Reflections on the Centennial Peace Conference
By Maria Butler, PeaceWomen Programme Director
“Until the day that war is not profitable, the killing will continue,” this stark reminder of Shirin Ebadi, Iranian Nobel Laureate, continues to ring in my ear after the WILPF Women’s Power to Stop War conference.
100 years after the first WILPF gathering, 1,000 peacemakers—women and men—from over 80 countries united in The Hague, Netherlands from April 27-29 th to reorganize and reenergize a social movement for equitable peace and freedom. We met as the world faces unprecedented conflicts, cultures of violence, and injustices. We met at this time of urgency for peoples and the planet we share. On the eve of the gathering, Sabeen Mehmud, Pakistani human rights activist, was shot dead; Nepal was devastated by an earthquake; the people of Yemen were trapped in devastating military and humanitarian crisis; criminal inquiry into alleged sex abuse by peacekeepers in Central African Republic were made public; and far from the headlines, protracted and forgotten wars, continued around the world.
Working with participants to put together the conference was a great personal challenge for me as a woman peace advocate. Journeying through the conference from causes to strategies in the five plenaries and the over 40 breakout sessions, as well as a number other activities was our plan. Together, the conference participants protested the structures of power and focused on how these systems can and must be dismantled in order to build the world we want. The plenaries were powerful, challenging and yes, exhausting at times. Overall, it was energizing to the mind and soul to be united with advocates to address root causes of violence and to proactively organizing as a social movement. I feel honoured to have played a part in this historic convening.
There was honesty, debate, and challenging of assumptions during the conference. I found this refreshing! Participants worked creatively in solidarity across hemispheres, borders, cultural groups, classes, generations, sexes, sexualities, and gender identities. Different and diverse feminisms develop from many places and perspectives but we united to proclaim that diversities must not divide us but rather should bring us together and make us stronger. There is no unity without diversity. Discourse of peace requires ending the idea of the centre and the periphery; ending the duality between men and women; ending the duality between north and south, and between young and old. Zala, from Young-WILPF, stated to the plenary on Day Three, “You can never be too young or too old. On the contrary, having a young mind equals being the future”.
The whole conference had Women, Peace and Security (WPS) weaved throughout from peace processes to sexual violence; from peacekeeping to peacebuilding and disarmament. This was a reflection, I believe, of the holistic intentions of the civil society movement that created this agenda. There were several sessions focused more specifically on the WPS agenda including a “Strategic Consultation on the WPS High Level Review”. Our workshop “Beyond 1325: Feminist Playbook for Peace” with Carol Cohen walked through a gender analysis of road building, one of many political and economic dynamics that are shaping conflict or post-war setting, and remain gender blind and often beyond the WPS agenda.
Gendered power, patriarchy, and engaging men were examined, exposing how the systems of war benefit greatly from gender inequality rooted in patriarchy—a system and culture of gender inequality that privileges a certain type of masculinity over all other identities and ways of being in the world.
Participants acknowledged the achievements of the multilateral system including the creation of the WPS agenda but exposed the current systems, mechanisms, and implementation that are not working effectively against the structures of power that prevent peace. It goes back to Shirin’s statement about war’s profitability—financial and political!
In the end, this conference was about action! There was a manifestation against military spending! Peaceful delegations went to diplomat embassies calling for end to devastating violence in Yemen in response to calls from one participant from Yemen, who now found herself as a refugee. And WILPF challenged participants to make pledges and commitments focused internally on us—civil society— strengthening our social movement for peace through concrete commitments for action and accomplishments. WILPF’s long-standing and respected 93 ½ year old member Edith Ballantyne lead the commitments to work for a just world order.
Some actions and impacts require collaborative partnerships and teams. Some require hundreds and thousands—the movement. I was reminded by learning from wise women from around the world, old friends and new friends, women leaders and activists at our conference, that some real impacts rest on the shoulders of individual women peacemakers working tirelessly for change.
This potential rests with us all. We all have the choice to work for change and a better world. The potential and belief in that world—the world that the WILPF manifesto sets out—is a seed that can flourish, if we water it, into a world of peace and gender justice. Violence is not inevitable. It is a choice. And our world is a world where the peaceful majority will not silenced.
By Ghazal Rahmanpanagh
WILPF’s centennial peace conference, which took place April 27-29th, 2015 in the Hague’s World Forum was a cross-cultural, multi-generational event, where participants protested the current state government war economies, and strategized to create an international system of accountability, peace, and gender justice.
The Conference was organized into three plenaries, and opening and a closing, and more than 40 break-out sessions. Day one analyzed the power structure dynamics of patriarchy, capitalism, and racism. The WILPF Manifesto affirmed: “Male dominance is tightly intersected with the class inequalities of capitalism and the racialist domination of some nations and ethnic groups by others. Together they perpetuate war.” Activists explored innovative ways to challenge and overcome patriarchy by transforming social and cultural norms in relation to both masculinities and femininities.
Day two focused on conflict and violence prevention. Participants affirmed that nonviolence —rather than violence—is heroic. Activists recognized that violence and weapons are disempowering, and rejected government’s assumptions that their citizens have given implicit consent for militarism, war, and violence. They demanded disarmament, demilitarization, and active nonviolent resolution of conflicts to transform personal to international order.
Finally, day three recognized the internal and external actions required to bolster a strong, diverse, and transformative movement. Activists reaffirmed their unity in opposition to patriarchy, capitalism, racism, and militarism. They also affirmed strength in diversity of experiences which enrich universal goals that recognize the diversity of feminisms while focusing on the common peace and justice goals. Externally, the social movement sought more effective multilateral systems and changes in existing structures and cultures, recognizing the need for continued engagement with conditions. Reforming multilateralism will require agitation for inclusion of gendered analysis, more independent and comprehensive investigations into the use of force, and documentation of its consequences.
An Outcome Report will be published later this month and will address each day’s major themes: global gendered power; power, war, and weapons; and organizing and actions for change.
by Prachi Rao
A key event at the WILPF 100 conference was the April 28th interactive consultation on the October 2015 Women Peace and Security High Level review co-hosted by WILPF PeaceWomen and UN Women. As part of consultations around the UNSCR 1325 global study, lead author Radhika Coomaraswamy, along with PeaceWomen Director Maria Butler and UN Women Peace and Security Policy Adviser and Officer in Charge Nahla Valji met with over 80 members of civil society from around the world to hear input, recommendations, and voices for action.
Civil society provided recommendations and pledges on nine key gap areas: Human Rights & Humanitarian Relief; Prevention and Early Warning Systems; Political Economy and Economic Rights; Environmental Degradation and Climate Justice; Human Rights Defenders and Journalists; The Continuum of Violence: Gangs, Small Arms and Light Weapons; Leadership and Accountability; National Action Plans: Minimum Standards and Maximising Revisions; and Masculinity and Violence.
The Global Study and October Review should:
1. Prevention and Early Warning Systems - call for gender budgeting, in consultation with women, to be used as a tool to address, highlight and mitigate militarised state budgets and its effect on international peace and security and women’s rights.
2. The Continuum of Violence: Gangs, Small Arms and Light Weapons - call for a prioritisation of violence prevention as a key gap area including by reducing military spending, regulating arms consistent with the Arms Trade Treaty, and substantially increasing financing for women's human rights and gender equitable social development
3. Leadership and Accountability - call for increased women, who are tied to the movement, to be involved in peace processes as they can mobilise action and remain accountable to their constituency.
4. National Action Plans: Minimum Standards and Maximising Revisions - require that the drafting of NAPS be inclusive, bottom-up and bring a feminist perspective.
5. Masculinity and Violence - call for a two-track approach, which avoids seeing men as solely the problem and women the victim, and works with both men and women to build women’s capacity for leadership and alter attitudes toward masculinities and femininities.
As WILPF Secretary General Madeleine Rees said in the Hague, “You are the movement!” The WILPF centennial conference is now over, but the movement has just begun.
Join us in making pledges, embracing feminine power and directing it for active non-violence, and spreading the word that there are more of us who want peace than who want the killing to continue. Demand that your government regulate small arms and light weapons, end military action in Yemen and around the world, and move the money from economies of war to economies of gender justice and peace.
Join us in taking action in your home, community, country and world to embrace and strengthen women’s power to stop war. Together, we shall overcome!