"The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, which was founded in 1915 by Jane Addams & Carrie Chapman Catt during the brink of WWI, was celebrating its 100th anniversary with an international conference at the Hague: Women’s Power to Stop War - and I had the opportunity to attend.
The conference was, mostly, incredible and inspiring. I have only recently been drawn to issues related to war. I think it’s such a huge topic that it seemed too daunting to even begin seriously thinking about, especially because it’s so perpetual and so removed. Furthermore, the US tries to avoid “war” and instead gets involved in “conflicts”, which make tracking and understanding the problem even more difficult. According to this report, the US was involved in 5 violent (war) conflicts and has military presence in 129 more countries.
While there are so many angles through which to understand war (religion, economy, environment, etc), I’m particularly interested in the ways in which war is both an outcome/spectacle of systems of power & inequality and perpetuates those systems. People who are already marginalized and oppressed by everyday structures are more deeply affected by severe incidences of violence – including children, women, the elderly, undocumented persons, those without economic security, etc. And war is so often started by either powerless people who are seeking a solution, or by powerful people who are seeking further access to resources or power itself. Human rights become subordinated to these desires when violence is the tactic used to achieve them.
Dr. Shirin Ebadi, a Nobel peace laureate, stated: “We are women meeting here to end the wars started by men.”
There were about a thousand of us present at the conference from 80 different countries. For three days we listened to speakers, participated in workshops & dialogues, sang together, ate together, danced together (seriously – there was an evening session on the “womb” dance which included a whole lot of breast thrusting and hip shaking), and laughed and cried together.
Here were some of my favorite quotes:
“The money spent on war in one year is equal to 480 years of the entire UN budget.” -Madeleine Rees
“We are defiant, refusing to shut up, using our pain as fuel.” -Leymah Gbowee
“War is not heroic. What is heroic is that sometimes human people in battle do things to save other people. Using guns in the name of honor, family, country, or religion – there is nothing heroic about that.” -Jody Williams
“Why did we go on a sex strike? Well, here’s the truth. In order for media to care about the work women do, sex has to be involved. That was our reality. So we used the sex strike to bring attention to all the other work we had already been doing for years.” -Leymah Gbowee
“We are not a silent majority but a silenced majority.” -Madeleine Rees
“And I’m sure you know, the leader of ISIS was tortured in the US until he became a monster.” -Yanar Mohammed
“Organizing is hard work, it’s dirty work, it’s daily work – we need to do it consistently and persistently. And we need to stop looking for activists on the internet. The activists are doing work in communities.” -Unknown, I think either Radhika Coomaraswamy or Hakima Abbas
“We build a power of WE by being honest – and acknowledging our different positions of power.” -Yifat Susskind
“Men are not the problem. Patriarchy is the problem.” -Unknown
The conference was a great fuel for me in my work around gender and violence. I think there’s more of a need for activists against war at this point. The media and the public already bring attention to slut shaming, rape jokes, and street harassment – and while this isn’t anywhere near enough and so much more progress clearly needs to be made, I like to think that at least we’re on the right track. But war doesn’t seem to be getting any better, any rarer, any less violent.
One concern that I had with the conference was the lack of addressing patriarchal and imperialist structures within our own interactions. It’s one thing to critique governments and militaries, but I don’t think we can call out others if we aren’t practicing using a critical lens on ourselves.
Here were a few of the problems in particular: there was very little critique of the man/woman binary (people enforced cultural expectations of women as nurturers & didn’t address non-binary people); dominance of English (without discussing the history of English as a language of colonial power); and the tendency of the North to talk over people of the South (ie, just because half the room is American should not mean that Americans take up half the time talking… there’s a reason Americans take up all that space – things like travel ease, financial options, etc)
Despite my concerns, I am thrilled to have had the opportunity to join other humans who are working against violence on a global scale."