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Day 4: Australia – the Uncritical Us Ally?

28 November 2012

Australia is usually seen as a progressive society, with an excellent reputation for upholding United Nations’ Treaties. However, over the last decade there have been a number of changes taking place that have tended to ’politicise’ situations and turn issues such as asylum seekers into security threats and a greater willingness to participate in wars in countries not necessarily seen as a threat by the general population (e.g. Iraq and Afghanistan). These changes inordinately affect women as money goes into executing wars, thus reducing funding for meeting human needs. Some women’s personal autonomy has also been reduced through new punitive domestic legislation.

Photo of US drone
US drone

Following Australia’s involvement in both World Wars and the disastrous Vietnam War, the Australian people have become increasingly ‘anti-war’, opposing war as the way to resolve international conflict. There were large public demonstrations against Australia’s involvement in the 2003 Iraq War, which proceeded without parliamentary vote, requiring only the decision of the current Prime Minister, John Howard, to involve Australia in it.

Australian citizens see this as a violation of the rights of Australians to have such important decisions made without the participation of our democratically elected representatives in parliament.

Several calls to address this situation have failed. Both major political parties prefer the right for the party in power to make the important decision, without parliamentary support. We want to reduce the likelihood of all wars, as we know the terrible impact they have on the populations of all sides involved and particularly on civilians.

More and more Australians are questioning our role in Afghanistan, especially as large numbers of civilian deaths are revealed. We are asking the question particularly, ‘Are drone strikes actually legal?’ We are currently seeking legal advice from both the Australian Red Cross and the Australian government to clarify this. Drones highlight the change in methods of warfare taking place. Who is responsible for a drone killing families?  This also needs to be clarified. These scenarios need urgent international legislative review. Again, the impact on women and families, the creation of widows and orphans, is unjustifiable.

Australia is currently coupled with the US in these wars through a long standing ANZUS Treaty, aligning us closer and closer with US foreign policy.  Equipment is now designed to be “interoperable” and recently, for the first time, our Prime Minister announced that 2,500 US troops would be permanently stationed at our northern Darwin base.

Many Australians are increasingly concerned that we are becoming uncritical US allies. We see this as a violation of our right as citizens to develop our own independent foreign policy. We would like to see Australia build friendships, trust and partnerships with our regional neighbours, rather than be seen by them as an extension of US foreign policy. We want to support the right of women in all countries to live a life free from war and all forms of violence.

The most recent example of state violence has been metered out to asylum-seekers, fleeing from war zones such as Iraq, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, attempting to arrive in Australia by boat. Shrill parliamentary debates have resulted in worsening policies that now see asylum-seekers imprisoned for an indeterminate time in ‘off-shore’ countries such as Nauru, denied processing of their refugee status claims for years and eventually being processed under non-existent Nauruan law. They are also denied access to Australian courts to contest this treatment.

We hope this blog will alert others that governments can quickly change policies that can seriously impact both their own citizens as well as those in war zones, with women and families often bearing the brunt of such brutal policies.

By Ruth Russell & Barbara O’Dwyer, Joint National Coordinators for WILPF Australia

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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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