As Cynthia Enloe so poignantly remarks, language matters, and it matters because it’s how we tell stories and make reports which then define how we respond, and how we respond becomes our history. So the question is; how does the language we use impact gender analysis itself? In other words, how can we use language as an entry point to analyse gendered power dynamics, how does it affect actions, and how can we strategically use it to advocate for our goals? A case which compelled our attention was the work of the Independent Commission of Inquiry (COI) for Syria, not least because of the impressions it was creating as to the role of women. WILPF has been bringing attention to the gendered impact of the Syrian conflict for two years now, liaising with local partners and Sections, bringing women’s rights activists in the region together to strategise, and more. We knew what amazing work is being done by women and the role they are playing in a multiplicity of different contexts. Not passive victims. Not at all. So to understand the extent of the deceit, we commissioned two brilliant students from the Graduate Institute in Geneva to conduct a study of the reports from a gender perspective and then the responses by States through the Resolution on Syria in the Human Rights Council (HRC). The study, titled “A gendered analysis: examining how women and gender in the Syrian conflict are addressed by the UN Human Rights Council”, uses discourse analysis, or analysis of language “beyond the sentence”, looking at language, gender, and crisis, and its effects on women’s inclusion in peacebuilding processes. The results were quite shocking. The COI almost exclusively refers to women as victims of sexual violence, the HRC and COI documents construct women as agentless participants. Conversely, men are rarely mentioned as a separate entity, and have multiple and important identities ascribed to them, variously mentioned as; civilians (as if women are NOT civilians!), combatants, medical personnel, or journalists. So if that’s what your story tells you, why would you talk to women to devise your peace process and the future of the country? Secretary General Madeleine Rees urges us to pay attention to how we use language, since it will have an impact beyond the words themselves. Changing the way we use language will have an impact beyond the words themselves. We must acknowledge the different ways that the conflict affects both men and women, and move from women’s portrayal as agentless victims of sexual violence to more complex understandings of them as agents of change. We encourage you to read the report and think about the power of your words to make change.
There are few people who can speak with the authority of experience, an experience of violence, hatred and seemingly intractable positions, and who know how solutions can be found. Archbishop Tutu is one of them, perhaps the only one whose words are based in his deep love for humanity and his belief in our ability to rise above our fears to find peace with each other. Supporting his plea and signing the petition calling on companies to boycott and divest from the Israeli occupation and repression of Palestine is one way you can be on the side of peace. His call is to be read, listened to and acted upon.
Indirect talks to broker an end to the conflict in Gaza are taking place in Cairo between representatives from Israel and Hamas, mediated by Egypt. The negotiations are aimed at obtaining a long-term ceasefire agreement to end a confrontation which erupted on July 8 and which has claimed the lives of 1,940 Palestinians, mostly civilians, and 67 people on the Israeli side, most of them soldiers. Women and children in Gaza have been disproportionally hit by the effects of more than one month of massive and disproportionate bombardments. Currently there is no indication that women are being consulted in the peace talk efforts in Egypt, nor that pressure has been made by the international community to ensure their effective participation. It has been said again and again by the Member States of the United Nations Security Council, by the international human rights bodies and by Governments, in their commitment to the Women, Peace and Security agenda, that participation and consultation with women from the civil society and comprehensive attention to women’s rights issues are critical elements of achieving a just and sustainable peace. But where are the women? Once the negotiations have been closed it will be too late. In their statement issued yesterday, inter alia the CEDAW Committee called for the implementation of Security Council Resolution commitments. WILPF endorses absolutely their demands and calls for: the full involvement and equal participation of women in the resolution of the conflict and current peace talks between Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories; the integration of a women’s rights and gender perspective in all processes related to the resolution of the conflict and the collective responsibility of the international community to ensure their participation; consultations with women groups and incorporating gender perspective into all aspects of the humanitarian response in Gaza. In the upcoming weeks, during the 27th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, WILPF will host a side event to discuss the situation in Gaza and stress the need to comply with Resolution 1325 to ensure the consultation and participation of women in peace negotiations. Check back our website for more info on WILPF’s side event on the conflict in Gaza.
All of WILPF along with most of the world have been appalled at what has been occurring in Gaza. I have been following it and working closely with lawyers from a variety of backgrounds and geographic locations to try to see if there is a way forward that is not so blinded by politics and economic interests so that it fails to address the real issues of the violation of international law which has lead to death, injury and destruction. There has to be a more civilised way for the world to organise itself and there is, it is called law and states must uphold it. At present they do not. It has been brought to my attention by some WILPF members that we should promote the legal perspectives on the conflict. I have read the following two articles with great interest and would like to share their perspectives. Firstly, the Human Rights Watch Q and A explains the various elements of law, which are implicated in armed conflict. Secondly, the Legal Opinion, is the analysis of how that applies to the situation in Gaza and you will note is endorsed by some of the most eminent lawyers in the world. I agree with what the articles say and we are now ready to move to addressing the issue of how to assert that there is a legal obligation on States to take legal action when another State is engaged in attacks on a civilian population. We then have to engage on what must be done to ameliorate the situation inside Gaza and ensure that the international community act on their responsibilities. In the interim, I would like to encourage everyone and especially the WILPF Sections to lobby their governments to encourage the Palestinians to use the International Criminal Court as part of an accountability strategy, which resorts to law rather than violence. At present the international community are coercing them not to, in the spurious notion that it would impede peace negotiations. The multilateral system has been abused too long, we need to reclaim it and assert its original purpose: to maintain international peace and security. International law can help us to do that.
WILPF’s Disarmament team present at the conference in Mexico. From left; Mia Gandenberger, Beatrice Fihn, Joy Ada Onyesoh of WILPF Nigeria, Gabriella Irsten and Ray Acheson. Today is the first day in the office without Beatrice Fihn. Many of you will have been avid followers of Reaching Critical Will and their amazing work on all things military; from the nuclear weapons to killer robots, explosive weapons, small arms…you name it, if it can kill you they have been on it. For the past four years, Beatrice has been the Geneva face and voice, of all of this: indefatigable in the Conference on Disarmament, greatly respected by diplomats even when she was telling them off, always creative and thoughtful as to building RCW as part of WILPF and not being satisfied with the status quo. She has left us for a good reason: to run the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. She has been WILPF’s liaison to them for long enough for them to realize how indispensible she is so they have now formalized her. You can’t blame them. So off you go, Bea! Be brilliant, thank you from all of us for the amazing work over the years. You will be missed, but you will be close, and you are forever a WILPF member so you can never really escape us!! Best wishes, Madeleine (and all the staff)
No one could have failed to take notice of what is happening in Ukraine and specifically the Crimea. Arguments for the rights of all parties are being thrashed out in the Russian media, in the Western media and international fora and there are truths and lies in both. International lawyers voice different opinions as to the legality of the actions of both the Russian authorities and the Ukrainians. Of course, its what lawyers do; justify the action of your client. But with rhetoric being ratcheted up on all sides, with militarism now escalating, and more lives being lost, where are the voices of reason? Those who reject violence as a means of dispute resolution? Below is a strong message from Russian feminists who are doing what WILPF did in 1915: standing up against the narrative of war, and providing a truthful reflection of its reality for women. They are taking risks to say this. It might even be that giving them support increases that risk. What we must be doing is getting our own voices heard with our own governments, supporting a political settlement and eschewing the threat or use of force. PROTESTING FOR PEACE On International Women’s day this year in Moscow, Russian feminists gathered in an antiwar protest supporting Ukraine women and a resolution to the violence. The activists were attacked by onlookers, thus marking the second year of peaceful protests prosecuted, as the previous year they were targeted by police. Below is their statement, kindly translated by Valerie Sperling from the original text. War is always frightening. Even if it's a war of liberation, a "civilized" war, a war "on a higher level" - it brings death and violence regardless. War is a proclamation of the power of force, military diktat, the cultivation of aggression, impunity for "collateral" crimes, and so on -- it is patriarchy in pure form. Feminists are against war by definition. Not because of some ephemeral, ostensibly congenital, women's pacifism and other nonsense about women's "destiny" to only give birth and care for others, but because it's women who turn out to be the most marginal - it's us who are going to be raped by the occupiers and the liberators, it's our children who we carried and nourished with our own bodies, who are going to be killed; it's we who have to work the machines while the men are off killing each other; it's us who will be chased into military brothels to satisfy the "natural needs" of soldiers, and it's we who will be told to push away our demands for equality, and meekly give birth to more new sons of the nation and be obedient helpers to men. We support the Ukrainian women in their efforts to bring order in their country. We support their protest against the occupier-aggression of Russia. We saw how the efforts of women on Maidan were neutralized, and how attempts were made to instill in them the idea that they were only there to bring sandwiches [...]
As some of you already know, our WILPF sister and friend, Mary Alys has died. Mary was kind, she was strong, principled, and passionate. She was admired for her intelligence and thoughtfulness, her patience and decency and she was loved for all of these, for who she was and how she lived. She embodied everything that WILPF aspires to be. She was greatly loved and loved greatly and we will all miss her. Mary Alys Funeral Arrangements Friday 31st May Mary Alys was buried at the Natural Burial Ground, Keyham Lane East, near Scraptoft, Leicestershire, LE7 9TA on Friday 31st May 2013. Contributions - instead of flowers - were shared between three of Mary’s preferred organisations/projects: The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom The Panama School, La Concha, Nicaragua The Mary Alys Trust her new charitable trust for the education of boys and girls and young people in peace and reconciliation, justice and equality bringing into account the principles of feminism.
It is interesting that the reproduction of a FEMEN protest has done exactly what they wanted: to provoke shock and response! (Most response is positive, by the way). There are many takes on FEMEN. I have heard older feminists saying that this is not what women have fought for: to go bare our bodies, even if for political aims. I have heard many more, particularly younger feminists, lauding the bravery of these Ukraine-based women, whose protests were born out of the normalised misogyny that underpins Ukrainian society. Confront your tormentor with the focus of such torment: your female body. Feminist protests look different everywhere. Stating that your body belongs only to you by undressing yourself is one way of protesting against a patriarchal society. WILPF does not argue that all women must do the same: there are a million different ways of working for women’s rights. We do not say you need to undress to be a feminist. But we are saying that any woman has the right to undress if she wants to, just as you have the right to wear whatever you want to. Whatever we personally think, it has to be recognised that FEMEN women make a point: they have revived protests of a different kind. Moreover, the issues they draw attention to, sometimes through shocking protests, are all the things that are actually debated in such places as the Human Rights Council and the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). Their unusual communication strategy is successful in bringing up many of the Human Rights that we are all aiming for. Their protest was aimed at showing support for Amina Tyler, a Tunisian woman who had been targeted after posting topless pictures online. She received death threats and religious leaders called for her stoning or flogging, on the basis of her “immorality”. You can call me old-fashioned, but I simply do not get how a man can enjoy the freedom of his religion to demand the death of a women who is merely exerting her own rights to her own body. This is not cultural relativism; it is old-fashioned patriarchy. The message of FEMEN women is feminist and international. They have a go at anything that is used to discriminate, victimise and oppress women. If you look at what they have done, you will see that they are at odds with as diverse (or actually, not so diverse) a group of men as the Pope, the Patriarch and Putin. They are against patriarchy. I don’t see this protest as anti-Muslim. Not at all. Instead, it demonstrates that women in every region of the world should not accept unquestioningly ideas that cultural rules and religious beliefs are excuses for abandoning a women’s right to her own body. It is about protecting women’s rights in the face of a backlash dressed up as “traditional values”, religion, security or protection of the family. Saying that it is fine for us to control our bodies, to have freedom of movement [...]
Today, there have been reports that chemical weapons have been used in Syria. There has been no acknowledgement of responsibility, of course, but claims and counter claims are being made with the supports of each party joining in to accuse the other. This makes a mockery of the lives that have been lost and are being lost as a result of this seemingly intractable conflict. A crime against humanity? The use, possession and stockpiling of chemical weapons is illegal under the Chemical Weapons Convention. Syria is not a party, but Russia and the other permanent members of the Security Council are. This is recognition that using such weapons does indeed cross a line, one which Obama has referred to, if such weapons were to be used in Syria. Since 1925 and the Geneva Protocol, which Syria has signed, there has been recognition that the use of such weapons would constitute a crime against humanity. What about the ‘Responsibility to Protect’? Now that a crime against humanity seems to have been committed by a party to a conflict, the International Community really has to decide what it means by ‘Responsibility to Protect’. The doctrine demands that when a State is unable to protect its citizens from such crimes, there be an international response. That response falls to the Security Council. Time to sit down and talk UN Photo/Devra Berkowitz The members of the Security Council must not use this escalation to further entrench their own positions vis-à-vis the parties. Any military response will merely kill more civilians. There is now an absolute obligation on the Security Council to sit down, put its regional differences on one side and talk about the protection of civilians and the end of the conflict. They must demand and enforce a complete arms embargo on both sides and use the leverage they have to bring the warring parties to the table. They need to do what they are supposed to do: drawing a line on using violence to end conflict, act like civilized human beings and talk!