Cross Learning for Peace and Social Change with US Women Civil Society Activists
On 21-22 May 2018, WILPF joined a diverse group of 30 women social justice activists, practitioners and academics from across the United States at the workshop organised by Nobel Peace Laureate Leymah Gbowee and the Columbia University’s Women, Peace and Security Programme. As part of our work on movement building for feminist peace, WILPF’s Women, Peace and Security Programme Associate Marina Kumskova participated in exchanging experience with US women activists and strategising around building collective action for gender justice and sustainable peace.
Although the international community focuses on the implementation of the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) primarily in conflict and post-conflict settings, the workshop demonstrated that the full realisation of the WPS Agenda is relevant and important to implement in all Member States, including developed countries.
The situation for women civil society in the Global North and in the Global South has substantial parallels. Just as with women in Libya and Yemen, women civil society activists in the US face ongoing challenges in accessing public spheres and overcoming gender stereotypes. Like women in Bosnia, human rights activists in the US are working to overcome the lack of access to economic and social resources, with a disproportionate impact on women. As in the situation in Egypt, women civil society in the US faces great challenges in accessing funding and securing long-term sustainability.
The impact of patriarchy and gender inequality on feminist organising challenges the foundations of peace across the globe. Along with militarism, environmental degradation, the growth and strengthening of transnational corporations, gun violence and other obstacles to peace, the “shrinking space” for civil society is the product of gender norms and the stereotypical vision of policy-makers in every country on this planet. This vision is part of the fabric of all societies, which plays an important role in determining how men, women, boys and girls access services and rights, how much power they have over resources and how they can influence decision-making.
As one of the participants pointed out: “The current understanding of power is damaging. Once you gain some kind of power, you are a different person, unless you purposely commit to remaining in your communities and work to support it.” Only with such activism and dedication, feminist movement can gain enough power to transform change towards sustainable peace. Remaining in their communities, women facilitate support for survivors, initiate humanitarian interventions and build communities of trust. Grassroots activists have the vision, independence, leadership, and skills that the international community and Member States need to create needed changes for feminist peace.
These women’s vision for sustainable peace and gender justice is simple: cooperative economics; collective responsibility; the ability to exercise self-determination and the freedom of choice. As WILPF’s 1915 Manifesto suggests, “our common ideals afford a basis upon which a magnanimous and honourable peace might be established”.
While many social justice activists work towards the same goal, patriarchal gendered norms create major obstacles to working together. Activists can become isolated due to competition for resources. Activists are constrained by the scope of change that is needed to transform a system that is currently so built based on political economies — not of care — but of militarism and violence.
However, transformative change is possible, as long as activists recognise commonalities and strategise together for collective feminist action that leverages our diversity and strengths. By connecting the action of those engaged at different strategic points — whether art and media, police, local parliamentarians, or international policymakers – activists can amplify and synergise their work to shift systems towards political economies of justice and peace.
Learn more about the work of WILPF’s section in the United States here>>