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Cross Learning for Peace and Social Change with US Women Civil Society Activists

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.

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WILPF International Secretariat
2 June 2018

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.

Participants of the workshop are working to unify their strategies for gender equality and sustainable peace (Photo: Guerline Jozef)

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.

Find out more about the Peace and Social Change workshop organised by the Women, Peace and Security Program here>>

Learn more about the work of WILPF’s section in the United States here>>

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WILPF International Secretariat

WILPF International Secretariat, with offices in Geneva and New York, liaises with the International Board and the National Sections and Groups for the implementation of WILPF International Programme, resolutions and policies as adopted by the International Congress. Under the direction of the Secretary-General, the Secretariat also provides support in areas of advocacy, communications, and financial operations.

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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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