The following is a blog written by someone who chooses to remain anonymous for the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) about why she became a member of the organisation. It’s a wonderful piece that has inspired me to get involved with WILPF and the author has been kind enough to give me permission to share it:
Did I find WILPF or did WILPF find me? I often ponder this question when I reflect on my own journey to becoming a peace activist, a journey that has taken me from working in a conflict affected country, to coming home to the UK to recover from secondary PTSD to ‘finding’ and becoming an active member of WILPF .
I worked in Sri Lanka from 2009-2010 as a volunteer with an international volunteering organisation as a management and gender advisor wit
h a National Sri Lankan NGO, focusing on building capacity in community SGBV (Sexual Gender Based Violence) projects that worked with Internally Displaced People from the North of the Country.
3 months into my placement on the 18th May 2009, the government of Sri Lanka declared victory over the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam); the 3-decade ethnic conflict was finally over. Approximately, 270,000 Tamil people were ‘liberated’ from the conflict zone by the Sri Lankan Army and placed in IDP camps, the largest of which, Menik farm, was the size of Venice. I coordinated a feeding project for pregnant women who had come out of the conflict zone with funding secured from a Japanese donor, as well as working with international de-mining agencies to implement Mine Risk Education programmes with our staff who had access to areas of the country that most international agencies did not have. After 15 months I made the extremely difficult and heart wrenching decision to leave the country that I loved as I had been diagnosed with symptoms of PTSD (you know the climate of fear and paranoia has got to you when you question who the Psychologist is working for and whether her office is bugged!) burn –out and what I can only describe as my ‘moral compass’ going off balance.
Whilst I was in Sri Lanka no-one inside that country could speak out against the human rights violations, the rapes, the disappearances, the shelling of hospitals, the denial of medical supplies, food and water to civilians trapped within the war zone, because of the absolute climate of fear created by a government intent on blaming, minimising or outright denying that any of these crimes took place. I could not speak out about the state sanctioned sexual violence against women in the camps because I was scared, scared for my own safety and scared for my colleagues and their families.
But I can speak out now and I suppose, as difficult as my own personal journey has been, bearing witness comes with a responsibility. In my mind that responsibility is to take action, to speak out and raise awareness about the gendered dimensions of war, the consequences for women and how ultimately women’s activism can define peace processes, previously monopolised by men. I met members of WILPF at a local conference in 2011 and for the first time since I returned from Sri Lanka I found solidarity in other women who not only understood my outrage at the injustice of war and the cost of human suffering but also my anger towards the men who create and sustain war. Politicisation is a process and although I have identified myself as a feminist since I was 15 years old, I had never before felt called upon to join a ‘women’s organisation, until the experience of Sri Lanka defined me as someone who wants to fight for peace and to do that collectively with other women.
I have now been a member of WILPF for 3 years and have been blessed that I live in a city with a local branch of dedicated WILPF members. I have travelled to the UN in Geneva to observe the UPR (Universal Periodic Review) of Sri Lanka and had the opportunity to see WILPF in action at the highest level with its Human Rights Programme. I have also attended a European WILPF meeting and hope to be in attendance at the forthcoming Global Summit on Sexual Violence in Conflict, supporting our WILPF agenda in whatever way I can. I am also working with our local branch to raise awareness of 1325 and how we can hold our own government to account to implement its directives. I now work in a local charity in my city which delivers services to survivors of sexual violence and treatment programmes to help people change their abusive and violent behaviour in intimate relationships. For me, every time that I work with a man to help him to change his violent and abusive behaviour I am doing peace work; engaging in dialogue, holding him to account, treating him with compassion and respect, fostering empathy and encouraging him to use alternative, non violent strategies that promote equality and respect in his relationships.
Everyone has the right to live in peace and to be free from conflict whether that is in their homes, their communities or their countries and that is why I am proud to be part of a Global Women’s Peace Movement.
In Peace and Solidarity
The original blog can be found on the Women’s Power to Stop War website.