four days after the women’s summit ended, the United States made modest progress in keeping the door open to discussion of such an exemption during the final round of negotiations on establishment of the court, in November.
The U.S. proposal calls for the U.N. Security Council to examine all proposed court prosecutions, enabling Washington and other powers to cast a veto.
The United States faces major opposition from many countries. Participants in the Okinawa gathering want other nations to stand firm. The summit’s final statement calls the International Criminal Court "a mechanism for ordinary people to take action against military crimes."
Chris Lombardi is a frequent contributor to Women’s Enews.