EUrope – A Gender Equality Project?

Postscriptum on Women’s Berlin March-Meeting from 20th to 23rd 2014

Wilpf* is an offspring of the Suffragette’s movement. It was born in The Hague in 1915 out of a gathering of more than one thousand women, dedicated to challenge the ongoing slaughtering of World War I. In Zürich, in 1919 the organizational groundwork was laid down in the framework of aims and principles, that was to form Wilpf’s first constitution in 1924. Under the guidance of women such as US-social reformer Jane Addams, Dutch physician Aletta Jacobs and German lawyer Anita Augspurg the organization influenced the League of Nations and collected millions of signatures for total and universal disarmament. The rise of fascism in Europe and the new darkening clouds with prospects for another global war caused controversial debates among the women’s association.

Wilpf might have have been more outspoken and stronger in their solidarity efforts then, but they were middle class ladies of the academic rank and file, mostly. And some of them were very courageous. Some lost their jobs, some their citizenships, some their homes and some even their lives for their outspokenness. Emily Green Balch, a national economist at prestigious Bryn Mawr College college lost her professorship post for her social leaning.
Other organizations compromised, too, in those days. We must as always evaluate the historical conditions, to do the actors justice. But we must not repeat the same mistakes over and over again as we live under new threats for another possible global war theater.

Wilpf lost many members during World II and even sections. But after the war the organization was among the first international bodies to be granted official NGO status with ECOSOC, an important UN agency.

In postwar USA, WILPF offered shelter to women who would have become victims of Mc Carthy’s witch hunt during the fiercest cold war period. They had no other political home that WILPF in those days. WILPF did not participate in cold warfare, then.

But in 1954, under cold war pressure, WILPF international changed its constitution and made it weaker, in order to avoid being labeled as pro communist. The red hunt could of course not be avoided by such concessions.

In the 80ies of the last century WILPF, carried by a global movement for disarmament and peace, made international headlines through its STAR-Campaign, demanding to STopp All ARmament now. The STAR-logo was translated in many languages. Having brought together over 10 000 women from all over the world in Brussels on International Women’s Day 1983, in practically no time, was a big achievement in times without electronic communication gadgets.

In 2014, just before the 15th anniversary of the first post WWII aggression in Europe against former Jugoslawia that was started by NATO on March 24th in 1999, Wilpfers from all over Europe gathered again.

Many women had come to help prepare the anniversary event scheduled for the Hague in 2015. Long term ex-president and ex international secretary Edith Ballantyne (91) from Geneva was present. STAR-campaign coordinator of 1983, I. Eckert from Berlin accompanied her to the prestigious Heinrich Böll palace, opposite the „German Theater“ in Berlin Mitte, that had been founded in the twenties by stage director Max Reinhard.

The residence of the Green Part’y Heinrich Böll** Foundation in Schumannstraße is right next to the Ukrainean embassy.

The violent Ukrainean coup d’etat of end February was welcomed and even explicitly supported by the Böll-Foundation, supporting vigils for the „victims of the Russian aggression“ outside the embassy building and inside their seat. The evening before the joint WILPF/GREEN gathering Joschka Fischer *** and George Sorros were invited as speakers.

Comprehensible under such conditions that WILPF-Europe could not condemn what had happened in the Ukraine.

But, the „debates“ also showed a lack of expertise on international law. This expertise had contributed enormously to the women’s club’s prestige for many years in the past.

Still astonishing that the relevance of the UN-Charta as the major guideline to peace was put aside, while celebrating as the biggest achievement of the moment, was WILPF having helped to introduce the „the gender aspect into the ‚ATT‘-arms control agreement.

WILPF’s international webside has the information, missing in Berlin:


2013 featured important milestones for a better regulation of arms trade. The Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) was adopted in April 2013, following seven years of discussion and negotiations. The ATT is the first ever legally binding regime that recognizes the link between gender-based violence and the international arms trade and WILPF was instrumental in making that element be in the text.“

Emma Burgisser, a young lawyer, employed delegate from the Geneva office argued:

The ATT is more relevant than the UN-Charta, it is what gives it teeth.

Has Wilpf forgotten what it was founded for, one of its basic aims to achieve total and universal disarmament ? A treaty for arms control being celebrated as the greatest achievement of the day and an enormous contribution to world peace? While our leaders are breaching international law in its essence with every passing day.
The framework for anniversary preparations put forward for hours by the same Ms Emma Burgisser, who did want no questions before she had finished her lengthy and sophisticated powerpoint presentation focused on fundraising. No theme seems to exist at this point and no content, neither have speakers been forwarded and discussed.
If preparing for WILPF’S 100th anniversary in the Hague will make any sense in terms of peace building, conflict prevention, disarmament or women’s issues, then sections will have to work on it speedily. Otherwise Hague 1915 will be another lost occasion for peace. The most likely very high registration fees of the event will enable participation for only some very privileged women or rich organization This might serve purposes incompatible with WILPF’s noble heritage.
Lets begin discussing the real issues now.

Remarks by Irene Eckert, STAR-coordiantor of 1983, member of WILPF since 1981, invited as lecturer by US – WILPF and other sections, ex president of Berlin branch.
* WILPF means Women’s International League For Peace and Freedom and you can join.
** Heinrich Böll, nobel laureate for literature, peace activist of the eighties of last century.
*** Joschka Fischer German foreign minister in 1999 for the Green Party, instrumentalising Auschwitz (Human Rights) for participating in first post war engagement of Germany: 78 days bombing of Jugoslawia began MArch 24th 1999; the GREENS since then pro war party = “ humanitarian interventions with military aims.

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