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Speaking truth to power at the UN

 "….this may be the last time our voice is heard here…"

The UN has become a citadel of
nations, ruled over by five nuclear potentates with veto power in the Security
Council. Periodically the fortress is besieged by civil society organizations
knocking on the door for entry, raising their banners for peace and
justice. This is most observable at the meeting of the Commission on the
Status of Women during the first two weeks of March. Women flood the
Church Center across the street from the UN, overflowing into the Armenian
Convention Center down Second Avenue, sharing issues, strategies and concerns.
Members of each women’s NGO share a limited number of passes to the UN building
itself.   

This year, in a different UN body, on International
Women’s Day, something unprecedented happened. It was a David and Goliath
moment.  It’s been a long time coming. The respected UN affiliated
organization, the Women’s
International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), took a stand in an
environment that has become painfully at odds.

Art exhibition at the WILPF conference

More precisely WILPF resigned from monitoring and
engaging with the Conference on Disarmament.

WILPF is proud of being the first NGO to be affiliated
with the UN through the Economic and Social Council back when the UN was
getting started in 1946; they see – or saw – the UN as a feminist organization
dedicated to saving  ‘succeeding generations from the scourge of war’; and
they recognized it as one of the few places where small nations could have a
voice. In short, they have tried for decades to engage with this body that has
been hijacked since 9 /11 by corporate and nuclear powers, and finally they
said enough is enough.

For some background:  The Conference on
Disarmament (CD), made up of 65 members states, is the only body of the UN that meets annually to (in theory) negotiate
disarmament treaties. Other UN bodies, such as the Disarmament Commission and
the UNGA First Committee are only of a deliberative nature. However the
latter has the “power” to adopt resolutions that can create a
process like for the Arms Trade Treaty.  The CD has negotiated the Biological Weapons Convention
and the Chemical Weapons Convention. But
since 1996, it has not negotiated any treaties, or even agreed on which treaty
to next negotiate, and it has put roadblocks in the way of any substantive
conversation with civil society. These
roadblocks, termed indignities in the statement
issued by Reaching
Critical Will (RCW), are not experienced at the other disarmament forums
mentioned above.

For the last few years, WILPF has been permitted to
deliver a statement to the Conference on Disarmament to mark International
Women’s Day. This is the only time of year that any voice from civil society is
allowed inside the conference chamber.

According to Mia
Gandenberger, staff person at RCW, who delivered the statement this year, “We made a point of starting
every statement with ‘We, women from many parts the world,’ which was then read
out by the (male, middle-aged) President of the Conference.  In 2010 finally one of our representatives
was allowed in the room to deliver the statement.”

The statement she delivered this year stated “… this
may be the last time our voice is heard here…This is a body that has firmly
established that it operates in a vacuum. That it is disconnected from the
outside world. That it has lost perspective of the bigger picture of human
suffering and global injustice. Maintaining the structures that reinforce
deadlock has become more important than fulfilling the objective for which it
was created—negotiating disarmament treaties.

We can no longer invest effort into such a body. Instead we will continue our work elsewhere. There is much work to be done….”

Indeed. WILPF is celebrating its 100th anniversary this week in the Hague. 

WILPF was
founded in 1915 at a conference at the Hague dedicated to stopping World War 1, by
women who were global activists even before they had the vote. Before any
super-national organizations such as the League of Nations or the UN existed,
they used grassroots diplomacy to reach the men in charge: travelling from
belligerent to neutral governments and knocking on the doors of power. 

WILPF is still knocking on doors.  Despite a UN resolution SCR 1325 that
mandates women’s role at the table when peace settlements are negotiated,
Syrian women – the latest example – 
were denied a seat at the failed talks in 2013.

Women are frustrated and impatient at watching wars
metastasize around the planet, watching the elements of the sacred earth mined
and melted into bullets and missiles.

Nearly a thousand women have brought their energy
together here in the Hague at WILPF’s 100th anniversary conference on Women's Power to  Stop War. (April 27 to 29).

Women from the USA, which is the largest exporter of
bullets and missiles in the world, are meeting together with women from the
front lines of violence, women living in communities that have been decimated
by war and rape and dislocation. A source of inspiration at the conference will
be the new Manifesto, the
result of three years work by women from the 30 WILPF country sections from
around the world:

We are renewing WILPF’s commitment to eradicating war
by addressing its root causes.  Among them we identify:

Militarism as a way of thought, and the militarization
of societies, such that perceived –threats are likely to be met with weaponry
rather than words;

The capitalist economic system, involving the
exploitation of the labor and resources of the many by the few, wantonly
harming people and the environment, generating conglomerates of global reach
and unaccountable power;

The nation-state system as it is today, involving
dominant states, imperialist projects, inter-state rivalry, contested borders,
and inside those borders, all too often, failure of democracy, resulting in
political repression and intolerance of diversity;

Social systems of racist supremacy, cultural
domination and religious hierarchy;

Patriarchy, the subordination of women by men, in
state, community and family, perpetuated by the social shaping of men and women
into contrasted, unequal and limiting gender identities, favoring violent
masculinities and compliant femininities.

We understand these as intersected and mutually
reinforcing systems of power, all founded on violence and together productive
of war.

I encourage you to read the Manifesto. It ends with
this  challenge to the next generation:

Violence is not
inevitable. It is a choice.

We will implement peace,
which we believe to be a human right.

WILPF's  centenary conference on
'Women's Power to Stop War' opens today in the Hague. Read more articles in
openDemocracy 50.50's series Women's
Power to Stop War.  Jennifer Allsopp and Marion Bowman are reporting
live from the conference for 50.50.

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