Who are Women in Black?
Women in Black is a world-wide network of women committed to peace with justice and actively opposed to injustice, war, militarism and other forms of violence. As women experiencing these things in different ways in different regions of the world, we support each other's movements. An important focus is challenging the militarist policies of our own governments. We are not an organisation, but a means of communicating and a formula for action.
Any group of women anywhere in the world at any time may organize a Women in Black vigil against any manifestation of violence, militarism or war. Women in Black (WiB) actions are generally women only. Our actions often take the form of women wearing black, standing in a public place in silent, non-violent vigils at regular times and intervals, carrying placards and handing out leaflets.
Other non-violent actions
We use non-violent and non-aggressive forms of action. In addition to vigils Women in Black groups use many other forms of non-violent direct action such as sitting down to block a road, entering military bases and other forbidden zones, refusing to comply with orders, and "bearing witness". Wearing black in some cultures signifies mourning, and feminist actions dressed in black convert women's traditional passive mourning for the dead in war into a powerful refusal of the logic of war.
A worldwide movement
It is impossible to know exactly how many Women in Black groups exist, how many women they include and how many actions have been held. When Women in Black in Israel/Palestine, as part of a coalition of Women for a Just Peace, called for vigils in June 2001 against the Occupation of Palestinian lands, at least 150 WiB groups across the world responded. Countries reporting vigils included: Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, England, France, Germany, India, Israel, Italy, Japan, Maldive Islands, Mexico, Netherlands, Northern Ireland, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, and the USA. The organisers estimate that altogether 10,000 women may have been involved.
International women's solidarity
International Women in Black conferences and encounters have been held in Jerusalem, Beijing, Serbia, and Brussels. Another is planned for Italy in 2003. In 2001 Women in Black was awarded the Millennium Peace Prize for Women by the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) and International Alert. Women in Black in Israel/Palestine and former Yugoslavia were also nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and the Right Livelihood Award.
A feminist perspective
Women in Black groups do not have a constitution or a manifesto, but our perspective is clear from our actions and words. It is evident for instance that we have a feminist understanding: that male violence against women in domestic life and in the community, in times of peace and in times of war, are interrelated. Violence is used as a means of controlling women. In some regions, men who share this analysis support and help WiB, and WiB are supporting men who refuse to fight.
Women's different experience of war
Women-only peace activism does not suggest that women, any more than men, are "natural born peace-makers". But women often inhabit different cultures from men, and are disproportionately involved in caring work. We know what justice and oppression mean, because we experience them as women. Most women have a different experience of war from that of most men. All women in war fear rape. Women are the majority of refugees. A feminist view sees masculine cultures as specially prone to violence, and so feminist women tend to have a particular perspective on security and something unique to say about war.
Women's different and varied voices
WiB includes women of many ethnic and national backgrounds, co-operating across these (and other) differences in the interests of justice and peace. We work for a world where difference does not mean inequality, oppression or exclusion. Women's voices are often drowned out in mixed actions of men and women. When we act alone what women say is really heard.
Choosing our own forms of action
Sometimes even peace demonstrations get violent, and as women alone we can choose forms of action we feel comfortable with, non-violent and expressive. Demonstrating together can give us a sense of the richness and scope of our varied experiences, and solidarity and purpose as women. Women in regions differently situated in relation to armed conflicts, including those that perpetrate violence and those that are victims of it, can lend support to each other. Together we can educate, inform and influence public opinion, and so try to make war an unthinkable option.