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A Riot in Russia

16 August 2012


This past February, three women from the band Pussy Riot entered the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow, Russia. They issued a “punk prayer” in the form of their song “Mother of God, Drive Putin Out”. After the incident, the women were jailed on charges of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred”.

Their actions were controversial, no doubt, but what has erupted is a political battle and what some have even deemed a “show trial”. The charges can carry a punishment of up to seven years imprisonment, but prosecutors in the case are asking for three.  The past five months of detainment alone are shocking and appear extreme to all those across the world who take their freedom of speech for granted.

The statement made by the band was intended to protest against the presidency of Vladimir Putin and what they see as an alarmingly close relationship between church and state. The head of the Russian Orthodox Church has even stated that Putin’s presidency is a “miracle of God”. Protests have manifested intermittently since last December with calls for democratic and free elections.

Many think that elections in the country have been fraudulent and when Putin retook the presidency in May of this year, more protests broke out in the streets of Moscow. Protestors were met harshly by the police and hundreds were arrested.

Dangerous ideas

Despite no violent history or reason to believe the women from Pussy Riot are physically dangerous, they are kept inside a cage while in the courtroom. But, like many other oppressive regimes, the biggest danger lies not in violence but in an idea—something that no physical structure can suppress.

Supporters are heading to the streets with increased resolve and protests are scheduled in more than two dozen countries for Friday, preceding the verdict. The additional members of Pussy Riot who were not imprisoned are calling for people to come to the streets sporting their balaclavas. Despite knowing the potential consequences women are flocking to the streets, perhaps less fearful than before.

Musicians performing in Russia have made public statements in support of the group. After Madonna called for their release, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin tweeted something along the lines of “With age, every former whore tries to lecture everyone on morality”. Other pro-Russian websites have also called the women sluts– an all too familiar attack when controversial women are in the headlines.

It is unclear what will happen on Friday, but whatever the decision, there will be significant implications. If the members of Pussy Riot are released, then it will be a victory of sorts. If they are sentenced to prison, the movement of supporters will continue to grow and there will be more and more people just like the bands’ members, willing to sacrifice their autonomy, if need be, in pursuit of an ideal.

Change is to come either way, as it usually does when an injustice like this is brought to the surface. In which form, we know not, but we stand by those who are courageously joining the battle for freedom in all its forms.

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Melissa Torres


Prior to being elected Vice-President, Melissa Torres was the WILPF US International Board Member from 2015 to 2018. Melissa joined WILPF in 2011 when she was selected as a Delegate to the Commission on the Status of Women as part of the WILPF US’ Practicum in Advocacy Programme at the United Nations, which she later led. She holds a PhD in Social Work and is a professor and Global Health Scholar at Baylor College of Medicine and research lead at BCM Anti-Human Trafficking Program. Of Mexican descent and a native of the US/Mexico border, Melissa is mostly concerned with the protection of displaced Latinxs in the Americas. Her work includes training, research, and service provision with the American Red Cross, the National Human Trafficking Training and Technical Assistance Centre, and refugee resettlement programs in the U.S. Some of her goals as Vice-President are to highlight intersectionality and increase diversity by fostering inclusive spaces for mentorship and leadership. She also contributes to WILPF’s emerging work on the topic of displacement and migration.

Jamila Afghani


Jamila Afghani is the President of WILPF Afghanistan which she started in 2015. She is also an active member and founder of several organisations including the Noor Educational and Capacity Development Organisation (NECDO). Elected in 2018 as South Asia Regional Representative to WILPF’s International Board, WILPF benefits from Jamila’s work experience in education, migration, gender, including gender-based violence and democratic governance in post-conflict and transitional countries.

Sylvie Jacqueline Ndongmo


Sylvie Jacqueline NDONGMO is a human rights and peace leader with over 27 years experience including ten within WILPF. She has a multi-disciplinary background with a track record of multiple socio-economic development projects implemented to improve policies, practices and peace-oriented actions. Sylvie is the founder of WILPF Cameroon and was the Section’s president until 2022. She co-coordinated the African Working Group before her election as Africa Representative to WILPF’s International Board in 2018. A teacher by profession and an African Union Trainer in peace support operations, Sylvie has extensive experience advocating for the political and social rights of women in Africa and worldwide.

WILPF Afghanistan

In response to the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban and its targeted attacks on civil society members, WILPF Afghanistan issued several statements calling on the international community to stand in solidarity with Afghan people and ensure that their rights be upheld, including access to aid. The Section also published 100 Untold Stories of War and Peace, a compilation of true stories that highlight the effects of war and militarisation on the region. 

IPB Congress Barcelona

WILPF Germany (+Young WILPF network), WILPF Spain and MENA Regional Representative

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WILPF uses feminist analysis to argue that militarisation is a counter-productive and ill-conceived response to establishing security in the world. The more society becomes militarised, the more violence and injustice are likely to grow locally and worldwide.

Sixteen states are believed to have supplied weapons to Afghanistan from 2001 to 2020 with the US supplying 74 % of weapons, followed by Russia. Much of this equipment was left behind by the US military and is being used to inflate Taliban’s arsenal. WILPF is calling for better oversight on arms movement, for compensating affected Afghan people and for an end to all militarised systems.

Militarised masculinity

Mobilising men and boys around feminist peace has been one way of deconstructing and redefining masculinities. WILPF shares a feminist analysis on the links between militarism, masculinities, peace and security. We explore opportunities for strengthening activists’ action to build equal partnerships among women and men for gender equality.

WILPF has been working on challenging the prevailing notion of masculinity based on men’s physical and social superiority to, and dominance of, women in Afghanistan. It recognizes that these notions are not representative of all Afghan men, contrary to the publicly prevailing notion.

Feminist peace​

In WILPF’s view, any process towards establishing peace that has not been partly designed by women remains deficient. Beyond bringing perspectives that encapsulate the views of half of the society and unlike the men only designed processes, women’s true and meaningful participation allows the situation to improve.

In Afghanistan, WILPF has been demanding that women occupy the front seats at the negotiating tables. The experience of the past 20 has shown that women’s presence produces more sustainable solutions when they are empowered and enabled to play a role.

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