Story of Change

Feminist visions of peace must be inclusive, locally led and intergenerational if they are to have a chance at succeeding. If we allow ourselves to be guided by the wisdom of our elders and the vigour of our youth, we can be empowered to take on centuries-old systems of oppression.

In this story, we are putting the spotlight on moments from the past year that showcased our ties to the past and brought focus to what lies ahead for the future as we work to build a better tomorrow.

These are just a few of the many stories of brave women coming together to address injustices. Here’s to many more!

A moment for remembrance

It is important not to forget the sisters who walked the feminist peace road with us, and who have sadly left our sides this year. Among many who will be dearly missed, we remember Cynthia Cockburn and Dahabo Ahmed.

Portrait of activist Cynthia Cockburn

An activist-academic, Cynthia Cockburn was an incredible advocate for women’s rights and peace and for advancing understanding of the links between the two (and more). She authored the WILPF 2015 Manifesto and provided insightful guidance to our work. Cynthia passed away on 12 September 2019.

Portrait of activist Dahabo Ahmed

Dahabo Ahmed led initiatives for women’s empowerment for over a decade and was a determined and compassionate activist. Her advocacy focused on women in Somalia and in the Somalian diaspora in the UK, and she had recently launched the WILPF Somalia Group. Sadly, Dahabo Ahmed passed away on 28 October 2019.

We also wish to pay tribute to the hundreds of brave women peace activists whose lives were cut short due to unfathomable violence. Your stories will not be forgotten, and we will continue to seek justice in your names.

Our history re-enacted

2019 marked 100 years since the second WILPF Congress at the Glockenhof-Hotel in Zürich, when our constitution was first written and the world’s first international peace organisation established.

At that meeting, WILPF was officially founded by 137 women who came together after the First World War to ensure that history would not repeat itself, and that women would play a critical role in ongoing global peacebuilding efforts. At that time, the organisation was known as the International Committee of Women for Peace.

In 2019, 170 WILPF members from all over the world gathered once again at the Glockenhof-Hotel in Zürich for a reenactment of the original Congress and to rediscover the courage of the organisation’s foremothers. The event paid tribute to the founders’ commitment to establish the League of Nations, to promote universal disarmament and to advocate for women’s participation at all levels of decision-making. The members came dressed for the occasion in early-20th century costumes and discussed strategies for ensuring these founding principles remain relevant, visible and productive today and into the future.

The event was a key highlight of a major project called Women Vote Peace led by WILPF Germany in collaboration with WILPF Sections from all over Europe. Co-funded by the European Commission, Women Vote Peace advanced feminist initiatives in Austria, Hungary and Poland that celebrated the achievement of women’s voting rights and political initiatives toward sustainable peace.

1919 Zurich Congress
WILPF members reenacting the WILPF’s 2nd Congress which gave WILPF its name and took place under the same roof in 1919.

Following the 100th anniversary gathering, WILPF Germany led the creation of the Women Vote Peace book to summarise the day’s re-enacted events and discussions, paying tribute to our history.

Text that says: "As for our more recent history, WILPF's Reaching Critical Will programme turned 20 years old! Leading analysis and advocacy efforts for a gender-sensitive approach to disarmament, many of Reaching Critical Will's recommendations have been included in local, regional and international discussions."

Peace activism starts early

Afghan children in a refugees camp holding peace signs.
Text that says: "Photo by WILPF Afghanistan"

To ensure the sustainability of our work, lessons in must begin at an early age. This will mean less time spent unlearning the harmful messages of patriarchy, militarism and capitalist neoliberalism, and more time spent spreading the teachings of feminist peace.

Text that says: "A culture of peace promotes the well-being of individuals, communities and the planet!"

Many of our Sections have worked hard to engage the youngest of peacebuilders. WILPF Uganda, for instance, has made important strides forward to involve and build the capacity of youth in the WILPF Uganda Section – including the formation of Peace Youth Clubs in schools and communities.

WILPF Afghanistan is also committed to involving young people in peacebuilding activities, particularly around efforts to reverse environmental destruction created by years of conflict. With support from WILPF’s Environment Grant, members of WILPF Afghanistan started a campaign to engage planting trees throughout Kabul in an effort led by local women schoolteachers. Through the A Tree for Green Afghanistan project, 100 teachers, scholars, activists and young people worked together to plant trees across Kabul. Children learned about environmental protection and planted and nurtured trees to sow the seeds of change. The Section has also now developed a manual on the environment, training materials and brochures for distribution to the public.

Meanwhile, members of Young WILPF Cameroon actively promoted the message of peace all year long! In 2018, young members were trained on leadership and non-violent communication, the Youth, Peace and Security framework and participation in peaceful electoral processes. In 2019, these lessons were brought to life. Young WILPF Cameroon members ran awareness-raising campaigns throughout the year and played an important role in supporting WILPF Cameroon’s functions.

Looking back, moving forward

It will take a sustained and concerted effort before we find ourselves living in a world free of oppressive structures – a world in which each individual can realise their potential.

But we must not lose sight of how far we have come and the milestones we have reached. We extend our gratitude and support to all of the women paving the way forward to feminist peace.