WILPF: 100 years of women working for peace and equality

The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom has been working to support peace and justice for everyone since 1915. As one of the first nonprofits receiving consultative status with the United Nations, they play a fundamental role in amplifying the voice of women and getting it heard by international decision-makers.

About WILPF

The Women's International League for Peace and Freedom brings together women from all over the world to work for peace. WILPF has sections in 37 countries.

In 1932, long before the age of internet and social media activism, members of WILPF collected 6 million signatures for peace and delivered their petition to the World Disarmament Conference in Geneva. Not only did they demonstrate that people desperately wanted peace, they publicly showed the connection between wars and the arms industry for the first time.

In 2016, one of WILPF’s focus areas is turning the international attention to the human rights violations in conflict zones. WILPF has been cooperating with local activists who face threats every day, reporting crimes committed against people and showing the impact of the war on women.

Rape, detention, human trafficking, and the collapse of the educational, social security and public health systems during wars affect women differently and disproportionately in conflict zones such as the Middle East, Ukraine and Central Africa. Due to WILPF’s advocacy, international decision makers are now increasingly taking this aspect into account when creating frameworks for conflict prevention, resolution, and humanitarian aids.

Uniting cross-cutting areas to achieve peace

“We believe that in order to reach peace, we need full disarmament, political, social, economic and gender equality and human rights”, says Line Favre, International Office Manager at WILPF Geneva office. “All of these are vital to achieving our vision. This complex and intersectional approach is our primary strength. At the same time, it is challenging for us to work on so many fields”, adds Favre who studied humanitarian affairs and worked at the World Health Organization before joining WILPF.

WILPF is active on every continent, with 5000 members and national sections in 37 countries. To be close to UN bodies, their Secretariat is based in Geneva, Switzerland, and they have another office located next to the UN Headquarters in New York, USA. The national sections meet every three years to agree on the international program and work towards implementing it in their location.

WILPF is a very diverse group of activists, not only geographically but also when it comes to ideas. “Because of our long history, we have all the generations of activists. What unites us is that we are all women, representing an organization that works for human rights and peace for all”, says Favre.

100 years of activism and advocacy

“WILPF was started by feminists who shifted from talking about women's human rights to speaking about world peace. In the beginning, women were not part of these conversations so for years we had to work on achieving the right to be there. Now that we are legitimized to be part of these discussions about peace and conflicts, we can expand our advocacy to include the equal and meaningful participation of women and also to claim our right to be heard as women”, says María Muñoz Maraver, Programme Director at WILPF.

Since its foundation in 1915, WILPF has gone global and has sought to achieve peace through working for human rights, disarmament, education, and awareness raising on violence against women and environmental issues. Acknowledging the organization, two members of WILPF have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize: Jane Addams in 1931 and Emily Greene Balch in 1946.

In 1948, WILPF became one of the first NGOs to get consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council. This status gives grassroots activists from all over the globe access to the UN and enables them to influence international decision-making. One result of this work is Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace, and Security that acknowledges women’s right to human rights and emphasizes its importance during conflicts. It was the first UN resolution to focus on women and armed conflict, paving the way to include gender perspectives in other resolutions and treaties.

Data privacy and security is essential for peace activists

Over the past 100 years, WILPF has been witnessing significant technological changes. As all nonprofits nowadays, they use social media extensively, for example, they have just opened an online, members-only, discussion and resource-sharing forum called myWILPF.

“With the Internet, we can connect more easily, but it is still challenging for some of our members. In a lot of countries, a stable Internet connection is still a privilege, for example in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Internet subscriptions cost about 80 USD per month. We focus a lot on these tools to keep in touch and get our messages through but we have to be aware that they are not available for everyone”, adds Favre.

Using online tools for working across continents, security, and privacy of data is very important for them. “Because we work together with activists in conflict zones, we need online services that guarantee security. Our peace activists face threats and can be in danger if their names or their data gets to the wrong hands,” says Favre.