Women’s Involvement In Peace Movements and Conflict Resolution

Women's Involvement In Peace Movements and Conflict Resolution

Women have been traditionally assigned the responsibility of caring for and raising children. It is argued that the first priority of women is to ensure the survival of offspring, and survival is endangered by the existing militaristic policies of those in power.

Women felt that they should move into peace movements and assume leadership so that the perspective of women becomes predominant in the agenda of movements.

They argue that nuclear arms would never have been accepted unless people had first accepted militarization, and women in the past did not approve of the militarization of nations.

Nobel Peace Prize Laureates: Mairead Corrigan and Betty Williams

In 1976, two Irish women, Mairead Corrigan and Betty Williams, received the Nobel Peace Prize for their peace movement in Northern Ireland that had been engaged in armed struggle between Catholics and Protestants.

Corrigan and Williams did pioneering work in striving for peace between the two opposing groups.

Women’s Action for Nuclear Disarmament (WAND)

In 1981, the Canadian Group Women’s Party for Survival, founded by Dr. Helen Caldicott, changed its name to Women’s Action for Nuclear Disarmament (WAND) and devoted itself to disseminating information on nuclear arms development.

WAND organized to publish newsletters, convene membership conferences and initiate demonstrations in favor of nuclear disarmament.

Women’s Peace Initiative and Nuclear Freeze Movement

In 1984, the Women’s Peace Initiative was organized in the US to support the Nuclear Freeze Movement. It lobbied hard for a “budget freeze” on all nuclear arms testing and deployment.

Another group was Women for a Meaningful Summit, constituted in 1985 to achieve peace around the world as a result of the final conference of the UN Decade for Women, held in Nairobi, Kenya.

The Greenham Common Women’s Peace Movement

In Britain, the first women’s peace movement was set up at Greenham Common, England, in August 1981 in response to NATO’s announcement that 96 cruise missiles were to be deployed at a US air force base in Greenham Common.

The placement of cruise missiles provoked great resentment and protest in England.

A small group of women organized a 125-mile protest march from Cardiff, South Wales, to Greenham Common. Some of them established an ongoing protest camp on the town “common,” a public open space outside the base. Other women joined in the protest, staying anywhere from a day to months or, in the case of a few, years.

The women at Greenham Common served as role models for the development of other peace movements designed to confront nuclear arms buildup by using non-violent, uniquely feminist means of protest.

The Seneca Women’s Encampment for a Future of Peace and Justice

In July 1983, women in the US established a camp near the Seneca depot in Romulus, New York.

The Seneca Group of Women comprised students, book publishers, army captains, elected officials, women clergy, teachers, social workers, and farmers. Their goal was to halt the arms race, including a change in the basic structure of society.

Their motto was explained in the following verse: “We pledge allegiance to the earth And to the life which she provides One planet interconnected With beauty and peace for all.” The Seneca Women’s Group invigorated the worldwide nuclear disarmament movement.

NGO-Forum and Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF)

In Nairobi in July 1985, to mark the end of the UN Decade for Women’s activities, a parallel NGO Forum was designed for the official sessions.

It was reported that 14,000 women participated in the sessions of the Forum on subjects such as women’s equality, peace, and development. The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) developed a very innovative idea for Women’s Budget that was meant as a response to the imbalance reflected in the official US budget.

The Women’s Budget was deliberately designed to turn the US budget’s emphasis away from the military and weapon development so that the primary focus would be on eliminating the high unemployment rate, hunger, homelessness, rising illiteracy, infant mortality rate, and violent crime.

Womens Perspectives on Peace

One view is that men, by nature, are aggressive and prone to war. Florentine (Italian) diplomat and political philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527) wrote: “Men are always wicked at bottom unless they are made good by some compulsion”. In his famous book titled The Prince, Machiavelli’s advice was: “It is safer for a prince to be feared than loved if he is to fall in one of the two”. Italian Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini (1883-1945) said: “You know what I think about violence. For me it is profoundly moral – more than compromises and transactions.

The Gendered Dynamics of War and Peace

The fundamental relationship is believed to exist between men and warfare, and warfare is perceived as a fair game by men. War and peace have been shaped by men and as a result feminists argue that the concept of peace remains insensitive to many concerns of women.

They argue that the absence of input by women in the promotion of peace has produced inadequate peace mechanisms. Women hold the view that war and peace are being looked at from men’s perspectives, and women’s views have been completely ignored.

The Feminist Perspective on Peace and Warfare

Groups of women subscribe less readily than men to the myth of the efficiency of violence.

Women tend to expose the “underbelly of war” by focusing on basic needs, such as food and health security; they tend to be preoccupied with the bigger picture – the consequences – while some men maintain personal agendas of power. Initiatives powered by women usually emphasize inclusion, participation, consensus building, dialogue, and sustainable elements crucial in international security.

The Marginalization of Women in Peace Processes

Furthermore, patriarchal institutions have marginalized the interests of women and drown their perspectives on peace. Since women are not near the structure of power, women’s view on peacemaking is not considered an option in resolving conflicts.

Furthermore, defense industries controlled by men have vested interests in war because they earn money by selling weapons.

The Disproportionate Impact of War on Women and Children

Women argue that when war is fought, the consequences of war are different for men and women. It is the women and children who suffer most during and after the war.

During the Taliban regime, women in Afghanistan suffered terribly, and no one raised a finger to deal with the policy of repression on women until the September 11 terrorist attacks occurred in the US.

Feminism and Pacifism: A Logical Connection

Furthermore, they argue that women are more peaceful than men, and women’s alienation from war arises from the contradiction between rearing children and casualties in war.

They maintain that there is a logical connection between feminism and pacifism. In the peace movement across the globe, women play a crucial role.

The Role of Women in Advocating for Peace

Feminists argue that conflict and war are not natural or inevitable. The “nothing much we can do” attitude must change. Peacemaking efforts are made possible by collaborative action on behalf of what is right, what enables life, and what advances cooperation among peoples.

During Margaret Thatcher’s era (1979-1990), women in Britain opposed weapons-grade plutonium production in nuclear reactors and the manufacture of nuclear weapons.

Women’s Peace Advocacy in International Conflicts

On the issue of stationing of US cruise missiles in England, women’s perspectives were effectively articulated by the banners heading “Take the Toys for Boys” and “Women for Life on Earth”.

Polls in the 1990s showed that a higher proportion of women than men opposed both nuclear weapons and the nuclear industry. Another instance may be found that many Israeli women look at the Palestinian-Israeli conflict from an angle that is totally different from that of the Israeli government.

Educating for Peace: A Focus on Children

Some women believe that the importance of peace needs to be inculcated among children. Children are born in love and need to grow up in peace and harmony.

Most have kindness in them. The adults have an obligation to the young and to future generations. Peacemaking opportunities for building a common future must be sustained and strengthened through proper education among children.

Challenging the Feminist Perspective on Peace

On the other hand, critics of the feminist view argue that women are not naturally more peaceful than men.

Female Prime Ministers Golda Meir of Israel, Margaret Thatcher of Britain, and Indira Gandhi of India often fought unnecessary wars, and their belligerent behavior illustrates the weakness of the arguments of feminists.

They argue that peace and war are intertwined with national interests, and it does not matter whether power is vested with men or women.

Women’s Role in Conflict Resolution

Women doubt the capabilities of male leaders to negotiate peace. They perceive fighting terror with war is like fighting fire with petrol. War, they argue, can easily be avoided. Women have not been passive in the process of conflict resolution.

In Ireland, mothers from both opposing communities – Catholics and Protestants – had demonstrated against the sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland.

Two Irish women – Corrigan and Williams – who led a massive peace movement for peace in Northern Ireland after the death of three small children by terrorists contributed to the preparation of the ground for a dialogue later between the opposing parties. (They were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1976).

During the Cold War era, the marches by women to Paris in 1981, Minsk (Byelorussian Republic) in 1982, and Washington in 1983 to end the Cold War were instances of women’s role in conflict resolution.

Some sections of Israeli women supported the Palestinian cause and expressed sympathy for the plight of Palestinian women. In 1985, three Israeli women persuaded Israel’s Defence Minister Yitzakh Rabin to release over a thousand Palestinian prisoners in exchange for their sons held in custody by the Palestine Liberation Organisation.

An Israeli feminist peace organization, “Bat Shalom,” adopted a Declaration on March 8, 2002, stating that “We refuse to silently bear witness to the destruction of the hope and future of Israelis and Palestinians. We need your help.”

Many women’s organizations in India and Pakistan do not see eye to eye with their government policies on Kashmir and want to build cooperative relations between the two nations. Asma Jahangir (nee Jilani), a well-known Pakistani human rights female lawyer and activist, visited India in 2000 and attempted to promote confidence-building measures between India and Pakistan.

Author Johan Galtung is of the view that what women have brought to end conflicts is a perspective of holism and a refusal to reduce the peace/conflict issue to a question of disarmament negotiations. Women see the issues in a broader context and have shown a unique capacity for “new language” in conflict resolution.

Women bring the sufferings of the family closer to issues of conflict resolution.

The utter futility of the whole effort to try to resolve conflicts by means of coercion or the use of force is thought out more clearly by women than men. Women do make a difference in the debates of war or peace.

Feminist View of War And Armed Conflicts

Women argue that war/armed conflict has been viewed narrowly from men’s perspectives. Conflicts are seen through a male eye and considered through a male sensibility. Women are generally absent from the circle of people who make decisions on waging war/armed conflict.

Knowledge and behavior are built upon experience, and as long as feminine perspectives are excluded from the subject matter, the result will be distorted. It is argued that feminist viewpoints must become a prime element in the early stages of decision in preparation for war/armed conflicts.

The question is whether the concept of the role of female gender offers insight into ways to reduce the occurrences of war/armed conflicts. Ordinarily, girls play badminton, tennis, and netball in school, while boys play cricket, rugby, and football.

A study of playground activity conducted by Carol Gilligan indicated that boys tended to continue a competitive game to the point of conflict between players, while girls were more likely to break off the game before it reached conflict in order to preserve the relationship among the players.

Gilligan’s illustration raises the theoretical question that overall independent relationships among the players in a game are important enough to encourage the management of potential war/armed conflicts.

Women in general are averse to war because they consider wars/armed conflicts kill innocent people, including babies.

Ariel Salleh writes: “In reality, reproductive labor is traumatic and highly dangerous. Each time a woman brings a child into the world, she puts her life right on the line… Unlike maternity, which is practical, concrete, and sensuous, men’s effort to make sense of the life process is abstract and ideological.”

J. Ann Tickner developed feminist perspectives on international politics in the following terms. According to the author, a feminist perspective believes that objectivity, as if culturally defined, is associated with masculinity. Therefore, Tickner forcefully argues that:

  1. supposedly “objective” laws of human nature are based on a partial masculine view of human nature,
  2. national interest is cooperative rather than zero-sum solutions,
  3. the possibility of separating moral command from political action seems impossible,
  4. the moral aspirations of particular nations cannot be equated with universal moral principles,
  5. power ignores the possibility of collective empowerment, another aspect of power often associated with femininity, and
  6. disciplinary efforts to construct a worldview that does not rest on a pluralistic conception of human nature are partial and masculine.