Thursday, May 28, 2009

Okinawan's Women and Environmental Movements

Okinawan Women's Anti-Base Movement
Among all of the many problems stemming from the U.S. military bases, the issue that has occurred most frequently over the past 50 years involves “transgressions against women” (Takazato, 1996, p. 135). Sexual violence against women has resulted in pregnancies, murders, mental disorders, and prostitution (Mackie, 2003). While these are generally seen as crim
es against individuals, Okinawans perceive them as a “crisis of sovereignty” (Angst, 2001, p. 246). Local feminist groups have engaged the issue as a threat to Okinawan identity and self-reliance, taking their cause to the United Nations International Women’s Conference in Beijing in 1995 (Mackie, 2003). Here Okinawan women’s groups were able to bring international attention to the issue of sexual violence in relation to the American military presence in Okinawa and learn organizing skills to further the issue among Okinawans and internationally (Mackie, 2003).
Picture by Makishi

'Peace Caravan' to the U.S.
In 1996, these groups set out on a ‘P
eace Caravan’ to the United States, networking with human rights groups, women’s groups, and environmental groups to raise awareness among American people about the negative impact of the American military presence on Okinawan land (Mackie, 2003). Outside of the U.S., these groups, including Okinawa Women Act Against Military Violence, have organized with anti-military women’s groups in Korea, Hawaii, the Philippines, Guam, and Puerto Rico (Takazato, 2004; Cooley & Marten, 2006).

Environmental Movement
Since the 1995 rape scandal, public protests have emerged over hit-and-run accidents, other sexual assault incidences, and environmental concerns such as “toxic wastes and dumping, deforestation and vegetative denudation, and the destruction of coral reefs and coastal habitat” (Taylor, 2006, p. 7). In 1999, Okinawa Prefecture requested that it be allowed to conduct an environmental assessment of U.S. military firing ranges, a demand that was rejected in 2003 by the U.S.-Japan Joint Committee (Taylor, 2006). Environmental movements in Okinawa are very diverse and loosely organized, but generally maintain strong connections with the anti-base movement.

Anti-New Base Movement in Henoko, Nago
The environmental mov
ement that has gained the largest support in Okinawa and internationally surrounds the issue of new base construction off the coast of Nago City in Henoko. Part of the SACO agreement mandated the transfer of the Futenma Marine Air Station heliport, which was previously located in a heavily populated town, to a remote area in northern Okinawa. However, the plan to move the base threatens to destroy the coral habitat of the endangered dugong, a manatee-like marine mammal that is a Japanese Monument (Cooley & Marten, 2006). Despite a citizen referendum in 1997 voting against the base expansion in Nago, a 2004 poll by the Asahi Shimbun finding that 81 percent of Okinawans oppose the base relocation, and a court ruling preventing the move, the Japanese government and U.S. military have attempted to move forward with the heliport construction (Arasaki, 2001; Taylor, 2006). The Japanese government briefly withdrew the construction plan in 2005 due to local and international pressure, but quickly reversed their decision in May 2006 under pressure from the U.S. military (Conference Opposing Heliport Construction, 2007).

The Okinawa Dugong Law Suit
Because of the strong link between Okinawa’s coastal and reef habitat and both Okinawans’ cultural identity and the tourism industry that makes up a large part of the local economy
, preservation of the marine environment is a major issue. It has become even more important in recent years because of the proposed base expansions out onto the coral reef and studies that have shown that between 75 and 90 percent of Okinawa’s coral has already died (Taylor, 2006). Within this context, a strong movement to save the dugong and the coral reef of Henoko has emerged. The coral reef off the coast of Nago City is one of the few remaining live coral areas on the eastern coast of Okinawa, and the last remaining habitat in Japan for the dugong and other endangered endemic species (Taylor, 2006).

Organizations like the Save the Dugong Foundation, Dugong Network Okinawa, the Committee Against Heliport Construction, and others have led an increasingly vocal movement against the base expansion, in cooperation with international organizations such as Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund (Tanji, 2008). This movement culminated in a lawsuit filed by many of these groups, in conjunction with the environmental law firm EarthJustice, in the U.S. Federal District Court in San Francisco against the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) and the Secretary of Defense. The lawsuit contended that the DoD violated the National Historic Preservation Act by not accounting for the endangered dugong in its environmental assessment of the Heliport relocation (Conference Opposing Heliport Construction, 2007). The lawsuit, Okinawa Dugong v. Rumsfeld C-03-4350, was found in favor of Okinawan in January 2008 (Tanji, 2008). However, the U.S. military and Japanese government have ignored the ruling and attempted to move forward with construction under the name of ‘investigation’ (Tanji, 2008).

A Long-Term Sit-in Protest in Henoko
While the environmental organizations have attempted to work within the political system by filing the lawsuit, they have also utilized methods of noncooperation and intervention by organizing a sit-in at Nago City (Makishi, 2001). Currently, the sit-in at Henoko has continued for more than 1,800 days, supported by local citizens and even mainland Japanese who travel to Okinawa to volunteer in the effort (Tanji, 2008).

Angst, L, I. (2001). The Sacrifice of A Schoolgirl: The 1995 Rape Case, Discourses of Power, and Women’s Lives in Okinawa. Critical Asian Studies, 33, 243-266. Retrieved April 5, 2009, from Routledge.
Arasaki, M. (2001). The Struggle Against Military Bases in Okinawa: Its history and Current Situation. Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, 2, 102-108. Retrieved April 5, 2009, from Routledge.
Conference Opposing Heliport Construction. (2007). Save the Dugong and All Lives: Dugong Lawsuit and Recent Development in the Construction of a New U.S. Military Base in Henoko, Oura, Bay, Okinawa. Okinawa: Conference Opposing Heliport Construction.
Cooley, A., & Marten, K. (2006). Base Motives: The Political Economy of Okinawa’s Antimilitarism. Armed Forces and Society, 32, 566-583, Retrieved April 7, 2009, from Ebsco Electronic Journals Service.
Mackie, V. (2003). Feminism in Modern Japan. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Makishi, Y. (2001). Okinawaha Moudamasarenai. Tokyo: Koubunken.
Takazato, S. (1996). The Past and Future of Unia, Sisters in Okinawa. In AMPO- Japan Asia Quarterly Review & C. Bunch (Ed.), Voices from the Japanese Women’s Movement, 133-143. New York: M.E. Sharpe, Inc.
Takazato, S. (2004). Violence Against Women Under Long-Term U.S. Military Station in Okinawa. U.S. Military Bases in Japan, 11-13. Retrieved April 7, 2009.
Tanji, M. (2008). U.S. Court Rules in The “Okinawa Dugong Case.” Critical Asian Studies, 40, 475-487. Retrieved April 7, 2009 from EBSCOHost.
Taylor, J. (2006). Environment and Security Conflicts: The U.S. Military in Okinawa. The geographical Bulletin. 48, 3-13.

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