Women in Black – against war

WIB in Melbourne, Victoria

Women in Black is a women’s anti-war movement formed in Jerusalem in 1988 after the First Intifada. Israeli women stood vigil every Friday wearing black clothing in mourning for all victims of the conflict.

This is taken from the Wikipedia article to which I have linked anyway.

At the peak of the Intifada there were thirty vigils in different locations throughout the country. The number dwindled sharply after the Oslo Agreement in 1993, when it seemed that peace with the Palestinians was at hand, and picked up again when violent events proved that hope to have been premature.

The first vigils in other countries were started in solidarity with the Israeli group, but then embraced other social and political issues. Especially notable were the Women in Black group in former Yugoslavia, which in the 1990s confronted rampant nationalism, hatred and bloodshed, often meeting with violence from nationalists and persecution by police.

There are now WIB groups throughout the world and while no one is really sure how many people participate, it is estimated that some 10,000 women are involved, many of whom regularly stand vigil in about 150 different WIB groups.

WIB in New York vigil

This is from a web site that is not updated regularly. It does however have a lot of information about the UK groups. There are clickable links to history and resources pages.

International Women in Black conferences and encounters have been held in Jerusalem, Beijing, former Yugoslavia, 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.

I hail from Australia originally and there is a WIB group in Melbourne that is very active. I have located a WIB group in Sydney and another in Armidale in NSW. As this movement spreads around the globe, I can only hope that our desire for peace and equity prevails over territorial and resource greed and theft and the desire to rule and dominate is seen as the misuse of power and no longer appropriate (it never was).

Standing as we do in Princes Street in Edinburgh (and have done weekly since 2002), a lot of people walk over the pedestrian crossing from Waverley Station and The Bridges apart from those coming up from Leith Walk and along Princes Street. It is a busy little hub and our exposure is great.

Rugged up in the snow January 2010

While silent vigil is the norm, it is impossible not to talk to people who come up and want to applaud the vigil and/or vent their sense of loss, bereavement and anger at war in general. I was chastised once by a bloke because WIB is female. I tried to say that women are the ones who lose fathers, husbands and sons as war fodder and women have the fortitude to stand up in the first place. He just walked off.

A couple of weeks ago I was standing holding a placard, and a woman passer-by in obvious distress covered her face with her hands and just stood there. I went up to her – what do you say? I put my arms around her and she sobbed. When she calmed down enough to speak she said that she had suddenly been overcome with the injustice of war in all its manifestations. She just didn’t know what to do.

Handing out leaflets to passers-by

I suspect that most of us feel that way and sometimes we despair. I told her to get cross, write to papers, contact her representative; do things and focus that feeling of helplessness onto something that can be done. But, never, ever give up trying.

I have not seen her since, but I did meet a big, smiling German who gave me a high five and said that last May he had stood in the middle of Munich by himself holding two placards. He grinned his appreciation of our vigil.

All is not lost.


2 comments on “Women in Black – against war

  1. Michelle B says:

    Excellent reply to the guy stating that you are all women.

    The consistency of the vigil is amazingly potent, not just because of the obviously uncomfortable times of cold and snow, but every week, there you are. There is no way to measure the kind of effect that your resolve is making. But as you know, you do get feedback so you have some idea that it is not in vain.

    • Veronique says:

      I think it is because the people involved, while doing other things as well, don’t do the same things at the same time. I have never seen less than four women on the Saturdays. The most I have counted is nineteen. People come and go – Karen from Germany comes over to visit her daughter and stands with us for the couple of Saturdays she is in Scotland. We had an Hungarian woman once. Bear in mind I have just passed my first year as a standee!!

      We had two of the original WIBs from Jerusalem about a month ago. They stood with us one Saturday. Sometimes someone walking along Princes Street will come up and ask to stand with us and takes a placard.

      I will add little titbits of our interface with the public streaming past us in each blog post about WIBs on Saturdays – hopefully it will give readers an idea of the variety of response we get. Hopefully some female readers will be ignited and find their nearest group and stand with them.

      That’s how I started and it was my husband who approached them one Saturday, just over a year ago!

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