Women, Marching and Security

On Saturday, more than 2 million people marched across the United States and multiple world capitals making vocal and visual their opposition to Donald Trump’s presidency and the threat it poses to reproductive rights, LGBTQ rights, national security, freedom from sexual violence, environmental justice, racial equality, journalistic freedom, and science. It was a wide-ranging and tumultuous set of gatherings, responding to an election cycle marked by the apparent acceptability of sexual misogyny and routine sexism as a normalized part of political discourse. There is no one simple categorization of these marches and their intersectional agendas. The broader political effect of massive feminist mobilization is yet to be fully understood or appreciated (despite the political tendency to dismiss the gathering of hundreds of thousands of women as politically irrelevant).

Yet it is striking to this observer that much of what women were collectively articulating was a right to security, in ways that are familiar and understood by many women but missed by masculine discourses. As some commentators have rightly observed, women’s rights are a national security issue. Yet, women often articulate security in distinct ways. When women are asked what they want or understand security to be, essentials such as being able to secure work, support their families, protect their bodies, reproduce (or not) on their own terms, and send their children to school without discrimination or harm dominate. Security for many women means not just security from (harm, injury, sexual violence) but security to (care for one’s family, work, thrive).  At least one valuable lesson from the marches and the political action that accompanies them is that it behooves us to exchange dominant and highly masculine notions of security, infused with primarily militaristic objectives and replace them with genuinely interactive models that reframe security conversations that end the artificial and gendered divide between public and private security. Women are demanding and articulating their security needs in diffuse and distinct ways, starting with the basic right to securely inhabit a female body. Holistic and engaged national security discourses demand we listen a little more carefully.

Image: Women’s March, Washington, DC – Melissa Bender 

About the Author(s)

Fionnuala Ní Aoláin

U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms While Countering Terrorism; This article is written in the author's personal and academic capacity; Robina Chair in Law, Public Policy, and Society at the University of Minnesota Law School; Professor of Law at the University of Ulster’s Transitional Justice Institute in Belfast, Northern Ireland; Follow her on Twitter (@NiAolainF).