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.
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.
“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
“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
“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