League of their own

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  • Published 20130604
  • ISBN: 9781922079978
  • Extent: 288 pp
  • Paperback (234 x 153mm), eBook

‘It is now more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier in modern conflicts.’

– Major General Patrick Cammaert, 2008, former UN Peacekeeping Operation commander
in Democratic Republic of Congo.

WOMEN’S INTERNATIONAL LEAGUE for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) was founded in 1915 during World War I and is the oldest women’s peace group in the world. At that time, women from North America and Europe came together in The Hague to protest the war and violence. Although coming from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds, political beliefs and philosophies, they were all united in their rejection of the theory that war was inevitable. More than a thousand women came together from warring and neutral nations to work out a plan to end World War I and lay the basis for a permanent peace. Women defied all obstacles to their plan to meet together in wartime with an aim to eliminate the causes and legitimisations of war. They established an international committee of ‘Women for Permanent Peace’ which four years later was re-named ‘Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom’ (WILPF). They passed twenty Resolutions and sent delegations to fourteen countries. They also met President Woodrow Wilson, who said that their resolutions were the best foundations for peace.

Out of this meeting the WILPF was born and since then its members have been actively working for a world without war. The purpose of founding WILPF was to have an organisation through which women could work for peace and freedom by asserting women’s right and responsibility to participate in decision-making in all aspects of peace and security. They envision a world in which racial, social and economic justice are given rights for all rather than lofty goals.[i] WILPF works to achieve the peaceful world through universal disarmament and the abolition of all forms of violence. It strives to establish political, social, and psychological conditions which can assure peace, freedom, and justice for all.[ii] As an organisation, it works on issues of disarmament, human rights and peace on local, national and international levels.

WILPF is non-governmental organisation which has consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) since 1948 and special relations with many international governmental and non-governmental institutions. WILPF has branches in five Australian states and territories (Tasmania, New South Wales, Queensland, Australian Capital Territory, Victoria) and in forty countries around theworld.WILPF has a particular interest in bringing women to the fore of all issues concerning peace and security.In order to raise awareness and send messages out to the community about its important work, a few years ago the WILPF Australia established a street theatre, called Performers for Peace.

PERFORMERS FOR PEACE (P4P), the WILPF Queensland performing troupe, was established in 2006 when the Queensland Office for Women offered a small grant to women’s groups to organise events to celebrate the annual International Women’s Day. The theme chosen for that year was ‘Women – Striving for a Peaceful Society’ and WILPF got a grant for a project called101 Steps to Peace and Freedom – A Woman’s Walking Tour of Brisbane. The piece was made and delivered by a few WILPF members on the streets of Brisbane, re-enacting three events from the early 1920s, exploring the themes of neglect of women suffrages by the police and state; women fighting against war and conscription, and protest against Australia’s engagement with the Vietnam war in the 1960s.

The P4P was born after this street performance and since then has been developing and performing short pieces to support WILPF activism. The grant they received in 2006 enabled WILPF to employ a freelance theatre director, Anna Yen, and the work with Anna sparked WILPF’s interest in developing more performances. Since 2006, WILPF has developed five street performances, each dealing with a particular theme of WILPF interest. In 2006, the piece Yellowcake – a fairy tale about the dangers of nuclear warfare was developed and played on the streets of Brisbane. The piece was about the dangers of mining uranium and its devastating effects on the earth. In 2007, The sound of music was developed. This piece explores the theme of mining and milling and the dangers of nuclear weapons. In 2008, the P4P developed two new presentations: UNSCR1325 blue silk dreaming, which was presented at the United Nations Association of Australia National Conference in Brisbane in August, and Reflections on sustainability – need versus greed about the greed of the West and poverty in other parts of the world.

In 2009, the P4P performed at several community events as well as at the WILPF Triennial in front of Australian colleagues and invited guests including the new Queensland Governor. In 2010 P4P obtained a Community History and Heritage Grant from the Brisbane City Council to develop a piece of theatre, Emma stands up for peace. Emma Miller was known as a union trade organiser and suffragist who formed the first women’s union in Brisbane in September 1890. However, she was also a peace activist during World War I and it was this little-known side of Emma Miller that WILPF wanted to bring to the public space.

‘Emma Miller was not well known as a peace activist but only as a trade unionist, so we wanted to show the other side of her story,’ P4P coordinator Delene Cuddihy says. ‘WILPF honours its foremothers by making their tremendous work in the past visible and not forgotten.’[iii]

The last performance, Give racism the flick, was developed and enacted in 2011.

The main goal of P4P is to send WILPF’s message out in an accessible and entertaining way. The theatre strives to reach out, inform, educate and engage the community about important world issues with respect to women, peace and security. Their pieces are short and sharp.

‘Since our troupe members don’t have the training in performing and are not professionals, we don’t have the stamina to do long pieces, so our performances are rather short and they go for five minutes or so,’ Cuddihy says. ‘Still, we are doing our best to perform as professionals and work hard to get the piece right. We think it is good that they are short because we can send a short but sharp message across. We can keep people’s attention for such a short time. Maybe that would not be possible with long pieces. ‘The performances look at the core themes that WILPF works on, such as nuclear disarmament, peace activism, women, peace, security, sustainability, social and economic justice and racism. In developing their pieces, P4P are guided by the WILPF core principles and areas of work. P4P is the only such group in the WILPF section in Australia. However, as Cuddihy notes, ‘the WILPF International has similar groups, in particular in the third world.’

SINCE THE UNANIMOUS passing of the Security Council Resolution on Women Peace and Security (R1325) in October 2000, WILPF developed the ‘PeaceWomen’ project to monitor its implementation. R1325 is the result of tireless work by women around the world and is the first resolution on specifically aimed at women, peace and security passed by the UN Security Council. WILPF was instrumental in lobbying for R1325 to be passed and it is considered as a ground-breaking and historic achievement which for the first time recognises and links women’s experience of conflict to international peace and security. The R1325 acknowledges the disproportionate impact of conflict on women, and calls for women’s equal and full engagement as active agents in conflict resolution, peacekeeping and peace building.

Although R1325 is binding upon all UN Member States, many countries around the world have been slow in developing the National Plan of Action (NAP) that would outline strategies and mechanisms needed to be put in place in order to secure its implementation. NAP serves as a template to government to articulate priorities and coordinate the implementation of R1325 at national level. It is a guiding national policy document that holds accountable governmental bodies and key stakeholders in the field of security, development and gender equality for its implementation.

Civil society plays an important role in the development, overseeing, monitoring and implementation of NAP. WILPF Australia has been actively involved in lobbying the Commonwealth Government to adopt the NAP for the implementation of R1325. WILPF was one of the lead agents working closely with the government. They were commissioned to produce the report about R1325 and were involved in the national consultation. WILPF has also adopted a Resolution on NAPs articulating its position and calling for NAPs to have an increased focus on the prevention of conflict and regulation of arms trade and disarmament. [iv] Almost twelve years after its promulgation, after years of lobbying and urging the government to develop NAP, Australia promulgated its NAP on International Women’s Day March 8, 2012. Australia NAP recognised multiple roles women can play in the context of conflict and peace. It has been acknowledged that women are victims but also agents who take part in the armed struggle and build peace. It has also been noted that many women and girls make remarkable contributions to peacebuilding and conflict prevention, in particular at a community level.[v] However, women are often excluded from formal decision-making processes despite the disproportionate impact that conflict has on women and girls.

WILPF Resolution on NAPs highlights the importance of participation of civil society and women’s organisations in making international policies and laws that will work for women. NAP should also serve to raise awareness about importance and the role of gender equality to peaceful nations.[vi] In order to raise awareness and push for faster adoption of NAP, WILPF developed a street theatre performance called 1325 Blue Silk Dreaming.

THE RAP DEVELOPED for this performance is a plea to UN key stake holders to let women drive peace processes and act as agents on issues that concern them. While one of the troupe members delivers the rap in spoken word,, the other performers play out the words through slow motion movements with blue silk. Cuddihy says the main aim of this performance was ‘to translate dry UN document in a plain and easy to understand language’.

Below is the full text from this piece:

I am woman, hear me roar
when you men go to war
my heart is sore
’cause for sure
women and children suffer more.

Families are torn apart
it’s got to stop so that we can start
to make peace.

Women and children
are not villains
but innocent civilians
turned into refugees
on our knees.

Displaced persons
it is certain
we will suffer more.
‘collateral damage’
is the adage
but we are the targets
of the mines beneath our children’s feet
of the destruction that you reap
and heap upon us.

It’s been clear for years
that we suffer, we shed tears
it appears we must get tougher
we speak but no one hears
We yell but you don’t hear
now we roar
women mustn’t suffer any more.

We will roar down the door
we will roar
let us in
to the peace process
so we can focus
on women and children.

Let us in
to field-based operations
to make military observations
and human rights negotiations.

Let us in
to these discussions
or there’ll be further repercussions
let us in
to help organise post-conflict reconstruction,

For women and children

without rape, without abuse
unless it’s non-violent, it’s no use.

Let us in
we roar
and we’ll roar more and more
’til you listen
to resolution 1325
and let us drive
the process with you
1325 to stay alive
we will strive
for 1325.

To be heard
not ignored
we will roar

– Helen Varley Jamieson

The text and performance came after the WILPF members brainstormed what else they could do to urge the Commonwealth Government to live up to its commitment to R1325 and develop a NAP. Worried about the slow progress in implementing R1325, the P4P decided to develop a street performance that would speak about the importance of the resolution.

‘We knew that Australia did not have a NAP, and wanted to find out more what the 1325 was about,’ Cuddihy says. ‘We first wanted to explain it to ourselves and then go out and explain it in simple terms to other people. We were thinking how to portray this very dry document written in typical UN language in[1] plain words. How can we portray that in a graphic, non-typical way? We knew the resolution was wordy so we tried to think how to translate it into movement. We do lots of movement in the play to cover the themes we could not cover with the words.’

The piece aims to raise awareness about the consequences of war and its devastation on women but also to highlight the need for women to be involved and make decisions about issues related to peace and security. The performance was developed in 2008 and staged numerous times in Brisbane. Since the members in the group are all unpaid volunteers, there was no feasible way to tour the production.

P4P WAS ESTABLISHED by women for women, men and children in the community, but their future is uncertain. They depend on government grants for survival. While all troupe members are volunteers, the director is a professional theatre person who needs to be paid for her work. Cuddihy also notes that some troupe members work full-time and give up their spare time to exercise and perform. ‘This work requires not only physical stamina, but also full engagement with the text and theme, trying to extract the words out and put them in the movements,’ Cuddihy says.

Despite these challenges, members of P4P find their work tremendously rewarding. Sometimes, as Cuddihy says, ‘the play can be a bit confronting or moving…it all depends on the audience and the play we perform. Sometimes people can be amused by us, our costumes and movements, as in the case of Emma Miller.’

P4P will continue to perform before different audiences on dates of note such as International Day of Women (8 March) or International Peace Day (21 September) but also at community events when they are invited. They want to continue the legacy of their foremothers and through movement and dance explain to their community the concerns of the WILPF and how they, the people on the ground, can make the change: by getting involved and mobilising for peace and security.


P4P. Original Scene from UNSCR1325 Blues Silk Dreaming.Reproduced with permission of WILPF.


[i] http://www.wilpf.org.au/

[ii] http://wilpf.org/US_WILPF

[iii] Interview with Delene Cuddihy in Brisbane, February 13, 2013.

[iv] http://wilpfcongress2011.files.wordpress.com/2011/06/wilpf-national-action.pdf

[v] NAP Australia, p.1

[vi] WILPF Resolution

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