Statement for the Celebration of the 150th Anniversary of Jane Addams’s Birth

Statement for the Celebration of the 150th Anniversary of Jane Addams’s Birth and the Tenth Anniversary of the Adoption of United Nations Security Resolution 1325

By Harriet Alonso and Louise W. Knight

Editor’s note: The following is an excerpt of the statement prepared by Alonso and Knight

Addams was particularly concerned about the violence women experienced in times of war and the need for women to participate fully in international peace-making efforts – the two main subjects 1325 addresses. As Addams stated in The Second Twenty Years of Hull-House about her thinking before World War I, “I believed that peace was not merely an absence of war, but the nurture of human life, and that in time this nurture would do away with war as a natural process.”1

The long road to SCR 1325 began soon after World War I erupted in Europe. In April 1915, Addams and other women from Europe and beyond (1,100 delegates in all), came together at an international congress of women at The Hague, The Netherlands. The meeting had been called by a small group of European suffragists to give women from the warring and neutral nations a way to express their horror at the fighting, set out their preferred peace terms, endorse suffrage, and seek a way to end the war quickly. Addams, widely respected as the American leader of the settlement house movement and a leading activist in progressive reforms, including women’s suffrage and peace, presided over the meeting, and was elected president of the resulting organization, the International Committee of Women for Permanent Peace.

The meeting adopted a set of groundbreaking resolutions that it then presented to officials of the neutral and belligerent governments. When the war ended, the Committee met again, in Zurich in 1919, and adopted a new name, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, and a new set of remarkable resolutions. These were intended to guide the decisions about the peace treaty then under discussion in Paris and to influence the laws nations would adopt in the wake of the war. In the decades that followed, the international women’s peace movement expanded. Groups such as Women Waging Peace, the Hague Appeal for Peace and others built international women’s networks, and, eventually, the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace, and Security was formed to press the U.N. to take action. This led, in 2000, to the Security Council’s adopting SCR 1325.

Two themes run through the early WILPF resolutions and SCR 1325. First is the need for nations to protect women and children from the violence which accompanies all war. The U.N. resolution states that women and children refugees and those that are internally displaced are “increasingly . . .  targeted by combatants and armed elements” or are victims of “gender-based violence, particularly rape and other forms of sexual abuse.” Similarly, the 1915 Hague resolutions “vehemently” protested “the odious wrongs of which women are the victims in time of war, and especially against the horrible violation of women which attends all war.” The 1915 resolutions also spoke against displacement of nationals and the arbitrary taking of each country’s lands as bounty of war without the approval of its residents. In the 1919 resolutions WILPF women broadened their concern about violence and displacement, declaring that “the traffic in women should be suppressed, the regulation of vice abolished and the equal moral standard recognized.”

The second theme common to WILPF’s early resolutions and SCR 1325 is the role of women in peacemaking. The UN resolution stresses the “important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts and in peace-building,” emphasizes the need for U.N. member states to increase the representation of women at decision-making levels in national, regional, and international institutions and in the U.N., but particularly in “field-based operations, and especially among military observers, civilian police, human rights and humanitarian personnel.”  Similarly, in 1915, before the League of Nations existed and when few women in the world could vote, the women at The Hague stressed the urgent need for women to have “equal political rights with men,” particularly because “the combined influence of the women of all countries is one of the strongest forces for the prevention of war.” The 1915 resolutions also urged the creation of a “Society of Nations,” to work for a “constructive peace,” and a world court. In 1919, WILPF women continued to stress the importance of women’s enfranchisement worldwide, of laws giving women other equal rights to men, and of adding women’s voices to the deliberations of foreign affairs. There were, of course, no women delegates to the Versailles Peace Conference and there was little mention of women’s issues in war or women as peace makers in the proposals for the treaty.

History’s continuity creates a meaningful celebration in the fall of 2010 of the anniversaries of Addams’s birth and the UN resolution’s adoption but also suggests a sobering message. Women’s continuing, and disproportionate, suffering in war and exclusion as peacemakers remind us that these anniversaries cannot be simply celebratory.  They must also be a spur. There is a lot left to do and these issues have been on the world’s reform agenda for far too long. 

1. Jane Addams, The Second Twenty Years at Hull House (NY: Macmillan, 1930), 35.

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