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Weapons will not save us

Russia’s war on Ukraine, which has entered into its seventh day, has already led to large scale death, destruction and displacement of people. While the European decision to send arms to Ukraine has been applauded, it is important for us to remember that arms will not save us, writes Carmen Magallón of WILPF Spain in this article.

Image credit: Kedar Gadge
Carmen Magallón
3 March 2022

While the European decision to send arms to Ukraine is applauded, let me raise a dissenting voice: arms will not save us. Rather, they will plunge us back into the historical turbulence of killing and dying. The violence that imprints the use of weapons only leads to a spiral of death, in which there is always a winner in the contest, the one who has the most weapons. He achieves his miserable end: to dominate, to extend his territory, to raise his ego. . . but everyone loses because lives are lost, which is the most valuable thing we have. Marian Cao, artist and professor of Art in the Faculty of Education at the Complutense University of Madrid, has shared with us one of the striking paintings that the German artist Käthe Kollwitz (1867-1945). Cao, who has published a biography of Kollwitz, knows the anguish Kollwitz experienced as a mother after encouraging her sons to enlist and losing them in the war. From this feeling comes one of her paintings, in which a woman encourages the men to desert: “Seeds must not be ground up,” she wrote later. Seeds are the young men. They are not obliged to die, but to live.

A mob of armed peasants charges ahead, urged on by a woman with upraised arms.
Losbruch (Outbreak) by Käthe Kollwitz

That said, what to do when an invasion, such as the one in Ukraine, takes place before our eyes. The first thing to say is that we do not have a response with the same level of immediacy as those who refer to arms. And yet we propose to resist without arms. It is not a question of judging those who resort to armed resistance, we are not here to judge something so human and complex. Even Gandhi himself spoke of resisting in this way, if necessary. It is a question of thinking about what to do in the medium and long term without the inertia of falling back into the use of human lives as cannon fodder. I start from the premise that it is not possible to pull a solution out of the hat. So this is a reflection that is limited to underlining the importance of educating in the knowledge of and respect for international law, as part of peace education. It is about thinking from a paradigm that departs from the classic assertion that ‘To achieve peace, people must be on a war footing’. No, that way we only repeat the history of wars. To achieve peace, we have to be on a peaceful footing. And from there, we must educate, not only in schools, but also socially, to defend international legislation that has been built with great effort, legislation and institutions that, as the Preamble of the United Nations Charter states, were born to “save our children from the scourge of war.”

This requires educating the population on the importance of a democratic global governance and having a forum for debating conflicts between countries. We need an education that is attentive to decisions that can erode the balance of agreements and laws that make up the international legislative architecture. One education that elects its representatives responsibly so that they do not destroy that architecture.

We live these days with anguish over Putin’s threat to use nuclear weapons in the contest. There were earlier decisions that paved the way for this possibility and to which the international community should have raised its voice. In 1987, Gorbachev and Reagan signed the INF (Intermediate-Range Nuclear Missile Treaty), withdrawing these missiles and both sides renouncing their use. Well, in 2018, Trump -USA- withdrew from the treaty, abandoning an important agreement that prevented threatening the use of nuclear weapons, thus leaving Putin’s hands free to do so now.

We see that, if international agreements are not upheld, instead of moving forward, we move backwards at the hands of foolish leaders. The International Institute for Global Security reports that in 1994, Ukraine, Russia, the United States and the United Kingdom signed the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances, later joined by France and China. Through this memorandum, Ukraine, which had a huge arsenal of nuclear weapons on its territory, renounced it and joined the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty as a non-nuclear-weapon state. All in exchange for respect for the integrity of its borders and sovereignty. Now Putin has violated that legally formalized promise to the detriment of the security of the whole world.

Can we educate to value and defend international law? We can and we must. Starting with education in respect for and recognition of the role of the United Nations as a forum for dialogue and diplomacy in which all international actors are represented, and which, despite all its shortcomings, would have to be invented if it did not exist.

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Carmen Magallón

Carmen Magallón is Honorary President of WILPF Spain, Convenor of the WILPF Standing Constitution Committee and of the WILPF Academic Network. She holds a PhD in Physics, is an expert in the History of Women in Science and the relationship between gender, science and culture of peace. Her latest publication, together with Sandra Blasco, is the book Feminists for Peace. WILPF in Latin America and Spain.

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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