In Focus: Women's International League for Peace and Freedom

By Emma Husband, Staff Writer

This week I spoke to Zala Žbogar, communications and press associate for Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom for the run up to their recent conference - Women’s Power to Stop War

For 100 years, WILPF has been at the forefront of bringing women together to work for peace and challenge social injustices. 

Their disarmament programme, Reaching Critical Will, was the only civil society organisation to still be monitoring the annual Conference on Disarmament at the UN, but recently ceased their involvement after 17 years.  This hit the news due to sexist remarks by a Belorussian delegate who ‘confused’ WILPF with Femen. Find WILPF's brilliant response here.

Against this backdrop, I spoke to Zala about WILPF, her role, and how we can all get involved in promoting women’s rights.

How did you come to be involved with WILPF?

'I came to hear about WILPF a couple of years ago because of an excellent webinar series on Women’s Power to Stop War that they organised. Members of the WILPF Academic Network covered topics ranging from masculinities and militarisation, to the gendered political economy of war and more. 

The webinar series spurred my interest in WILPF’s work more generally. After graduating from M.St. Women’s Studies I decided to apply for an internship with their Communications team, which turned into a short term contract working on communications and press relations for their centennial anniversary celebrations.

What makes WILPF a unique peace organisation is its advocacy for a holistic analysis of the root causes of war. This is considered by many to be radical, even now – so imagine how ahead of its time it was 100 years ago!'

Can you tell us a little bit about its history? 

'WILPF was borne from the 1915 International Women’s Congress in The Hague, where over 1,000 women gathered to call for an end to World War One. Nobel Peace Prize winners Emily Greene Balch and Jane Addams were founding members of the organisation. 

Over the last 100 years, it has contributed to significant developments on the cross section of women and peacemaking, from lobbying and contributing to the drafting of United Nations Security Council resolution 1325 on women, peace and security, to calling for total disarmament through its Reaching Critical Will programme.' 

How did the recent conference, Women’s Power to Stop War, go?

'It went very well. Nearly 1,000 women peacemakers attended from many of the “hottest” conflict zones – from Yemen to Colombia, the Philippines to Nigeria, the Ukraine to Syria. 

The atmosphere was buzzing, positive and passionate, and the activities ranged from core plenaries and over forty sessions to a public manifestation on military versus social spending and even a belly dancing session.' 

What was the highlight of the conference for you?

'For me, the highlight was the fact that it wasn’t just a passive conference in which participants discuss issues and perhaps put forward a few demands. In the conference closing, Secretary General Madeleine Rees urged every one us to make commitments on how we will contribute to highlighting women’s power to stop war.' 

How would you encourage others who want to get involved in women’s rights issues?

'Each one of us can make a difference, simply by discussing women’s rights issues as they relate to the people and communities we engage in. This is how movements are built – by taking overarching concepts and applying them to our own particular situations.'  

Watch highlights from the conference and find out more about WILPF here.