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COVID-19: Exposing the Fault Lines

2020. A bad start got worse! Who would have thought that the world would enter into lockdown by the end of March because of a virus? Predicted, predictable, perhaps but the COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically exposed the fault lines that WILPF has been drawing attention to throughout our history.

Image credit: WILPF
Madeleine Rees
23 March 2020

2020. A bad start got worse! Who would have thought that the world would enter into lockdown by the end of March because of a virus? Predicted, predictable, perhaps but the COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically exposed the fault lines that WILPF has been drawing attention to throughout our history. Without overstating it, people are paying attention to structures, to economics, to policies, to human rights and – indeed, to music – in ways that were unimaginable before the World Health Organisation declared COVID-19 a pandemic.

We should learn from history.

“Inequalities between people and between nations. Militarism as a way of thought.”

Familiar? It has been the way we at WILPF have framed the analysis since our initial Congress and it has stood us in good stead as we have contextualised and analysed conflict, the impact on the environment, and now the pandemic.

We need to address: how we got here, how we organise, how we respond as individuals and as communities, and what will change when we are finally through this crisis.

In our article What has COVID-19 Taught Us about Neoliberalism?, we seek to answer one of those questions: “how we got here?”, by looking at the political economy and how capitalism and the ideology of neoliberalism has devastated the structures which should ensure cooperation and solidarity. We then in the article Organise or Militarise look into how militarisation as a way of thought has diverted resources away from where they should have been directed, and the inevitable impact that has had on the ability to address the crisis.

Then, we look at the possibilities. In situations of crisis, we have two default positions: we either react with fear and aggression or we cooperate, show solidarity and compassion, and deal with the crisis as a collective. At the moment, both positions are appearing in the way governments and individuals are responding to COVID-19. Response no. 1 encourages militarisation, response no. 2 should not, but we must – as feminist writer, theorist, and professor known for her work on gender and militarism Cynthia Enloe exposes in her article “Waging War” Against a Virus is NOT What We Need to Be Doing – resist the co-option of solidarity into a romanticised story of war and how war makes us “stick together” for the common good. It does not.

COVID-19 will not stop all the other work WILPF is engaged in; wars continue and advantage will be sought whilst attentions are distracted and the implications are, as always, highly gendered. The environment has been given a break, a small one, from our polluting abusive ways, so we must use that break to rethink our way of being.

Flattening the curve is a useful metaphor we will be exploring, as we continue to build our analysis and ways of effecting the structural changes we need.

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Madeleine Rees Portrait

Madeleine Rees

Madeleine Rees is a British lawyer and Secretary-General of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), a role she has held since 2010. For most of her adult life, Rees has worked nationally and internationally to advance human rights, eliminate discrimination, and remove obstacles to justice. As Secretary-General of WILPF, Rees is leading the organisation’s efforts to work through national and international legal frameworks to advance a future of human security and justice for all.

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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