This Mother's Day, Forget the French Toast

By Nicole Sotelo 5-07-2008

"Arise, then, women of this day!" goes the Mother's Day proclamation. But this is not your wake-up call to french toast and flowers. Instead, this phrase was the rallying cry for the first "Mother's Day of Peace" back in 1870-back before the day became laden with Hallmark and guilt. Julia Ward Howe, the creator of Mother's Day, pleaded with women to speak out against war, not only for the sake of their sons, but for the sons of mothers across the globe. Today, mothers must not only seek peace for their sons, but for themselves.

Studies are showing that warfare brings significantly increased incidents of rape and domestic violence. Soldiers are taught violence in war and that violence is then turned upon innocent civilians in the country of conflict, fellow soldiers during wartime, or it returns home in the form of spousal and child abuse. Think the war is taking place thousands of miles away? Think again. Wartime violence is happening in living rooms across the country.

Americans may remember the four women murdered by their military husbands within a six-week period at Fort Bragg army base in North Carolina near the beginning of the Afghanistan invasion. While this caught the media's eye for a brief time, the violence at the hands of military personnel continues to rise.

A 2003 study financed by the Department of Defense found that nearly one-third of female veterans who sought health care through the Veterans Affairs reported that during their military service they experienced rape or attempted rape. Another set of figures from 2004 and 2005 showed a 40% increase in the number of sexual assaults reported by female soldiers-which may mean women feel safer in reporting the attacks or that the numbers are on the rise.

60 Minutes did research in the 1990s that found that domestic violence was five times more common in U.S. military families than civilian families. And that was during "peace time." During war, the numbers become far more gruesome. During the Rwandan genocide, UNICEF estimates 150,000 women were raped in the 100 days of conflict. Today, the remnants of that violence have ventured into the Congo and 27,000 sexual assaults were reported there by the United Nations -- in just one year, in just one province.

So, arise, then, women of this day! Forget the french toast. Forget the flowers. Arise and speak out against war. Spend this Mother's Day writing letters, calling congress, or finding another way to help stop the war. It is just a few hours of your life. And you might just end up saving one.

Nicole Sotelo is author of Women Healing from Abuse: Meditations for Finding Peace (Paulist Press) and is a contributor to Weep Not for Your Children: Essays on Religion and Violence, edited by Rosemary Radford Ruether and Lisa Isherwood (forthcoming from Equinox Publishing). She holds a master's degree from Harvard Divinity School and does workshops and retreats for Christian women healing from abuse. To learn more, visit

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