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International Day of Peace 2020 Finds a World in Crisis

In 1981, the United Nations General Assembly declared 21 September as the International Day of Peace – a day meant to inspire people and nations to double down on their commitments in pursuit of peace.

Image credit: WILPF
WILPF International Secretariat
21 September 2020

Leer este artículo en español. Traducción ofrecida por Adilia Caravaca Zuniga, ex presidenta de LIMPAL.

In 1981, the United Nations General Assembly declared 21 September as the International Day of Peace – a day meant to inspire people and nations to double down on their commitments in pursuit of peace. 

In the midst of a global pandemic that has starkly exposed the failures of certain UN Member States – particularly the permanent members of the UN Security Council – to prioritise international peace and security over their own self interest, the UN has chosen “Shaping Peace Together” as the theme of International Day of Peace 2020

In naming this theme, the United Nations has asked people around the world to “stand together with the UN against attempts to use the virus to promote discrimination and hatred.” 

Yet at the same time that the UN Secretariat implores governments and citizens to work together toward a future of peace, due to the behaviour of certain Member States the United Nations is no longer a functioning system capable of upholding the goals and principles on which it was founded.

As an early advocate of multilateralism and the formation of the United Nations, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom has long been an ally and observer of the UN, its systems, and its commitments as laid out in the Preamble of its Charter

But in 2020, 75 years after the United Nations was created, those systems are broken; those commitments are not being kept. 

We will not be silent on this declared “day of peace”. 

A world in crisis

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the extraordinary inequities and destructive systems plaguing our world, created and compounded by the profit-driven structures of capitalism, militarism, racism, and patriarchy. 

For example:

  • All forms of gender-based violence have increased worldwide with the escalation of the pandemic, particularly domestic violence. 
  • At least half of the world’s population does not have access to essential health services, a reality that has been exacerbated by the pressures of the pandemic on health systems and workers.
  • COVID-19 is a result of environmental degradation and climate change, yet solutions to address these challenges have been reduced or set aside in light of the pandemic. 
  • Capitalism and neoliberalism have aggravated inequalities between people and countries, directly impacting the ways in which individuals and governments are able to respond to COVID-19.  
  • Although the UN Secretary-General called for a global ceasefire in March to allow citizens and governments to respond to the pandemic, it was met with apathy by members of the Security Council and arms production and military activities have persisted nearly unabated

Each of these realities points to years of failure on the part of certain UN Member States, and specifically the UN Security Council, to live up to the principles and ideals on which the UN was founded 75 years ago. 

The UN and COVID-19: Dire lack of action and transparency 

The COVID-19 pandemic has also exacerbated the UN’s existing challenges and failures. 

For example: 

  • As above, the UN Security Council did not adopt a resolution on the UN Secretary-General’s call for ceasefire until July, and the resolution itself is deeply inadequate: it does not apply to any Council-designated “terrorist” group, a caveat that allows military action in numerous regions and territories around the world to continue. 
  • Some of the protocols of the United Nations General Assembly have been compromised. For example, in March the President of the UNGA introduced a “silence procedure” for taking decisions, which allows decisions to be adopted if no objections are raised by delegations within 72 hours – essentially giving each Member State a veto. 
  • A significant number of UN disarmament forums, meetings, and processes have been postponed or cancelled, stalling peace progress. 
  • Virtual meetings have eliminated in-person accountability and discourse, and have dramatically reduced the participation of civil society in UN procedures and decision-making.

In the coming days, WILPF will publish a comprehensive analysis of the UN’s processes and forums during COVID-19 in the areas of disarmament, human rights, and women, peace, and security. Subscribe to News and Alerts to receive a copy as soon as it’s released. 

Moving forward and shaping peace, together 

If we want to truly shape peace together, we must acknowledge – the United Nations must acknowledge – that the current system is not working. And we must take action for change. 

Among WILPF’s key aims and principles is a commitment to multilateralism. That is not a commitment to upholding a system which exemplifies and sustains patriarchy and inequality. Changing the UN’s decision-making process and strengthening the spirit of its Charter is now an imperative if multilateralism is to survive. 

To this end, on International Day of Peace 2020, WILPF is putting forward the following recommendations to immediately reform or restore some of the critical systems and principles that have been degraded:

  • Abolish the UN Security Council, which has proven to be highly ineffective.
  • Reform the “silence procedure” being used by UN forums and treaty bodies to ensure it is used only in exceptional circumstances and develop interim decision-making processes that comply with the principles of “one state, one vote”. 
  • Ensure transparency around negotiations of resolutions and agreements.
  • Provide civil society with the same level of access online as they would have during in-person meetings. 

These recommendations and more will be shared in the aforementioned upcoming report analysing the UN’s activities during COVID-19. 

In addition to these immediate actions, WILPF also calls on global citizens to imagine a different way of pursuing peace that does not lean on corrupt and corruptible systems of government: the power of community organising and spaces for change to unite people in action toward a better world. 

If we can move beyond the systems and structures that are so prone to breakdown, exploitation, and lack of cooperation, if we can take back the power that’s been taken from us, we just might stand a chance of “shaping peace together”. 

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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

VICE-PRESIDENT

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

VICE-PRESIDENT

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

PRESIDENT

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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Demilitarisation

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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