Going back a hundred years …..

This is the trunk of a tree that is over 200 years old. It can be found in a forest near Louvain, Belgium. I ran into it during a hike last week. It is not only massive and majestic but somehow I find it peaceful.

Enjoying the early spring sun, I realised that the tree must have sprouted around the time of the battle of  Waterloo (1815) and survived two world wars.  Indeed, it had a quite respectable age already a hundred years ago, in 1915 when in The Hague  a massive group of women met to strategise for peace and women’s rights.

The International Congress of Women, later Women’s International league of Peace and Freedom,  convened more than 1,200 delegates from 12 countries. These included Britain, Germany, Austria-Hungary, Italy, Poland, Belgium and the United States, countries at different sides of a war that was at that very same time soaking Belgian soil with the blood of teenage soldiers in the second battle of Ypres that claimed over 100.000 casualties in a few weeks.

This year, in the same week, 100 years later WILPF, the organisationfounded at that conference will meet again in The Hague.  While violent conflict (continues) to hold the world in its grip the members of WILPF will meet at a Centennial Congress.  After the Congress, at the Women’s Power to Stop War Conference, 27-29 April in The Hague, nearly thousand men and women will engage, exchange and talk about peace and freedom.  A brief on the conference website sets the tone: “The WILPF 2015 Conference is therefore all about truly establishing the principles of sustainable peacebuilding and exploring the root causes of conflict, as our foremothers did in 1915. This means approaching peacebuilding from a holistic perspective, taking human rights, disarmament, social and economic justice and the environment into account, while challenging the dominant militaristic narrative of ‘more guns = more security’, which only reinforces militarism, patriarchy, exclusion and inequality as the root causes of conflict.”

I am very excited – and honoured – to be part of the WILPF delegation to the congress and I look forward to participate in the conference.  We will of course celebrate the work and progress made over time. Our fore-mothers fought hard and successfully to secure democratic rights for women. But WILPF leaders already 100 years ago understood that peace needs more than voting and democracy: it needs justice, something that even in exemplary democracies we struggle for today.

In advocating for justice WILPF has always been very much about the power of facts and information. Two current WILPF programmes illustrate this very well: check out PeaceWomen on the role of women in conflict and peace, and  Reaching Critical Will on disarmament.  If you are more in general interested in what WILPF has been doing, consult the WILPF Anniversary Atlas

Going back a hundred years. So much effort, for such a long time. Indeed it needs a lot of inspiration to balance the frustration. Pessimism or even cynicism seems inescapable: consider the bombing currently going on in the Middle East this very day, did we really make much progress beyond Ypres?

But count on WILPF women to be tenacious. In 1915 the conference venue – The Netherlands – was neutral in the war, but you can imagine how the powers of 1915 felt about American women and British women meeting German women. Actually the boat with the American delegation – see picture – was held up a few days by the Royal Navy in the Channel.  Doing nothing is not an option while small successes can be a big source inspiration.Tenacity combines well with inspiration. After the congress and conference I hope to share some of the stories and inspiration!