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Where Environment and Labour Movements Converge

Earth Day is a lovely occasion for communities to come together and celebrate our common Earth and humanity. But let us stop to consider a broader view, to think about what it means to steward our environment as a means of living, rather than as if it is something ‘extra’ we do at the end of the day.

Image credit: WILPF
WILPF International Secretariat
22 April 2019

Earth Day is a lovely occasion for communities to come together and celebrate our common Earth and humanity. To renew our commitments to environmental stewardship, with numerous volunteer opportunities to contribute time and effort. Volunteer labour is a wonderful way to contribute to environmental stewardship, whether on Earth Day or any day, as truly all our days are Earth Days.

But let us stop to consider a broader view, to think about what it means to steward our environment as a means of living, rather than as if it is something ‘extra’ we do at the end of the day. People cannot survive on volunteer labour. The labour movement spent many long hours (literally) fighting for fairly paid wages for contributions of labour–and now, at least in the U.S., we seem to be heading back to where we started, by encouraging a kind of incrementalism in giving our labour away for free as a contribution to the common good. Sure, if you have other means to support your life and home, this is fine. However, it is a real challenge for people who find themselves trying to earn a living while still working for environmental stewardship. Hence, this is where the environmental and labour movements begin to converge, a necessary confluence for a new and fair economy to emerge.

It is dire that we advocate for an environmental ethic that includes sustaining people’s livelihoods. The Green New Deal in the United States has garnered much support because is based on the idea that we need more meaningful paid work that advances the goals of a healthy society and environment. It is a whole systems approach to social change that has the capacity to empower society to make the drastic changes necessary if there is any chance of stabilizing the climate in a hundred years.

For this Earth Day, I encourage you to innovate new ways to include people in a new environmental economy that sustains livelihoods. Many people do not have any hours left in the day to contribute to volunteer labour. The convergence of the environmental and labour movements is truly an act of liberation. From wherever you are, in whatever positions of power you may have, I implore you to act with urgency to advance economic and environmental justice.

With my local WILPF branch in the U.S., I am sharing these sentiments during our Earth Day community celebration on the city centre commons in Ann Arbor, Michigan. There are many homeless people here, and there is an admirable effort to distribute news from the ground up—The Groundcover News. This is a way the local homeless and low-income community engages in the larger community, and the newspaper vendors sustain their livelihood (at least in part) by selling the newspaper. Others are hosting art shows, and homeless artists earn money from the sales of their art. Some craftsmen sell handmade jewellery on the street – I know one fellow, who has been doing this for more than ten years.

Include low-income communities in your economy. Support their businesses, however simple it may be. It will mean a lot. This is the new community-based economy we need. From the ground up.

Guest blog by Dawn Nelson, member of WILPF US and convenor of WILPF Environment Working Group.

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WILPF International Secretariat

WILPF International Secretariat, with offices in Geneva and New York, liaises with the International Board and the National Sections and Groups for the implementation of WILPF International Programme, resolutions and policies as adopted by the International Congress. Under the direction of the Secretary-General, the Secretariat also provides support in areas of advocacy, communications, and financial operations.

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Thank you!

Melissa Torres


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


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


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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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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