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WILPF US Appoints a New Executive Board

1 April 2014

During March the US section of WILPF held elections for their board. This week WILPFs Secretariat interviewed the new WILPF US President Mary Harrison on how she came to WILPF and what she seeing in WILPF US future.


Where in the United States are you from?

I grew up on a small dairy farm in the Midwest out in the middle of the Iowa prairie.  I had a view of the Raccoon River flowing through our bottomland under the shade-filled maples of Squirrel Hollow Park.  Sounds sort of romantic, doesn’t it.  But not so much in reality.  Even with the rich black soil, there was oppressive poverty and the eternal cycle of plenty or scarcity. What I learned from that small beginning was to work hard, to persevere and to understand the necessity of working together as a community to survive. This ethos brought with it the dream of not only surviving but changing the suffering I saw.

It all began in Iowa, what has been your focus since?

Since that time, I’ve lived on both coasts, in inner cities, a bit overseas and returned a few times to Iowa.  And always my life in those many different settings led to community activism, even my late-blooming academic career.  As a single mother with three young children, I received my Honors History degree at the University of Iowa, and then on to graduate school at Northwestern University near Chicago, Illinois.  At this time in my life, I was inspired by the work of philosopher Jacques Derrida and feminist playwright and author Hélène Cixous.  The deconstruction of Western binary oppositions: reason/imagination, logic/creativity, thinking/feeling (leaving the less-valued “side” closely identified with women) became my life’s work. A philosophical journey that fit perfectly into my passion for women’s rights and justice and interrogating the value systems force upon us.

How did you first come across WILPF?

When I moved back to Iowa from Chicago, I put theory into practice by working for non-profits; grant writing and fundraising in addition to teaching.  Gathering support for underserved populations, particularly for mother/child health in African-American and immigrant communities had brought me full circle. By then I had met a rowdy bunch of inspiring women, the WILPF Des Moines branch, who gave all my searching for fairness and justice a home.  Last October at WILPF DSMS’s international symposium, “Working for a Democratic Food System,” we heard clearly and personally the ravages of U.S. social policy, in particular the exported effects of chemical-reliant industrialised mega-agriculture. The women and men farmer/activists from Haiti, Brazil, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda showed us that the U.S. is the “third world” country, drowning in pesticides, polluted waters and animal waste.  They are saying NO loud and clear.

 Did something initially make you want to run for WILPF US section President?

Jane Addams. Living in Chicago, I knew of Addams and Hull House and her social activism.  But I became better acquainted with her through my service on the Jane Addams Peace Association board. She rolled-up her sleeves and worked for the common good, to build a community with others not for them.  Her trust in the power of imagination to make social change and her Midwestern pragmatism led to her winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931 – a legacy that still lives in WILPF today.

What do you see as your main agenda?

In the coming months, we have a unique opportunity to re-establish the connective threads to each member, branch and section, and to WILPF International, to reimagine the possibilities of grassroots activism in a global context. We have the vitality and expertise to implement the much-needed criticism of U.S. government, its industrial-military complex and nuclear dependency, the scourge of multi-national corporations, the crises of environmental degradation, and blatant disregard for women’s rights.  Of course, “Women’s Power to Stop War” starts right here in the U.S.

What is your vision for the US section during your presidency?

Addams implores us “to use moral energy to put a new sort of force into the world”.  We can do that through creating a shared narrative around the world, with voices speaking from a multitude of cultures and perspectives, not a cacophony but rather a common refrain of perseverance and resiliency. Bringing the global home, individual by individual, branch by branch, section by section will require WILPF as an organisation to respect its grassroots activism, asking each time what it is that they need. 

We are all farmers.  Planting seeds, nurturing our foundation, gathering in a harvest (of peace); enduring through depravation and endless hostilities, only to start over again – perseverance.

The fascinating life of Mary Harrison is a perfect demonstration of the many extremely talented women that are a part of WILPF. The insights given by Mary in this interview give a representation of the importance of resolve of women, and the role women play in the international peace process.

The US Section also elected Altaira Hatton as Treasurer, Dehorah Holley as Secretary, Nicole Scott as Chair of the Personnel Committee, Sara Tess Neumann as Chair of the Development Committee, LaShawndra Vernon as Chair of the Membership Development Committee, Barbara Nielson as Chair of the Nominating Mommittee, Odile Hugonot-Haber as Co-Chair of the Program Committee, Deb Garreston as Co-Chair of the Program Committee, Millee Livingston as At-Large Board Member and Peggy Huhrs also as At-Large Board Member.

Have a read about WILPF US history and see what the section is currently working on.

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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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