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Women, peace and disarmament

A Women's Day for Peace?

Sandwiched between International Conscientious Objectors' Day (15 May), and International Day for Children as Victims of War (4 June), is another opportunity for action: 24 May, International Women's Day for Peace and Disarmament (IWDPD).

This day began in Europe in the early 1980s, when hundreds of thousands of women organised against nuclear weapons and the arms race. Activists in the then-numerous women's peace groups declared the day in order to stimulate even more women's peace actions.

As the anti-nuclear weapons movement declined in Europe, so did activities on the day. A handful of international women peace activists, meeting in the Peace Tent at the 1995 UN World Conference on Women in Beijing, decided to re-vitalise the day, again in order to stimulate women's peace activities, but also to gain more recognition for what women activists are already doing.

Challenging militarism

These two goals remain valid and important. There has been an increase in lip service to the idea that women have an essential role in building peace and challenging militarism. But the reality of sexism, both within peace movements and in the wider world, continues to undermine and block women's full participation.

IWDPD on 24 May is an opportunity to encourage more women to get involved in peace actions, to show concrete solidarity with women working for peace in the midst of conflicts and to celebrate peace women's accomplishments.

Awareness and action

Since 1995, the International Fellowship of Reconciliation and the International Peace Bureau have published an annual 24 May action pack to raise awareness of and increase support for women's peace initiatives.

The pack includes profiles of women's peace campaigns and groups, a list of suggestions for actions, and an international directory of women's peace groups. A poster on the year's theme is frequently included. Past issues have focused on women's peace initiatives in Latin America, Africa and the Middle East; and have been translated into Spanish, French and Arabic.

The pack has succeeded in encouraging some actions, in countries as far apart as Azerbaijan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, India and Sierra Leone. In Norway a women's rowing group hold an annual fundraiser on the day and donate the proceeds to a women's peace group in Africa or Asia.

Last year 24 May was celebrated in Fiji with the inaugural broadcast of mobile women's community radio project called “Women speaking to Women on Peace”. In South Korea, Women Making Peace organised a press conference that called for a review of the deployment of South Korean troops in Iraq. There were similar petition campaigns, marches and seminars in Bangladesh, Malaysia, Serbia, Switzerland and the Netherlands.

Learning from each other

Responses from the pack's readers' surveys show that women activists in more isolated situations gain a sense of connection to a larger movement from the pack and from the day. They appreciate the stories of what women peace activists are doing in other countries, the posters, and the fact that pack is printed in languages other than English.

Has the day encouraged more recognition of what women peacemakers are accomplishing? This is far more difficult to gauge. But it is one reason why promotion of the day is important, as we all can learn from the strategies, experiences, successes and failures of women's peace activism. Devoting one day in the year towards this is a small step in the right direction.

For a free copy of each year's 24 May action pack email s.Anderson@ifor.org, or see http://www.ifor.org/WPP.

Shelley Andersen is a nonviolence trainer and Programme Officer for the International Fellowship of Reconciliation's Women Peacemakers Programme.

Topics: War and peace | Women