News & Politics

You Can Thank the Feminist Movement for Being a Historic Pillar of America's Peace Movement

The Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, which has been at the forefront of human rights, turns 100.

My grandmother, Lola Maverick Lloyd, was among 47 American feminists who sailed to the Netherlands in April of 1915 in hopes of stopping World War One.  She and her peers were answering the call of a Dutch physician, Aletta Jacobs, who pleaded with them to come join women from both sides of the conflict for a conference at the Hague. In total, 1,300 women from twelve countries answered Jacobs’ call, and during a four day conference they collectively raised their voices against the unbelievable carnage taking place at that moment 104 miles away in Ypres, Belgium. After mourning the young men who had lost their lives on the battlefield, Jacobs said, "we feel that we can no longer endure in this twentieth century of civilization that government should tolerate brute force as the only solution of international disputes."

An archival photo of the Women’s International League of Peace and Freedom.

Out of this meeting the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF, now celebrating it’s 100th Anniversary) was born – with a vision of holistic peacemaking through full rights for women, world disarmament, racial and economic justice, an end to all forms of violence, and the establishment of political, social, and psychological conditions which can assure peace, freedom, and justice for all. They immediately sent delegations of women to several countries to plead for an armistice and mediation, and their final resolutions are often credited with influencing Woodrow Wilson's 14 Points.

Their work was cut out for them. Upon hearing of the harsh terms of the Versailles Treaty ending WW I, my grandmother wrote in her diary: "How stupid of us to expect wise plans for world peace from a group of government officials trained in the school of war."

Many in WILPF supported the League of Nations, but Lola, over time, became convinced that it was doomed to failure because it was controlled by the very powers that caused war in the first place –nation-states, fueled by patriarchal hubris, xenophobia, and racism.   Unfortunately, her predictions were correct. The world has experienced 224 wars since then. Today, there are 50 ongoing violent conflicts resulting in 50 million refugees around the world, and untold death and destruction. Clearly, WILPF’s mission – demanding a greater role for women in foreign policy, and working both within and without the United Nations – is more important than ever.  

Today, the organization counts thousands of members in 36 countries, acting as a unique hub for not only women of different cultures, but also activists primarily concerned with militarism, human trafficking, violence against women, the environment, and more. It is this union of diversity that creates WILPF’s unique perspective that holistically understands the causes of conflict and what’s needed for peace.

Women have won at least two important struggles for our human rights during the 20th century. The first, of course, was the right to vote, in 1920; the second, the right to reproductive freedom in 1972. Jacobs, and the group that formed out of the Hague conference — the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom — insisted then, and we insist now, on a third human right —the right to be at the peace table; to be part of the decisions to make war or keep the peace.  Fewer than one in 40 of the signatories of major peace agreements since 1992 have been female, according to the UN development fund for women.   This needs to change.

Would women's increased peace negotiations put an end to conflict? I doubt it. But the point is not to end conflict, but to resolve it without recourse to military violence. The world is missing a powerful potential for creating sustainable peace when it turns to military solutions and restricts the participants at peace negotiations to the men with guns.

Consider this, too: the international trade of lemons and toothbrushes is regulated, but not guns and other weapons. WILPF has been working actively in support of a robust Arms Trade Treaty, bringing a unique gender analysis to this multilateral treaty that regulates the international trade in conventional weapons. Women around the world can testify that more guns do not equal more peace. (The treaty entered into force on 24 December 2014. It has been signed but not ratified by the US.)

My grandmother died in 1944, before the formation of the UN. But her dismay at the rise of militarism in the 1930’s, and the inability of the League of Nations to control it, caused her to create the Campaign for World Government, an advocacy group which her daughter Georgia, my aunt, maintained until her death in 1999.… Now that there is such widespread dismay at the inability of the United Nations to protect people from violence, perhaps it is time to rediscover some of the visions for world government and world law nurtured by feminists and pacifists from the early part of the 20th century – to raise women’s awareness of themselves as an important force for de-militarizing international relations.

As WILPF celebrates our 100th anniversary as the longest lasting international women’s peace organization -- taking place around the U.S. and at the Hague, Holland, from April 22-29, 2015 -- we join our voices once again with a rallying cry for equality, justice and peace. We have redefined our mission in an inspiring 16 page Manifesto, which declares: Violence is not inevitable. It is a choice. We choose nonviolence, as means and as end. We will liberate the strength of women and, in partnership with likeminded men, bring to birth a just and harmonious world.

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

For more information go to www.womenstopwar.org

Robin Lloyd is a peace activist and filmmaker who serves on the board of the Women’s International League of Peace and Freedom.