By Josephine Wambui
100 years ago in April, over 1300 women came together in the Hague to protest the 1st World War. These were the founders of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF). 100 years later and over 1,000 women (representing over 80 countries) met in the Hague to not only remember what the previous generation had done and achieved so far but to also connect, strengthen and celebrate the work of peace makers across the world as well as discuss new and radical approaches to stop and prevent wars and establish principles of permanent peace. The conference did not disappoint. The list of speakers including Madeleine Rees OBE, (Secretary General, WILPF), Edith Ballantyne (long standing member of WILPF – over 80 years old), Zahra Langhi (Founder Director of Libyan Women’s Platform for Peace) amongst other key note and sessions speakers in addition to the engaging participants made it worthwhile.
Three key points stood out for me:
1. Currently about 1.67 trillion dollars is spent on arms – this made me think of what alternative things the money could do. If directed to support Somalia it could fund about 14,000 three-year programmes for the Go-2-School Initiative led by UNICEF that targets to reach about one million children and youth.
2. It is important to find a common agenda, even with present differences – Leymah Gbowee (peace activist from Liberia, who together with others helped end the Second Liberian Civil War and along with Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Tawakkul Karman received the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize) gave an insightful presentation. She called on women to find a common agenda while taking advantage of their contexts e.g. war fatigue, to respond with non-violence, to be persistent and most importantly to be physically present in their countries, security allowing (as opposed to taking up speaking engagements at international conferences). Leymah also stressed that it is important for women to prioritise issues affecting them and their families as their main focus because peace will not come until women come together and focus on a common purpose and agenda. She urged women to study and understand the system (community, region, district, business community, CSOs, media, interest, personalities among others) in order to know how best peace can be achieved.
3. The solution is not ‘band aid’ peace – this is according to Bronagh Hinds’ (a Northern Irish Peace Advocate) experience. She urged women not to rush into resolving conflict at the expense of losing sight of the system that supports conflict. To ensure that there is peace, it is important to have the difficult conversations where three questions are answered by everyone: What do you want? Why do you want it? And what can you live with because other people want something different? With these questions, a common ground can be built and this can be the start of mending and rebuilding broken relationships.
The conference ended with three key points:
- Gendered power in our world – the systems do not have our consent
- Power, war, weapons – ending today’s ways, preventing tomorrow’s
- Organising and action for change – we will not be silenced
The solution is not ‘add women and stir”
Nothing about us without us
For more information on the conference and WILPF see the links below:
https://voicerepublic.com/venues/wilpf-2015-conference-women-s-power-to-stop-war to listen to the different sessions