“…this may be the last time our voice is heard here……” excerpt from WILPF Statement to the UN‘s Conference on Disarmament on International Women's Day 2015, prepared and delivered by Reaching Critical Will, a program of WILPF
Speaking truth to power at the UN
The UN has become a citadel of nations, ruled over by five nuclear potentates with veto power in the Security Council. Periodically the fortress is besieged by civil society organizations knocking on the door for entry, raising their banners for peace and justice. This is most observable at the meeting of the Commission on the Status of Women during the first two weeks of March. Women flood the Church Center across the street from the UN, overflowing into the Armenian Convention Center down Second Avenue, sharing issues, strategies and concerns. Members of each women’s NGO share a limited number of passes to the UN building itself.
This year, in a different UN body, on International Women’s Day, something unprecedented happened. It was a David and Goliath moment. It’s been a long time coming – and, though largely symbolic, it made me proud that my organization, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, took a stand in an environment that has become painfully submissive.
More precisely we resigned from monitoring and engaging with the Conference on Disarmament.
We, who are proud of being the first NGO to be affiliated with the UN through the Economic and Social Council back when the UN was getting started in 1946; we who see – or saw – the UN as a feminist organization dedicated to saving ‘succeeding generations from the scourge of war’; we who recognized it as one of the few places where small nations could have a voice; in short, we who have tried to engage with this body that has been highjacked by corporate and nuclear powers, we said enough is enough.
Didn’t read about it in the NY Times? OK here’s the story, with a bit of background. The Conference on Disarmament is the forum that has been used by its member states, currently numbering 65, to negotiate the Biological Weapons Convention and the Chemical Weapons Convention. Since 1996, it has not negotiated any treaties or even agreed on which treaty to next negotiate, and it has put roadblocks in the way of any substantive conversation with civil society. These roadblocks, termed indignities in Reaching Critical Will’s statement, are not experienced at other disarmament forums—not, RCW said, “at the First Committee, not at meetings of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, not at meetings of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.”
For the last few years, WILPF has been permitted to deliver a statement to the Conference on Disarmament to mark International Women’s Day., This is the only time of year that any voice from civil society is allowed inside the CD chamber.
Mia Gandenberger, staff person at Reaching Critical Will, a WILPF program that monitors the UN on disarmament issues, delivered the statement this year. She said “… this may be the last time our voice is heard here…This is a body that has firmly established that it operates in a vacuum. That it is disconnected from the outside world. That it has lost perspective of the bigger picture of human suffering and global injustice. Maintaining the structures that reinforce deadlock has become more important than fulfilling the objective for which it was created—negotiating disarmament treaties.
We can no longer invest effort into such a body.
Instead we will continue our work elsewhere. There is much work to be done….”
Indeed. WILPF is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. It was founded in 1915 at a conference at the Hague dedicated to stopping WW1, by women who were global activists even before they had the vote. Before any super-national organizations such as the League of Nations or the UN existed, they used grassroots diplomacy to reach the men in charge: travelling from belligerent to neutral governments and knocking on the doors of power. We are still knocking on doors. Despite a UN resolution that mandates women’s role at the table when peace settlements are negotiated, Syrian women (the latest example) were denied a seat at the failed talks in 2013.
Women are frustrated. We are impatient at watching wars metastasize around the planet, watching the elements of our sacred earth mined and melted into bullets and missiles.
We will be bringing our energy together at our 100th anniversary conference Women Stop War from April 27 to 29.
We women from the USA, the largest exporter of bullets and missiles in the world, will be meeting together with women from the front lines of violence, women living in communities that have been decimated by war and rape and dislocation. We will be inspired by our Manifesto, the result of three years of work and editing by women from the 36 country sections we have around the world:
We are renewing WILPF’s commitment to eradicating war by addressing its root causes. Among them we identify:
Militarism as a way of thought, and the militarization of societies, such that perceived –threats are likely to be met with weaponry rather than words;
The capitalist economic system, involving the exploitation of the labor and resources of the many by the few, wantonly harming people and the environment, generating conglomerates of global reach and unaccountable power;
The nation-state system as it is today, involving dominant states, imperialist projects, inter-state rivalry, contested borders, and inside those borders, all too often, failure of democracy, resulting in political repression and intolerance of diversity;
Social systems of racist supremacy, cultural domination and religious hierarchy;
Patriarchy, the subordination of women by men, in state, community and family, perpetuated by the social shaping of men and women into contrasted, unequal and limiting gender identities, favoring violent masculinities and compliant femininities.
We understand these as intersected and mutually reinforcing systems of power, all founded on violence and together productive of war.
I encourage you to read our Manifesto (which will be made public on April 29th) at http://www.womenstopwar.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/Draft-6-edited_1.pdf to find our creative 100 year plan. It ends with this challenge to the next generation:
Violence is not inevitable. It is a choice.
We will implement peace, which we believe to be a human right.