IFOR Women Peacemakers Program

by Shelley Anderson

The discussions and moral support of the WRI Women's Working Group was the inspiration for women's programming in another sister pacifist organization. Women in the International Fellowship of Reconciliation (IFOR), a spiritually-based movement for active nonviolence founded in 1919, have not yet organized themselves as a body like the WRI Women's Working Group. But their experiences, such as being under represented in decision making, are similar. IFOR's Women Peacemakers Program (WPP) was launched in 1997 to empower women peace activists inside and outside the IFOR network.

The WPP is an experiment in developing and integrating a gender perspective into peace work. There are four parts to the WPP's work: organizing regional consultations where women from different sides of conflicts can exchange experiences and learn more about nonviolent conflict resolution; nonviolence trainings for women's groups; and documentation of women's peace work. Lastly, because peace is connected to building democracy, and democracy is impossible without women's active participation, the WPP provides support for independent women's organizations.

Two regional consultations have been organized: a European consultation in 1998 which brought women from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Ingushetia, Northern Ireland, Croatia, Bosnia, Cyprus, Israel and Palestine together; and an Asian consultation, with participants from Bhutan, Burma, Cambodia, Kashmir, Nagaland, Nepal, Sri Lanka, South Korea ad Tibet. An Africa consultation will take place in April 2000 in Zimbabwe, with participants, from Sierra Leone, Rwanda, Burundi, Sudan, Somalia and Uganda. A fourth consultation will include participants from the previous meetings, in order to gather the strategies women peace activists have initiated.

The WPP organizes nonviolence trainings for women's groups by helping to locate trainers, materials and funding. Such trainings have been organized for tribal women in the Chittagong Hill Tracks; for ethnic minority women in refugee camps along the Thai-Burma border; and for a girls peace camp in Nepal, which brought 35 girls from 16 Asian countries together. Trainings have also been organized in Romania, Nigeria and Zimbabwe.

The documentation of women's peace work involves publishing (in cooperation with the International Peace Bureau) an annual May 24 International Women's Day for Peace and Disarmament pack. This pack includes profiles of women's peace groups from around the world, suggestions for solidarity actions, and a directory of over 100 women's peace groups in some 60 countries. The 1999 English-language pack focused on what women are doing for peace in the Caucasus (in order to help with networking, summaries appeared after each article in Russian). This year's pack looks at women's peace efforts throughout Africa, and is published in both English and French. Likewise the WPP's newsletter "Cross the Lines" (available three times a year in English, French or Spanish) carries news of nonviolence trainings, new resources of interest to women activists, and a calendar of upcoming events from around the world.

The WPP is proud of the fact that it has helped women's groups in Ingushetia and Zimbabwe receive their first successful grant proposals, as part of its work to build sustainable women's organizations. This work also involves linking groups with other resources they may be unaware of, as when the WPP helped a Congolese women's group protesting rape by soldiers contact the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, or when the WPP helped women peace leaders, from Croatia, Hawa'ii, the Philippines, Palestine, Israel, Sudan, South Korea, West Papua and Uruguay to the 1999 Hague Appeal for Peace conference.

Raising More Questions

The WPP recognizes that women play multiple roles in conflict-as victims, occasionally as perpetrators-and most of all as leaders with innovative ideas about peacebuilding. Incorporating a gender perspective in peace work raises some very problematic issues. It involves expanding the definition of peace work to include issues of importance to women.

One question that comes up is when does capitalizing on women's strengths in peacemaking-good listening and communication skills, the flexibility to compromise, caring for people above abstract principles-become perpetuating traditional sex role stereotypes that rationalize domination and inequality?

Another problematic issue is the definition of peace itself. What is the exact difference between "peace time" and "war time" to a woman being beaten by her husband or a girl being sold into prostitution? How does the latter "private" violence against half of humanity differ from the "public" violence of armed conflict?

All of these issues involve the crucial question of increasing women's access to political power and political decision making. Women are not just victims. Groups like the Liberian Women's Initiative and Sudanese Women's Voice for Peace; the experiences of women UN election monitors in South Africa; the role of church women in ending Bougainville's brutal war-all of these cases and more show that women are leaders in peace and reconciliation efforts. Yet without access to political decision making, women's solutions go ignored. The challenge for women peacemakers is both to gain political power-and to transform political structures into more democratic and egalitarian forms.

Shelley Anderson is Program Officer for the IFOR Women Peacemakers Program, Spoorstraat 38, 1815 BK Alkmaar, the Netherlands. Tel. +31 72 5123 014; fax +31 515 1102; email: s.anderson@ifor.org; Website: http://www.gn.apc.org/ifor/

Resources

May 24 2000 International Women's Day for Peace and Disarmament action pack (in French or English), with profiles of African women's groups and directory of women's peace groups available for US $7.50 (includes postage). Back issues for 1997 and 1998 are available for US $5.

21-minute videos of the WPP's European or Asian regional consultations are available for $25 (add $5 if requesting air mail shipment). A 55-minute video on ways women in Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Sri Lanka are confronting violence against women is also available for US $30.

"Cross the Lines", the WPP newsletter, is available in English, Spanish or French. One-year subscription is $10.