Today, the 28 June 2019, marks the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Versailles Treaty – the treaty that formalised the peace terms of the World War I, following the armistice on 11 November 1918.

Negotiations over the peace terms started in January 1919, at the Paris Peace Conference. The negotiations were led by the US, France, UK and Italy, and were attended by 27 nations. All delegations were represented by male leaders and diplomats. These male-dominated meetings happened behind closed doors, preventing concerned women and pacifists from lobbying and negotiating with politicians. The difference in treatment is clear as many countries such as Germany, Austria-Hungary, Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria were also not allowed to attend or participate in the peace negotiations. 

During the Conference, there were significant disagreements about what should be part of the peace treaty, as well as around what the post-war world order should look like. Woodrow Wilson, the president of the United States, proposed his famous “14 Points” that were principles for international cooperation. However, the leaders of England, France, and Italy were sceptical of Wilson’s ideas. What they hoped to get out of peace negotiations was not a model for cooperation, but instead to regain their territory and punish Germany.

[FACTBOX: WILPF and Wilson’s 14 Points]

At the 1915 WILPF Congress, WILPF members developed a resolution with Recommendations to End the War and Foster Peace.  Jane Addams, WILPF’s first International President, personally met with U.S. President Woodrow Wilson to discuss this resolution. Wilson adopted nine of these recommendations into his famous 14 Points speech, delivered on 8 January 1918. Some of these points called for “freedom of the seas, open covenants of peace, removal of all economic barriers, the reduction of national armaments, impartial adjustment of all colonial claims, and for the creation of the League of Nations.” However, there is a historical debate about how serious Wilson was about these proposals, specifically regarding anti-colonialism and self-determination.

Influencing the Powers in Paris

At the same time as the Paris Peace Conference took place, WILPF members met for the second time in Zurich. At the 1919 WILPF Congress, after seeing the first draft of the terms for peace proposed in Paris, WILPF members became extremely concerned. According to the 1919 WILPF Congress Report, they believed that the terms “so seriously violate the principles upon which alone a just and lasting peace can be secured,” that they decided to send an envoy of five WILPF members to Paris to protest the terms of the treaty. The members were: Jane Addams, President, USA; Charlotte Despard, Great Britain; Gabrielle Duchêne, France; Rosa Genoni, Italy; Chrystal Macmillan, Secretary, Great Britain. Originally, Clara Ragaz, from Switzerland, was also part of the delegation but was not allowed to travel to Paris by the Swiss Government.

WILPF Objecting the Terms of the Treaty

The envoy took four Resolutions to Versailles. These resolutions called for an end to famine, the immediate cessation of military action in Russia and Hungary and amnesty for war prisoners. They also sent suggested amendments for the Treaty of Versailles, asking for the inclusion of a Women’s Charter, a clause allowing women’s right to vote, and modifications to the League of Nations Covenant. 

[FACTBOX: WILPF’s Vision of the League of Nations]

  • Immediate reduction of armaments on the same terms for all Member States;
  • Abolition of conscription in all states joining the League;
  • Abolition of secret treaties;
  • Total disarmament (land, sea, air);
  • Universal free trade;
  • Establishment of full equal suffrage and the full equality of women with men politically, socially and economically;
  • Abolition of child labour.

WILPF became one of the first organisations to criticise the terms of the Versailles Treaty. WILPF members were quick to highlight that an international peaceful world order cannot be based on punishment, but instead on international cooperation. Since 1919, WILPF members already predicted that the terms of the Versailles treaty “could only lead to future wars.” Unfortunately, the male-dominated Paris Peace Conference reflected patriarchal values and ignored the proposals put forward by WILPF. Instead, countries kept militarising and punishing Germany rather than helping in its post-conflict reconstruction.

No Women’s Land

The Paris Peace Conference is just one example of many peace negotiations in history, where women’s root cause analysis, conflict resolutions and participation have not been included – to the detriment of the world. The 1919 WILPF delegation that went to Paris had a vision to prevent future wars through developing an inclusive, fair peace process, but nobody listened. 100 years later, countries still sideline women’s voices in peace negotiations, including in Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan and many other countries. 

For the past century, the world has continued to fight wars, including the most deadly in history. WILPF’s experience at the Paris Peace Conference provokes two haunting questions: 

What would the world have looked like if WILPF’s recommendations had been followed in 1919? And what would the world look like today if women are invited to the peace talks and men actually listen to their advice? It is time for countries to bring women to the table.

[FACTBOX: WILPF’s History]

WILPF was formed in 1915, when 1,136 women from 12 different countries from Europe and North America met in The Hague to protest World War I, as well as “study, make known and eliminate the root causes of war.” Together they created what is now known as the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF).