A Centenary worth celebrating



While the Centenary of Anzac received blanket media coverage, the three-day conference marking the centenary of the historic 1915 Congress of Women passed largely unnoticed.

In contrast to our recent nauseating celebration of the centenary of WW1, a more worthy centenary is happening with female activists heading for The Hague to set a new peace agenda. The three-day conference will be marking the centenary of the historic 1915 Congress of Women and will celebrate the work of female peacemakers globally with a bold aim of formulating a new peace agenda for the next 100 years.

One hundred years ago this month, more than 1,100 women from 12 countries travelled across Europe to the Netherlands to protest against the war that was raging across their borders. It was this congress in 1915 that sparked the creation of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF).  WILPF has consistently advocated for peace and freedom and believes that the causes of war must be eliminated arguing for political and economic equality, participation of women and men, and justice for all – regardless of race, sex or creed.

Arrival_in_Budapest_1In 1915 when the women gathered for the international peace congress in The Hague, Netherlands, they made long and arduous journeys by land and sea. This week a group of WILPF members- eight from Australia and two from Aotearoa-New Zealand decided to travel like their predecessors, by the slow, terrestrial route- a train journey for peace. Photo (right) shows the peace travellers from Australia and New Zealand being greeted at Budapest, Keleti station. 

When WW1 broke out Australians greeted it with ‘fervent patriotism’. Pacifists were considered unpatriotic and women working for peace such as Australian feminist Vida Goldstein were met with derision. Screen shot 2015-04-29 at 7.15.22 PMUnder the War Precautions Act, copies of her paper, Woman Voter had to be submitted to the censor before publication. When Vida asked the censor if she could plead for love and peace, she was told that it was forbidden to print anything that would deter military enthusiasm.

Those who speak the truth about war still face the censor. This week SBS presenter Scott McIntyre was sacked from his position for sending what were called ‘inappropriate’ Anzac Day tweets. McIntyre, a soccer reporter and presenter, referred to some Australians marking Anzac Day as “poorly-read, largely white, nationalist drinkers and gamblers”. Well, someone really had to say something – the expansive coverage of the Anzac myth needed to take a hit. Gallipoli’, to quote Professor Joe Camilleri,‘ was a disaster’ ‘yet the spin is most successful’. According to Melbourne writer Christopher Bantick ‘much of what we commemorate on Anzac Day is a journalist’s construct’. He admits that there were some astounding feats of bravery at the Gallipoli landing in 1915, but the legend that arose from them is indeed mythical. Australia needed its own myth, he says, because we lacked a battle for independence, a civil war or a revolution. We were a penal colony.

From 2014 to 2018 Australia will commemorate 100 years since the country’s involvement in World War One. April 25, 2015 was celebrated as the centenary of the landing of the Anzac forces at Gallipoli. Gallipoli is proclaimed as the moment when Australia was born as a nation, that the death of so many young men was the sacrifice that made us who we are. Groups such as the Anzac Peace Coalition disagree that Australia was born in conflict and believe that we have a much finer story to tell which includes our role as a social pioneer in developing universal suffrage for all including women, in bringing in the eight hour day and the living wage. The coalition’s mission is to expose the militarisation of our history and our present involvement in war, to question war as an institution, and to promote peace and prevent further wars.

This also was Vida Goldstein’s purpose for in World War 1, the enthusiasm for war was intense and even so the extremely courageous Goldstein continued selling the Woman Voter on the streets. Goldstein used her paper to tell the truth asserting that doing so would convert the public to peace. Pacifists set up organisations to prevent the increasing militarism spreading across the land. Vida Goldstein was prominent in this work and formed the Women’s Peace Army, her main goal was to ‘War on War’.

At the conference marking the centenary of the historic 1915 Congress of Women, the three plenaries will explore the power dynamics in society and how they can be challenged, the increase in global militarisation and the structural root causes of war, and what activists can do to bring change at local, national and international level. Madeleine Rees, WILPF’s current secretary general calls on us ‘to stop disengaging, stop engaging in football or consumerism or anything that makes us avoid paying attention to what is happening.’ ‘It starts with an individual decision,’ she said.

On May 28 in the Great Hall, University House, Canberra, four Australian women working for peace will be awarded the inaugural WILPF Australian Peacewomen Award.

Helen Caldicott, physician, author and anti-nuclear advocate; founder of several associations dedicated to opposing the use of nuclear power, depleted uranium munitions, nuclear weapons, nuclear weapons proliferation, war and military action in general.

Anne Gallagher, independent scholar and legal adviser to the United Nations and Association of South East Asian Nations; leading global expert on the international law in human trafficking, migrant smuggling, and transnational organized crime; named as a ‘Trafficking in Persons Hero’ by then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Helen Durham, Director for International Law and Policy at the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) based in Geneva – the first Australian to be appointed as a Director with ICRC and the first woman Director of Law in the 150 year history of the organisation.

Kirstie Parker, Co-Chair of the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, Director of Reconciliation Australia, and a Co-Chair of the national Close the Gap Campaign.  Kirstie is also a member of the Deadly Awards Executive Academy; former editor of the 100% Aboriginal owned and controlled newspaper, the Koori Mail.

Congratulations to WILPF and all those working for peace. Here is Australian cartoonist, artist, writer and children’s book creator, Judy Horacek’s centenary gift to WILPF.

Screen shot 2015-04-29 at 7.43.39 PM


Categories: books, feminism, news, politics, social change, war, womens rights

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