Cynthia Cockburn, our beloved WILPF member, the author of WILPF 2015 Manifesto, inspiring feminist, and peace activist, has passed away on 12 September 2019. In this obituary, published by The Guardian, Cynthia Cockburn is remembered for her incredible work as an advocate for peace and women’s rights.

Cynthia Cockburn Obituary

Academic, feminist and peace activist who explored the themes of masculinity and war, and gender and technology

Known for her research and activism in the field of gender, war and peace-making, Cynthia Cockburn, who has died aged 85, worked closely with female peace activists in countries experiencing acute conflict.

Her publications included The Space Between Us: Negotiating Gender and National Identities in Conflict (1999), based on research of women’s organisations working across ethno-national lines in Northern Ireland, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Israel/Palestine; The Line: Women, Partition and the Gender Order in Cyprus (2004); From Where We Stand: War, Women’s Activism and Feminist Analysis (2007); and Antimilitarism: The Political and Gender Dynamics of Peace Movements (2012), mainly featuring peace movements in South Korea, Japan, Spain, and the UK.

Cynthia involved the women she was studying, consulting them on the questions she asked and her interpretation of her findings. She sought to translate her theories about war, violence and peace into concrete campaigning.

Her argument that gender-as-we-know-it plays an important part in perpetuating war has practical implications for movements for demilitarisation, disarmament and peace. She argued that we need to make the shaping and reshaping of much of masculine culture a policy issue, since current prevailing masculine traits and types of behaviour often result in domestic, criminal and military violence.

Always eager to learn about the complexities of a situation, she wanted to find out what a feminist anti-militarist and peace position would look like in any given context. For example, in a time of anti-sanctions and antiwar activism in relation to Iraq in the 1990s, Cynthia and the wider Women in Black (WiB) network in London were among the few British-based activists who pointed not only to the terrible effects of economic sanctions on Iraqi society, particularly on women, but also to the effects of Saddam Hussein’s atrocities.

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“What a huge loss for us all, for feminist activists and researchers across the globe who will miss her company, friendship and guidance, for the Women in Black who will miss her weekly presence and creative organizing, for her fellow choir singers in Raised Voices who will miss her song-writing and singing, for the birds who will miss her watching, for the trees who will miss her photographing and storytelling, and of course, for her daughters and grandchildren for whom she was such a loving and caring presence…

My memories of our time honoring and celebrating her life and work in Istanbul during the Gender and Peace Conference in May 2017, and then the magical two days in London in Fall 2017 that Nadje Al-Ali beautifully imagined and curated are so fresh! Thank you Nadje for bringing us all together — it was and is precious!

From Istanbul to Diyarbakır to Mardin to Habab to Bristol to London, I feel so privileged and grateful to have journeyed this life with Cynthia for more than 15 years. She will always have a very special place in my heart — and in my thinking on politics, militarism, peace, gender and life.

The night I learned of her passing, the gorgeous photo of a tree, with its reflections on water that Cynthia had given me as a gift a few years ago kept me company. She had such an eye for beauty, such grace, such generosity, such wisdom combined with such modesty and innocence… As she “listened, and listened, and listened” (to borrow from Cynthia Enloe) she would be the water reflecting the tree… All of her reflections were full of life, love, solidarity, hope and resilience — and beauty!

May these reflections continue to shine a loving light on us all” – Ayse Altinay

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“With her groundbreaking research and writing through the years, feminist researcher, Women in Black activist, birdwatcher, and songwriter Cynthia Cockburn has paved the way for a whole new body of critical feminist scholarship on war and peace, introducing us to creative feminist struggles for peace and justice, from Bosnia to Ireland, from Okinawa to Cyprus, from Sierra Leone to Palestine. Cynthia’s comparative and intersectional lens has taught us that we would be missing a crucial part of human creativity and wisdom if we do not see the light that so many courageous people around the world are shining on to the darkest moments and acts of humanity, and that “gender” is crucial to understanding and moving beyond violence and war.” The Sabanci University – Gender and Women Studies Center of Excellence

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“She lived a long and productive life. I frequently read from her writings, and we will best honor her by letting her voice live and bring on her messages.”  – Margrethe Tingstadt

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“I knew Cynthia long before I joined WILPF, going back when I was still a student. She was not only inspirational and devoted to feminist politics, but also always showed her genuine care for those women who she worked with and those around her. She listened to what you say and engaged with you seriously, her attitude being open, friendly and welcoming, which never made you feel you’re nothing nor your ideas are unimportant. I, like many others really miss her.” – Maki Kimura


“I met Cynthia in 2000, in London, where I had gone to study a Master in Art, I was looking for accommodation, desperate, because what I had for my small budget was indecent and unacceptable, and she, surely for sorrow more than for another thing, she offered me a room. The house was beautiful. Two-storey, with garden and wooden floor, wide and thick planks. My room I remember had carpeting and a huge window. It was very spacious and I felt very happy there. A luxury for which Cynthia could have charged twice as much or more, because she was worth it, but according to her own words she shared her house so as not to be alone, so that the house would have life… And so for a year, Cynthia, Alide (the other woman who lived in her house) and I lived together and shared unforgettable. Little by little we became intimate and I discovered his passion: his work for/with/for others. She was an activist, feminist, devoted body and soul to the human collective: she sought peace, harmony, balance. I felt and I feel very fortunate to have met her, and I would have liked to have stayed with her much longer in London because for me, she was without a doubt the best example and encouragement I could have: I really liked talking to her, She was very observant, you always learned with her. I remember one time she scolded me because I had bought some sausages (cheapest, I’m sure) and she told me that this { staff{ couldn’t get into the house and that if I didn’t have money, she would buy me food.I also remember asking her to please lend me an oval mirror with wooden frame, to perform an action { up side down{ and, as it was a very precious object for her – a familiar-like souvenir}, showed reticence because it could damage it in transport… She finally paid for my cab and lent it to me. Or I remember also when she told me, excited and expectant, that she was going to modify the way of communicating via mobile SMS and that we would develop a new skill with the thumb. I’ve never met anyone more coherent. She acted as She thought. Both in the great actions of his life and in the small ones. That I tell you is a grain of wheat inside the silo of all the things and actions that Cynthia has been carrying out throughout her life. Later we met in Paris and in Madrid. It was a privilege for me to be with her again. I really admired her. I love you very much, Cynthia, wherever you are you will make it better, sure.” – Mara Regulión


“Cynthia fully embraced the role of an activist-academic (I think she would prefer that order). She was a brilliant scholar who made sure her research remained grounded in the lived realities of women. She played a critical role in so many of endeavours of WILPF, including drafting the Manifesto in a very inclusive (and challenging!) consultation process, making sure all voices were heard and taken seriously.She inspired so many of us and will be missed.” – Barbara Katarzyna Trojanowska