Big Feminism takes on Big Oil

Ms. Magazine looks at how the U.S. government's energy policies deplete women's rights here and abroad.


Sarah Goldstein
July 21, 2006 8:38PM (UTC)

For anyone looking for another reason to oppose the war in Iraq, preemptive military action in Iran or U.S. military policy in general, read the cover story in Ms. Magazine's summer issue (premium content), which looks at Big Oil as a feminist issue. Writer Martha Burk's well-researched, highly accessible piece is an excellent overview of the grim reality that women around the world face because of the U.S. government's prioritization of oil over women's rights.

Beginning with the implicit support of the Taliban in Afghanistan -- perhaps the most antiwoman regime the world has seen -- Burk shows how, prior to 9/11, the Bush administration was willing to turn a blind eye to that regime's repressive policies in hopes of gaining rights to a proposed pipeline. Three years later, under the false premise of weapons of mass destruction, the U.S. invaded Iraq -- which has the third largest untapped oil supply in the world -- with the explicit directive from Vice President Cheney's Energy Task Force to "capture new and existing oil and gas fields."

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This prerogative may have been palatable had the U.S. shown sincere efforts to better the status of women in "liberated" Iraq. But, as Burk points out, "in the period leading up to the election of the National Assembly, our government ignored demands by Iraqi women's organizations to create a women's ministry, appoint women to the drafting committee of Iraq's interim constitution, pass laws codifying women's rights and criminalizing domestic violence, and uphold U.N. Security Council Resolution 1325 -- which mandates that women be included in all levels of decision-making in situations of peace-making and post-war reconstruction." Big Oil, on the other hand, is "well protected" under the new constitution. By essentially abolishing Iraqi state control over its petroleum reserves, the U.S. government ensured that the private sector, namely foreign companies like the ones that Bush and Cheney worked for, would dominate.

But before you pity Afghan and Iraqi women, take a look at what our oil adventures have done for women's rights and services here: While oil companies in the U.S. "received tax cuts topping $14.5 billion in the 2005 energy bill [d]omestic violence prevention was slashed by $35 million, Medicaid by $17 billion over five years and child-care programs by $1.03 billion over five years."

Burk goes on to report how the U.S. military has allowed repressive Muslim regimes dictate how American female soldiers dress and travel. Lt. Col. Martha McSally sued Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in 2001 for requiring her to wear a black robe and head scarf called the abaya while in Saudi Arabia. And finally, Burk looks at the direction in which we may be headed with Iran -- the country with the second largest untapped oil supply -- though likely only after the midyear elections.

On that note, exercise your right this November: Don't allow the warmongers to profit while women get the shaft.


Sarah Goldstein

Sarah Goldstein is an editorial fellow at Salon.

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