On this International Day of Peace, we celebrate a special occasion that resonates with more than a hundred years of action, reflection, and cooperation at the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF). Altogether, across the world, we dedicate 24 hours to a single goal, one that drives us every day and that we will never stop advocating for: a world of permanent peace for all.
This day is not just a celebration, and we at WILPF, are aware of how much work remains to be done to achieve this cherished goal. With our long and abundant heritage, we are fortunate enough to be able to read between the lines of our past to find solutions for our future.
Every decision made, every step out of our comfort zone, every challenge, every coalition has brought us to this day. I am proud to represent all the feminist peace activists who have led the way as WILPF’s International President, and today I pay tribute to them. Your commitment has paved the path for peace, and all WILPFers pledge to continue it until our ideals become reality.
WILPF reaffirms its commitment to ending racism and building peace
This year, the International Day of Peace is centred on a subject that is key to us at WILPF: End Racism. Build Peace. We recognise the extreme necessity of eradicating racism for the achievement of true peace – for a peace that is conditioned by our race is only an illusion.
Our movement is based on a diverse coalition of women coming from all continents (we are present in many countries around the world: 32 Sections and 13 Groups across Africa, the Americas, Asia Pacific, Europe, MENA and the South Asia region). As a feminist peace movement, we are committed to taking action to identify, address, and counter both the causes and the manifestations of structural racism within our movement, so we are in a better position to fight it in the world. As we outlined in our 2020 statement on systemic racism and police brutality, we consider racism/colonialism as a root cause of violence, and by challenging patriarchy we challenge racism/white supremacy.
Let’s continue to use the spaces available to us to create systems and cultures of equality through collective power to remedy the suffering of those who don’t share our privileges.
Today, more than ever before, we pledge to always do better, be better, to end racism. In our new International Programme for the period of 2022–2025, we have expressed our collective anti-racism values, our vision of a decolonised and anti-racist world, and how we want to strengthen feminist peace activism by decolonising systems and eliminating racism.
This day of calling for peace is also an opportunity for me to highlight the situation that is taking place at this very moment in my own country, Cameroon. I am a witness to violence that I wish had never taken place, not here, not elsewhere, and I cannot bear to remain silent.
Cameroon: Local crisis rooted in global challenges
The current socio-political crisis in Cameroon is having a negative impact on the civilian population and curbing the enjoyment of basic human rights in the affected regions of Cameroon, with the impacts being felt primarily by women and girls.
Arbitrary arrests and illegal detentions, torture and inhuman treatment, killing of civilians, abductions, and extortion and destruction of property and goods are all on the rise. Within this tense atmosphere, women and girls often experience gender-based violence expressed through denial of resources and opportunities as well as sexual and physical violence.
More than half a million people – mostly women – are estimated to be displaced across the country, with most living in host communities scattered in other parts of Cameroon. Internally displaced women and girls – whether in cities, forest, or farm areas – are in dire need of assistance and protection. Their deteriorating living conditions are impacting their health and well-being, preventing girls from attending school, and increasing their risk of experiencing all forms of gender-based violence, including early pregnancy. They require urgent humanitarian support before their situation becomes even more critical.
The situation in Cameroon is a threat to world peace
Cameroon has a geostrategic position in Central Africa because of its access to the sea and its level of development in the sub-region, which is why some major powers have an interest in and maintain control over the country. The crisis in Cameroon automatically impacts these countries as well as other countries bordering Cameroon because of their dependence on the country for access to the sea and for agro-pastoral products.
The conflict in Cameroon also threatens world peace as it escalates, increasing the risk of spreading to other neighbouring countries and leading many young people to resort to illegal migration.
The agricultural sector has also slowed down its production and exportation. For example, the Cameroon Development Corporation, which is the main producer and exporter of plantation products and rubber, has had its operations impacted by the on-going crisis, thereby causing food shortages. Similarly, cash crop production in the northwest, southwest has been affected while the export of raw materials in the far north, such as cotton, has been limited due to the conflict.
Silence is violence
Silence can perpetuate violence. If we never talk about the problem or try to stop the problem, those creating violence will think it’s okay – and they may even encourage others to start acting that way.
Whether we remain silent about the situation in Cameroon or in any other area of the world, silence demoralizes the victim, as in the majority of cases, impunity enables the attacks to go unchecked. The authorities are obliged to guarantee that people are fully able to exercise their human rights, yet they have failed to do so in many countries. This is why impunity and rampant lawlessness, particularly in conflict-affected areas, work against community development and, by extension, access to essential services, including health care and justice mechanisms.
Fear of reprisal leads victims not to denounce their perpetrators. This perpetuates the cycle of violence because it leads the perpetrator to believe that he is super powerful and cannot be touched – and he tends to reproduce these acts of violence in other areas. In fact, what could have stopped him has simply not been put into action.
When victims do report harassment, threat, or attack, they often share that inadequate attention is given by authorities to their cases. Women feel that the lack of action by authorities serves to reinforce the view that perpetrators of violence are immune from punishment. In many countries, women have repeatedly reported a loss of faith in law enforcement and that they consider judicial institutions to be ineffective and corrupt.
Taking action for a future of peace – together
Peace is the fruit of a collective effort. It is the result of dialogue, active listening, and the interweaving of thoughts and actions. Peace is the blossom of a seed planted in a soil of diversity, and we want you to be a part of that.
You may have been led to believe that peacebuilding belongs only to a small group of privileged people who have access to the power of change, but look at us. 107 years ago a group of women filled with dreams and willpower got their foot in the door, and today we hold it wide open, ready to welcome you to our side. Mark this day with a meaningful and impactful action: join WILPF.
In Peace and Sorority,
Sylvie Jacqueline Ndongmo