YWILPF presents at WILPF Australia Centenary

YWILPF members Sophia Tipping and Yasmin Chilmeran presented on YWILPF, anti-war feminism and the future for young feminist activism at the recent WILPF Australia Centenary Conference in Canberra, held on the 29th of May at ANU. Their presentation focussed on the research done by Alejandra Pineda, a YWILPF intern from 2014, who surveyed young members about their hopes for the future of women’s anti-war activism. Read their presentation below:

YWILPF, future of feminist activism and the next 100 years.

Hello everyone and thank you for having us here today. My name is Yasmin, and myself and Sophia, are both members of the Young-WILPF Australia. Today, we’ll be speaking to you about young women’s activism. We’ll be discussing what we see as the direction for WILPF, feminist activism and women’s role in peace-building for the next 100 years.

The majority of our presentation today comes from a survey that our YWILPF intern, Alejandra Pineda, completed last year. During her time internship,, Alejandra created and distributed a questionnaire that asked young women to reflect on their views on women’s power to stop war, YWILPF, anti-war feminism more generally and their hopes for the future in relation to this. We’ve used the responses to put together a short presentation that explains the views of young women members, how we see challenges and strengths of our collective movements, and what we hope to see in future for women’s anti-war efforts. These responses, as our intention with our member-base, are diverse and represent the views of young women from around the world and who have varied experiences of young women’s activism and conflict.

We’ll first introduce you to YWILPF and our achievements, then discuss these findings and close with an example of some forward thinking activism that two YWILPF members are currently organising – The Fabric Social.

YWILPF achievements:

Our aim as YWILPF is not only to organise locally as young women around Women, Peace and Security, but to also be a global network of young women involved in anti-war initiatives and projects.

Since the creation of the Australia Young-WILPF branch in 2011, we have collectively and as individual members organised and taken part in a number of events, projects and presentations that tie into the overarching goals of YWILPF and WILPF generally.

Some of our major achievements have been:

The Melbourne Free University Lectures series on Women Peace and security

​In 2014 YWILPF members put together a four week program of public lectures for the Melbourne Free University. Speakers from a variety of institutions, organisations and backgrounds spoke on local and international issues related to militarisation, disarmament, insecurity and peace activism with a gender lens.

The recordings of these lectures are available on the Melbourne Free University Website if you are interested.

Pacific Media internship in partnership with FemLINK Pacific

In 2013, with the support of FemLinkPacific in Fiji, 3CR Melbourne, the Community Media Training Organisation ​in Sydney and 32 crowd funding supporters, YWILPF arrange an Australian based radio broadcasting internship program with an emphasis on women’s rights and social change for a young Fijian woman. Our first intern, Nandni Vandhana, spent two weeks in Sydney and Melbourne participating in training, networking and producing radio content as well as sharing her knowledge around radio broadcasting and feminist peace building gained from work with FemLink Pacific.

In 2015 YWILPF again partnered with FemLink Pacific to arrange a Fiji based internship for a young Australian women. Our intern, Alexia Fuller, spent two weeks in Suva and Nadi attending Young Women in Leadership Training and participating in the young women’s radio activities . She was able to meet with Nandni Vandhana, our 2013 intern, as well as other FemLink staff, volunteers to share experience and  exchange knowledge. We are looking at sustainability options to continue this intern exchange program.

We have also Facilitated opportunities for YWILPF members to  represent the movement and have a presence as young women at meetings, conferences and submission rounds. A part of this is providing Funding for young women to take up such opportunities. These efforts have meant YWILPF members were able to contribute at CSW in New York, the centenary conference at the Hague as well as various other internships.

Other collaborations:

YWILPF have collaborated on work with various other advocacy organisations with aligned purposes including ICAN, Oxfam and Young UN Women Australia.

What our respondents saw for the future of WILPF and women’s peace activism:

The responses Alejandra received through her questionnaire highlighted a number of challenges facing, some historic and some new, that face women experiencing conflict today as well as challenges young women face in their activism. These also represent our hope for the agenda and focus of women’s anti-war activism in the future, and where members see efforts in the next 100 years.

Increasingly, we see a need for activism, analysis and membership that values diversity and intersectionality in its agenda, response mechanisms and scope. This is something we already see in both WILPF and young-WILPF. It’s also something that young women reported as an area that they would like to focus on. This means having a membership base that is diverse in its experiences, hopes and identity, and taking this understanding through all of the work we do. The MENA1325 project is a great example of something that is already happening on this front, and smaller projects that we have done also have this focus in mind. We want to be a movement that is responsive to the complexity of women’s lives, empowering and inclusive.

The young women surveyed envision a brand of peace activism that is responsive to conflict and issues of insecurity for women as it occurs. Many saw WILPF as offering an important voice on such issues and saw value in the wider projection of its voice on issues related to conflict and insecurity of women. The women surveyed saw this as happening through supporting other like-minded organisations in their efforts and connection advocacy to the grassroots level.

Many of the responses also highlighted the importance of rekindling the wide appeal of mass movements that have historically marked the achievement of widened human rights access, anti-war successes and other gains made by the women’s movement. Young women see this as achievable through broadening the scope of our concerns and networks – we may want to keep WILPF a women’s only space, or a safe space for women, but working alongside other communities, groups and advocacy networks is vital if we want to see our goals come to fruition. Particularly working alongside other groups that have an interest in social-justice focussed initiatives, particularly from a human security perspective.

In relation to this, many of the responses we received adopted a complex understanding of violence and security that focussed on a human security understanding of the experience of violence in its many forms – whether it relates to armed conflict, physical violence, and also economic violence and insecurity, access to reproductive rights, the impacts of climate change and environmental violence and other forms of insecurity that affect the women’s quality of life.

Many of the women we heard from spoke of Young women’s activism and the unique strategies they employ. There is a popular myth that young women are disinterest in the women’s movement and anti-war activism. YWILPF members wanted to stress this has not been our experience. Young women are present. As one response said: “we just might not be hanging out in the same spaces”.

The  social, political and cultural environment that we operate in is constantly changing. Though this might have a negative effect on the political engagement of young people and young women on the surface, they are still active, but they’re active in unique ways. This is a strength of the women’s movement.

YWILPF is relies on the capacity of young women to organise across borders, often online. Solidarity is just as important now as it was at the birth of WILPF, but for some members of this movement it is being build it in different ways, including in virtual spaces. We’re doing this as a network, but we’re also using this platform to organise outside of our movement, as the example of the Fabric Social will show later.

The final theme that came through in responses from young women focussed on maintaining optimism and solidarity in the face of the challenges that young activists face. Much of this relates to the lived reality of young women both here in Australia and abroad. We see the consequences of neo-liberal agendas taking hold across the many levels of our social, political and economic structures. We see a deregulation and casualization of our workforce, which has impacted the women’s and advocacy sectors. We see a rise in unpaid work – not only a road to a career in advocacy and activism, but as a reality for potentially years into such careers. We see additional barriers for indigenous women, women with disability, women of diverse cultural backgrounds and LGBTI women. However, we are also seeing critiques of how this system doesn’t benefit young people and are aimed at working to address this. We hope to continue to challenge this. As a movement, we fundraise to support young women in their attempts to access decision making platforms, internships and meetings and to influence change processes. Much of this has been possible thanks to the efforts of the wider WILPF network of members.

The intergenerational links between the more experienced peace activists and the young women entering into this activist space is vital for strengthening the movement and preparing future generations of WILPF members. The support received from many WILPF members and WILPF sections over the years (in the form of mentoring, wisdom sharing, providing opportunities, internships, platforms to be heard) is vital for maintaining optimism and momentum. Continuing to nurture these intergenerational links will ensure another fruitful century of WILPF feminist peace activism.

The Fabric Social

As we touched on earlier – Young WILPF women are already leading in a number of projects and initiatives that address many of the challenges we’ve spoken about today.

An example of such creative work is the Fabric Social – project that is lead by two young WILPF women, Fiona McAlpine and Sharna de Lacy.

This project  links economic insecurity and violence; it links economic independence and empowerment; and it taps into  women’s power to stop war using creative and responsive means.

The Fabric Social aims to support women in conflict affected areas in northern India in their efforts to gain independence through small enterprise. They tell their story better than we can, so we’ll now show you a short video about this project and the potential it has to provide a space for women to organise, support each other.

I also wanted to flag that this video is the fabric social’s entry to Project Inspire is an initiative of the Singapore Committee for UN Women and MasterCard that aims to support “young change-makers create a better world for women and girls in Asia and the Pacific” region. I hope you enjoy!

You can follow the Fabric Social and the outcome of their entry to Project Inspire on facebook and you can also purchase from their first line of designs on their website.

The next 100 years

We know the world is changing, we know that sometimes addressing vast structures like patriarchy, the machinery of war, and economic injustice is a huge and daunting challenge. But we also know that women are an undervalued and impressive source of power, networking, organising, energy, and hope. In our midst, I hope we see some faces who will make up the future of the women’s movement here in Australia and abroad.

Some of WILPF’s young members are activists who represent their community and carve out a space for their voices to be heard, some are working through academic institutions, documenting and building an evidence base for what women already know, some use their creative energies to ensure that women’s representation is always loud and always present. In all of this, we recognise the power that stands behind (next to us?) from a women’s movement that has history, gravity and a long list of successes – a list we want to build on.

In our future we see more women being a prominent voice in public debates about war. We see a nuanced and responsive understanding of human insecurity and the varied and situated needs of women. We see building a network that is diverse, mobilised online and offline and ultimately, we hope that in 100 years’ time, conversations like this, and war, will only be a part of our history.