Iraqi women and children, receiving humanitarian aid. Photo: OWFI.
There’s been a pattern to the whirlwind first 100 days of the Trump presidency. In the face of multiple wars and famine threats, Trump responds on two fronts. First, he exacerbates problems, and then he eviscerates potential solutions.
It’s like setting a house on fire, while draining the water from the fire truck. And for those trapped in the blaze, local grassroots women’s groups are often the only first responders they can count on.
Take US military policy. Trump has ratcheted up airstrikes while seeking to loosen restrictions meant to limit civilian deaths. In March alone, US-led airstrikes on Iraq and Syria killed over 1,782 civilians. Trump expanded “areas of active hostilities” in Yemen and Somalia, placing thousands more people in the cross-hairs of US drone operators. And in Afghanistan, he launched the “mother of all bombs,” a phrase that insults mothers everywhere, perhaps none more than those struggling to keep their children safe from US airstrikes.
Equally insulting is Trump’s purported concern for the “beautiful little babies” killed in the 4 April chemical attack in Idlib, Syria. Rather than channel moral outrage at the attack to reinvigorate peace talks, as many Syrian women’s groups have demanded, Trump opted for an illegal missile strike. The move fuels more war, while doing nothing to prevent future attacks on civilians.
In fact, any humanitarian rationale for war is suspect coming from Trump. He was remorseless about ordering a January attack in Yemen that killed 10 children. No one in Trump’s administration is calling for justice for the nearly 300 civilians, including children, killed in a single US airstrike in Mosul, Iraq; or for the deaths of over 30 civilians, killed when the US bombed a school in Syria.
...any humanitarian rationale for war is suspect coming from Trump.
Meanwhile, the administration actively blocks support to people facing attack. It has banned refugee families from the countries it is bombing. It also proposes draconian cuts of more than one-third to foreign aid programs that help communities survive and recover from war.
In many of these communities, it’s grassroots women’s groups that are stepping into the breach to provide life-saving assistance. For example, when thousands of families fled Mosul from ISIS violence and US airstrikes, they found shelter with the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq, which set up safe houses and distributed humanitarian aid.
Likewise, in Syria and its neighboring countries hosting refugees, local women’s groups are at the forefront of providing aid, including reproductive healthcare for women.
Such critical work has globally been dealt a severe blow by Trump’s global gag rule, which strips US funding from healthcare facilities in poor countries that so much as mention abortion rights. This, in combination with Trump’s defunding of the UNFPA, a major reproductive health and family planning agency, will cause needless death and suffering among the world’s poorest women.
Nicaraguan clinic nurse. Photo: Elizabeth Rappaport.
This is not the only burning crisis that women first responders are mobilising to address. The uptick in US violence comes as international aid agencies warn that famine is about to overtake places like Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan and Nigeria, endangering the lives of over 20 million people.
Trump’s response to the crisis? He hopes to slash vital humanitarian programs that would save lives, for example by cutting US contributions to the UN by 50%. Trump’s proposed budget would also exacerbate causes of famine such as climate change and war. It would gut the Environmental Protection Agency, charged with implementing US climate policy, and shift $54 billion from social spending, including programs to combat violence against women, to the US military.
So where war and climate change may drive millions to the brink of survival, Trump stands ready to push them over the edge. In Yemen, he plans to further enlarge a civil war into a proxy war for regional powers, by fueling Saudi Arabia with weapons and military support. The war compounds the destruction of a protracted drought, clearly driven by climate change, which Trump has dismissed as a hoax. The consequences for Yemeni civilians are catastrophic, with two-thirds of their population in need of humanitarian aid and with the threat of mass starvation looming.
The multiplicity of harms can feel overwhelming.
In Somalia, as people migrate to find food amidst worsening famine and drought, there is greater risk that they will be mistaken for fighters or killed as a result of loosened restrictions on civilian casualties. Meanwhile, in Kenya where many Somalis have sought refuge, women first-responders are sourcing food aid from local women farmers, in a win-win that saves lives while sustaining local economies.
It is as if the Trump administration is hoping that we won’t be able to walk and chew gum at the same time.
That we won’t grasp the connections between fundamentally dangerous policies and their real-life impacts. That we won’t register the gulf between US rhetoric and reality. That we won’t be able to resist militarism, environmental destruction and humanitarian disaster, and ramp up support for humanitarian relief – like that spearheaded by women in places rocked by disaster and conflict.
But we can do all of this. We can support the work of grassroots women’s organizations providing necessary humanitarian aid while calling for policies that uphold peace and justice.
We can call out false attempts to wrap destructive actions in humanitarian ideals, and we can call for support and welcome to refugees and migrants.
We can condemn war crimes and rights violations by all states, we can condemn the US’s own needless killing of civilians, and we can call for a halt to US military escalation.
The multiplicity of harms can feel overwhelming. That’s because no single person can take it all on. What we need instead is thoughtful coordination among those resisting Trump’s agenda – in the next 100 days and beyond – to support each other’s efforts to douse the fires he spreads and to build back from the ashes together.