|Nina Ulasowski in India
This honors thesis about women's solidarity in the anti-war movement was written by Nina Ulasowski, a student of International
Relations at the University of Queensland in Australia.
“It’s a hard row to hoe, girl”*:
Solidarity in Women’s Antiwar Activism:
Women in Black and the Dilemma of Difference
(*Maria, Women in Black, USA)
(Women in Black, 9 Oct 1998 quoted in Mladjenovic and Hughes 2000:265)
to my longtime anti-war activity;
that I did not agree with the severe beating of people of other ethnicities and nationalities,
faiths, race, sexual orientation;
that I was not present at the ceremonial act of throwing flowers on the tanks headed for
Vukovar, 1991 and Prishtina, 1998;
that I fed women and children in the refugee camps, schools, churches, and mosques;
that I sent packages for women and men in the basements of occupied Sarajevo in 1993,
1994, and 1995;
that for the entire year I crossed the walls of Balkan ethno-states, because solidarity
is the politics which interests me;
that I understand democracy as support to anti-war activists/friends/sisters – Albanian
women, Croat women, Roma women, stateless women;
that I first challenged the murderers from the state where I live and then those from
other states, because I consider this to be responsible political behavior of a citizen;
that throughout all the seasons of the year I insisted that there be an end to the slaughter,
destruction, ethnic cleansing, forced evacuation of people, and rape;
that I took care of other while the patriots took care of themselves
Table of Contents
Difference and Diversity
Solidarity in Feminist
Case Study: Women in
A key challenge for women engaged in global struggles against violence and war is to
nurture transnational feminisms while being cognisant of differences and local contexts. Is feminist solidarity in women’s
antiwar movements possible? Solidarity can be described as the sentiment and action of connectivity, although definitions
remain varied and highly personalised. Solidarity lends itself to political mobilisation beyond emotional rhetorical synthesis
as it requires action by reason of moral obligation to another. Women in Black, a movement of women globally against war and
gendered violence has been protesting on the streets against various loci of conflict since 1988. Dressed in black in silent
vigils, their dissent is the simulacrum of mourning. WiB connects women globally by the calling for solidarity in women’s
multiple struggles against political violence, adding to feminist critiques of war, nationalism and resistance. This thesis
argues that feminist solidarity is possible, that WiB is creating discursive space for a progressive reconfiguration of solidarity
that is attendant on differences by drawing strength from the diversity of the movement. This thesis explores contemporary
feminist theories of solidarity to analyse how it is enacted by the women’s antiwar group Women in Black, demonstrating
that it is crucial to feminist mobilisation but is not without its own difficult negotiations and unresolvable tensions.
Globally, women are engaging in actions and conversations in resistance to war and cultures of militarism. In doing
so they are simultaneously active at local and global sites of cooperation and community-building. Grassroots-level activism
is one means by which antiwar discourses are engaged. Internationally through autonomous and organisational networks women
may be seen to be creating an ‘imagined community’[i]. The central objective of the thesis is to answer the research question of whether feminist solidarity in the
women’s antiwar movement is possible, by examining the ways in which women in anti-war movements conceive of solidarity
in light of shared discourses and different experiences. It presents an analysis of how solidarity is being enacted in its
response to militarism, war and nationalism in a feminist context. The thesis will discuss the limitations of solidarity and
the problematic aspects of global ‘sisterhood’ and contemporary notions of women’s collective political
mobilisation. There is a distinct movement globally by many women who have chosen to build alliances and work together under
feminist principles across differences, and are thus creating solidarity in practice.
Arguments about the substance and very possibility of women’s solidarity have consumed feminist theorists for
years. Given the myriad collaborative works of women internationally in response to labour rights, environmentalism, women’s
rights, suffrage and war, questioning the possibility of women’s solidarity must explore how discursive conceptions
are reconciled with feminist praxis. Solidarity in women’s antiwar movement
is not only possible but crucial for effective political resistance, despite the problematics presented by engagement across
difference. The emergence of a feminist paradigm of transnational networks is assisting in the construction of discourse and
dialogue to enable solidarity, though caution must be exercised in drawing universalist conclusions or assuming the necessity
of this project for all women. I contend that the re-emergence of feminist solidarity in practice is a reconciliation of universalism
and difference capable of redressing past criticisms and fashioning more reflexive
Exploring the nexus between the theory and practice of women’s antiwar resistance I present a case study of Women in Black (WiB), a contemporary women’s antiwar movement, to demonstrate
how active engagement with antiwar discourses is a form of solidarity in action. WiB is a global network of women opposing
war and violence by a shared method of protest based on silent, black-clothed public vigils. Emerging from the Israel/Palestine
conflict, WiB has itself become a method of protest and mobilisation by women in every continent to resist both local and
international conflicts. Without naively assuming that practice is exonerated of problematic politics, this paper will critically
analyse the possibility of women’s solidarity, given both the current state of theorising and practice.
This thesis will assess how feminism has revised past debates over difference and solidarity in the light of international
collaborations. Contemporary feminist theory is increasingly attentive to intersectional politics and thus more able to engage
with difference and particularity. This has enabled a shift from the preoccupation of a traditional western feminist agenda
with ‘patriarchal’ oppression and suffrage to an analysis of the multiple loci of oppression and the interplay
of these with gendered experience. Emerging paradigms of transnational feminist networks and transversal politics have put
a new spin on women’s solidarity. The concurrent shift in feminist anti-war theorising has also come to challenge essentialism
about the ‘innate’ peaceability of the category ‘women’, demanding more awareness of the multiplicity
of experiences of women around conflict environments.
Appeals to solidarity by feminists in response to the Iraq war has witnessed both the expression of shared identity
and an affirmation of difference by way of grounding protests in local subjectivities. Women protesting were doing so generally
on a local level, appealing to local political processes and transnational networks. The effects of global feedback loops
of interaction mean that standing in solidarity with women across borders also ideally requires those in privileged countries
taking responsibility and nurturing awareness of their own positionality rather than claiming the safety of neutrality. It
is impossible to speak out against the ‘war on terror’ without understanding how ‘our’ government
and populace is implicated, it is similarly premature to decry free trade as a western consumer without an analysis of how
we are all embedded in international economic processes often built on the labour of underprivileged women. Contemporary feminism
and its search for neo-solidarities is concerned with women interrogating their own positions of privilege and power in reference
to interaction with others across race/class/age/ability/sexuality. There is a pressing need to recognise, understand, and
reconcile differences in grassroots activism, building this into academic discourses to nurture diversity and remember the
necessity of engagement, rather than building walls around them.
The research question is significant in addressing a current crisis in feminist theorising, in the troublesome post-identity
politics phase, where neither post-patriarchal nor ‘traditional’ (western) feminist analysis is considered entirely
appropriate. As a feminist actively involved in multiple struggles, I am often confronted by both the frustration of feeling
backed into the proverbial corner by postmodernism’s focus on the subject’s ever-problematic positioning[ii], yet also by the need to be constantly aware of how I am engaging with other women and the complexities of differences
between us, and how we can open space for dialogue which is respectful and responsive to this. This is the problematical the
heart of feminist political activism; how to engage across differences, and how these alliances are understood and developed
as part of an emergent paradigm of transversal politics. The tensions across discourse and experience that I seek to explore
in this text are considered critical issues in feminism and the creation of feminist political alliances, as they wrestle
with notions of power, difference and unity (de Lauretis 1986 cited in Mohanty 2003:108).
The research methodology is developed from a literature review of contemporary feminist approaches to solidarity. I
then conduct a case study of the antiwar activist movement Women in Black as a means of contextualising conceptions of solidarity
in arguing that these women are creating a framework of solidarity that draws its legitimacy and strength from the diversity
of the movement. It makes possible and tangible the idea of feminist solidarity that is enabled, not precluded, by difference.
In the literature review I will analyse different notions of solidarity that have been proposed by feminist writers,
although key aspects in recent literature are concerned with how to approach differences in a way that traditional ‘westocentric’
feminism failed (Yuval-Davis 2004). Transversal politics (Nira Yuval-Davis 1997), reflective solidarity (Jodi Dean 1996),
empathetic cooperation (Christine Sylvester 1994, 2002) and ‘common differences’ (Chandra Mohanty 2003) are some
of the proposed progressive methods of feminist organisation across diversity. A key concern here is regarding how to identify
and codify solidarity; I am primarily concerned with an analytical account of the political alliances formed between women
and women’s networks, and about shared analyses of war and militarism. I recognise there are a considerable number of
psychologically-based studies of solidarity and group-identity building in more corporate organisational settings. I do not
wish to dismiss these works, but reiterate my concern with the relationships of women primarily via a feminist frame in the
context of antiwar activism. It is imperative to ground the case study by analysis of feminist theorising on women’s
solidarity and its articulation via their transnational networks and anti-war discourses.
Accounts dealing with the themes of gender and war are too numerous and complex to analyse in-depth at
this point. Key texts include those by Cynthia Cockburn, J. Ann Ticker, Nira Yuval-Davis, Chandra Mohanty, Hannah Arendt,
Jean Bethke Elshtain and Cynthia Enloe. These texts analyse contemporary women’s involvement with narratives of gender
and war, providing a genealogy of how women have both reinforced and resisted them. One problematic aspect of the issue of
women’s antiwar activity is the consistently maternalistic and essentialist material that appears around the subject
which often fails to address the complexities of such a political agenda. Whether this is by the assumed homogeneity of women’s
experiences, or in the misrepresentation of women across cultures and societies (speaking for
rather than with), exposition which does not explicitly analyse power dynamics
within women’s movements simply cannot do justice to the deeper issues underlying women’s action. There is certainly
a need to heed the words of those such as Chandra Mohanty or bell hooks who analyse the possibilities of alliances, and the
impact of subjectivities and boundaries in creating and restricting relationships of principled solidarity within imagined
communities (cited in Caygill and Sundar 2002).
The case study links theory and practice to relate women’s experiences and ideas about their involvement in the
antiwar movement. My intention is not to develop a universal theory, but to examine how women’s solidarity operates
in their engagement with antiwar discourses. I analyse the synthesis of feminist theory in the practices of women’s
global resistance, contingent on the localised understandings and relationships of people involved.
The case study consists of both document analysis and interviews with key informants from WiB chapters globally. I
recognise the limitations of only being able to communicate in English; I am only able to access a fraction of the women involved
and the texts produced by this particular group, as their network extends globally including the Balkans, Colombia, India,
and Japan. For that which can be represented, feminist standpoint theory has assisted in developing approaches which value
the production of knowledge from experience, centering women’s perspectives and creating a space in which this voice
is heard directly (Mauthner 2000:288-289).
An email questionnaire was sent to publicly listed WiB members and internal lists, asking women to respond to a number
of questions. They were asked why and when they joined WiB actions, as well as whether they had been engaged in previous antiwar
or feminist activism. They were asked to reflect on the key ideals of their WiB groups, and whether these connected feminist
and antiwar discourses for them personally. Further questioning revolved around issues of internationalism; their contact
with other WiB groups and what solidarity meant to them. Some issues of differences and conflict resolution were discussed
on a number of levels including recognition and working with differences, conflict resolution within and between groups, responses
of the general public, and their own experiences of nationalism. These replies gave insights into the issues of political
mobilisation by common ideals and differences, and the particularity of local interpretations of an international movement.
I received replies from women in Australia, the United Kingdom, USA and Denmark. The majority are from women living in the
US, and their prevalence must be balanced with WiB voices from further afield. Words of the women themselves are used as directly
as possible, and interviews based on a less formal structure using an open-ended response style and a participatory method.
Through this interviewees demonstrated they were actively involved in a discursive process of understanding their relationships
with each other, the movement and the broader social contexts they are part of creating and resisting. Email based interviews
were chosen in consideration of physical distance and the already-established major means of online communication between
the networks of women in WiB.
Melanie Mauthner (2000:293-299) iterated some of the difficulties in interview-based case study research within a feminist
framework centered on analysing disagreements and agreements, degrees of disclosure and how to ensure anonymity and confidentiality.
Other possible weaknesses in such a research project include the difficulties of ethical issues and potential for misrepresentation
faced by interview and ethnographic research generally (DeVault 1999:37), especially given my own limited ‘outsider’
knowledge in regard to the particular cultural and historical backgrounds of many women in WiB. This is also compounded by
the difficulties of ‘measuring’ solidarity and systematically identifying shared discourses across language and
cultural barriers which may affect understanding. The length of this paper and the time for research is similarly limiting,
as is the response-rate and generalisability of online surveys. Echoing Collins’ ideas for researching situated knowledges
(1990 cited in DeVault 1999:41), this study is based on feminist epistemology to “measure knowledge against concrete
experience, test it through dialogue, and judge it in relation to an ethic of personal accountability”. I thus approach
my research from a qualitative and interpretive approach with a consciously feminist methodology, but have not excluded the
use of supplementary quantitative data where it is appropriate and can be adequately analysed in light of its particular socio-historical
context. Some literature presents qualitative approaches as more relevant for feminist research based on the direct expression
of participants’ voices and the possibilities for examining contextual complexities where positivist methods tend towards
generalisation (and universalism) and assume an unproblematic ‘objective’ research perspective (DeVault 1999:32-33).
The literature draws from contemporary feminist theorising and commentary and will situate current feminist actions
within broader debates about cross-cultural feminist organisation, seeking to highlight the tensions embroiled in claims for
solidarity. The literature review outlines the impact of identity debates on this discourse, identifies key feminist notions
of solidarity and then presents the current political paradigm of transnational feminist antiwar movements as a context for
the expression of solidarity in shared political critique and resistance.
Solidarity, as the notion that some sense of shared identity or aspiration can provide the platform for movement from
empathy to political action, is a point of contestation in contemporary feminist
debates. Emerging concepts of solidarity by key feminist thinkers attempt to reconcile the crisis of difference/distance and
connection which emerge in the local/global nexus of feminist struggles. A key question for feminists engaged in these struggles
is how we can nurture transnational feminisms while being cognisant of differences and local contexts.
Difference and Feminism: problematic precursors to solidarity
Coinciding with the American civil rights and global independence movements against colonialism, women from various
identity-based groups protested their appropriation by a mainstream feminism that failed to recognise their differences and
distinct needs. These ‘identity debates’ in feminism were a difficult, but necessary point of problematising difference
of identity and positionality between women, some choosing to politically mobilise on the basis of distinct ethno-cultural
identities. An international women’s movement historically directed by ‘western’ organisations has been
charged by many contemporary feminists as treating issues and identities as universal and homogenised, or as bipolar and distinguished
by a ‘core/periphery’ divide differentiating ‘First’ and ‘Third’ World women (Alexander
and Mohanty 1997 cited in Giles 2004:81)[iii]. Mainstream ‘First World’ feminism, experienced as alienating by those it positions as ‘other’,
is consistently criticised for failing to interrogate its own orthodoxy in terms of whiteness, power, privilege and complicity
in global economic processes exploiting women workers in developing states[iv].
Differences can inhibit solidarity when left unrecognised and unexplored, or when they are considered an insurmountable
barrier to responsible communicative relationships. White western feminism has been charged with myopia around issues of difference;
an apparent failure to self-critique compounded by the displacement of ‘otherness’ as affecting only women elsewhere.
Black women are expected to ‘own’ race against the neutral hegemony of whiteness, as eloquently exposed by feminists
working to challenge the subtle historical prejudices of feminism in order to reformulate solidarities across diversity such
as bell hooks (1989). She writes that “[t]he vision of sisterhood evoked by women liberationists was based on the idea
of common oppression – a false and corrupt platform disguising and mystifying the true nature of women’s varied
and complex social reality” (1991 in Yuval-Davis 1997:125), demanding that women take responsibility for their own complicity
in the oppression of each other (1984 cited in Dean 1996:15).
Aileen Moreton-Robinson (2000:45-71) also offers a rigorous account of feminist politics of difference, drawing attention
to the failure of white feminism to acknowledge race privilege. She analyses the racism of mainstream feminism from the perspective
of an Australian Indigenous (Geonpul) woman marginalised by a struggle which routinely appropriated black women’s voices.
This account makes clear the difficulty feminists encounter around the issues of difference and especially race, fragmented
identities threatening a political program built on the category ‘woman’ that can be engaged only by a small group
of women with a specific agenda. Reliance on a universal subject ‘woman’ suffering from a ‘common oppression’
is considered a problematic idea (Elam 1994:32). For Eliza Noh (2003:141), women’s localised and particular experiences
of patriarchal control do not necessitate a reductive notion of women’s shared oppression. Refusing any common ground,
subjectively and sociopolitically, between Asian American and white women she comes to the conclusion that any seeming solidarity
is artificial, eschewing coalition politics as presupposing sameness (142-4). Whether differences can be reconciled by communication
and engagement are issues that urgently need to be addressed by reconceptions of solidarity.
Christine Sylvester (2002:217 citing Reardon 1995) highlights the need by Euro-American feminists to self-analyse dynamics
surrounding their participation in capitalism and concomitant global political structures effecting women in the Global South
before meaningful dialogue is at all possible. Caren Kaplan (1994:139) suggests using Adrienne Rich’s ‘politics
of location’ to pay homage to historical reasons for differences and inequities, recognising the asymmetry of relationships
without constructing identity itself as authentic and primordial as a method to interrogate the ‘whiteness’ of
North American feminism. Mohanty considers the effects of cultural imperialism in discourse, whereby Third World women are
constructed or ignored by western feminism (2003:20-23). Her analysis that the presupposition of the category ‘women’
contains a notion of women’s homogenous oppression highlights the way it draws a misshapen image of the ‘average
Third World woman’ designated by victimhood and dependency (22-23).
Representing the ‘unheard’ voices is not uncomplicated. Understanding may rest on knowledge, but its transmission
is imbued with the same power imbalances when subject-researcher relations also cross global North/South divides. Daphne Patai
(1994:21-37) judges academic representation of Third World women by US academics, even by consciously feminist research methods,
as exploitative and unethical because the exchange can never be what she considers equal. Rather than foreclose on cross-cultural
conversation, Assia Djebar (1992 in Giles 2004:76) reminds women that differences of freedom affect representation: “don’t
claim to ‘speak for’ or worse to ‘speak on’ barely speaking next to, and if possible very close to [another]”. Dian Elam warns of developing hierarchies of difference and identities, and the
assumption of sameness within collective identities that leads to the potentially treacherous territory of representation
that speaks for a whole people (1994:74). Can myriad differences between women be recognised, articulated and scrutinised
in feminist reclamations of solidarity beyond sisterhood?
Feminist Conceptions of Solidarity
Traditional notions of women’s solidarity relied on uncritical claims of universal ‘sisterhood’,
based on ‘women’ as a clearly delineated category with some comparable experiences of oppression; the postmodern
backlash to this is the rejection of shared gender identity[v]. Differential histories and socio-cultural positioning affect experience which may or may not be comparable,
however, the strategic political necessity of women’s mobilisation, including cross-national collaboration, sidelines
philosophical debate about whether ‘women’ still exist as a meaningful unit of analysis for purposes of this thesis.
On a political level, ‘women’ still constitutes a group distinguished by various gendered discrimination. Mohanty
(2003:234) notes that women and girls are globally worst affected by environmental degradation, war, famine and displacement
exacerbated by globalisation. While inequalities of wealth, access to education, resources and socio-political capital affect
women’s lived experiences differently, the reconfiguration of solidarity thus requires attention to the real disparities
between women and the possibility of dialogical approaches to enable exchanges across these.
Despite the utility of deconstruction for countering the colonising potential of theory, a complete deconstruction
of the subject is not politically viable for feminism given current need for mobilisation and action (Elam 1994:72). Feminism
should not, however, fear deconstruction, as it “does not say anything against the usefulness of mobilizing unities.
All it says is that because it is not useful it ought not to be monumentalized as the way things really are” (Gayatri
Spivak 1991 quoted in Yuval-Davis 1998:180), suggesting that the essentialism of (western) feminism must be challenged, while
opening the category ‘women’ to reinterpretation and contestation to allow for new identities and political mobilisation
(Dean 1996:65). Elam (1994:82) has attempted to reconcile deconstruction and identity-based feminism via the ethical activism
of ‘groundless solidarity’; the binding aspect of feminism is that we share collective concern for other women
despite the uncertainty of knowing who they are (undecided multiple positions), and the indeterminate political possibilities
For Elam, groundless solidarity presents “the possibility of a community which is not grounded in the truth of
a presocial identity” and the basis “for political action and ethical responsibility” (Elam 1994:109). This
does not necessarily mean consensus, potentially crossing national, ethnic, and religious borders, facilitating a political
coalition based on shared ethical commitments without exclusion and a commitment
to difference which destabilises delineations of self/other (109); ‘groundless’ in the sense of not relating to
an isolated autonomous subject, but one who is “caught up in a network of responsibilities to others” (110). Elam
(1994:114) rejects solidarity based on similarity as assimilation and recommends solidarity explicitly based on difference
beyond simply accommodating different beliefs, indicating the women’s pro-choice movement as respecting differences
of choice over abortion.
Standpoint feminism and localising voices
Standpoint feminist theories reflect particularity of experience informed by gendered identity. Some feminist scholars
are convinced that standpoint theories are able to respect diversity because of this (Hallstein
in Eblen and Kelley 2002:6). Standpoint feminism is concerned with hearing as many women’s individual voices as possible,
situating feminist claims in solid locational contexts. Individual knowledge-claims and daily experiences give expression
to the feminist principle that “the personal is political” allowing more scope for political fodder as “no
social practices or activities should be excluded as improper subjects for public discussion, expression, or collective choice.”
Standpoint feminism elucidates the relationship between knowledge, experience and identity (Charles 1995:6).
It is criticised as reductive when a ‘pure’ collective subsumes individual identity, or particular knowledges
are held only by ‘authentic’ directly experience (Charles 1995:6). Converging with emerging postmodern theories,
however, standpoint feminism can be receptive to multiple, fragmented identity claims allowing for contradiction and democratic
constructions of shared knowledge (Sylvester 2002:216-7). Multiple standpoint feminism as the basis for further critical analysis
can allow for some generalisation without proposing one vital ‘legitimate’ notion of women’s experience,
creating space for spared expressions of experience and opinion between women vital for communicative notions of working solidarily
across differences and connecting local activism to global community.
Local to global connection
Conceptual or material links between the local and global emphasise “relations of mutuality, co-responsibility,
and common interests, anchoring the idea of feminist solidarity” (Mohanty 2003:242). Mohanty (2003:224-226) and Dean
(1996:69,140-174) both emphasise this relationship in that the local ‘illuminates’ the global, arguing for solidarities
based on the differences that constitute localised experience, when “specifying difference allows us to theorize universal
concerns more fully” (Mohanty 2003:226). Rather than homogenising some notion of women’s shared oppression, difference
forms the basis of recognising others’ struggles and building bridges between movements. Christine Sylvester (2002:216)
also supports the notion that the bounds of feminism are flexible enough to provide for recognition of differences, and brings
attention to the multiplicity of lived experience and fractured identities.
Chandra Mohanty’s “common differences” is the basis of her “feminist solidarity model”
(2003:242-245); not relativism but a recognition of coexisting and interdependent relationships containing both commonalities
and differences. Such links include the “multiple, fluid structures of domination that intersect to locate women differently
at particular historical conjunctures” (Mohanty 2003:55). In this sense she is interested in similar locations of women
via their colonial and post-colonial histories, addressing structural issues of power and resistance. Mohanty (2003:49) is
concerned with political alliances built from “the common context of struggles against specific exploitative structures
and systems”. This is primarily by reference to an alliance, or sense of community, between Third World women and Black
women involved with anti-sexist, -racist and -imperialist struggles (49) and their common interests as workers with shared
perspectives gleaned by their specific roles in global economic processes (145)[vii].
Communication is essential
Despite the separation of actors in traditional notions of solidarity (i.e. we
feel with them), Jodi Dean (1996:8) reflects on the necessity of difference to
enable solidarity and the communicative inflection of the ‘we’ who express solidarity. She is adamant that communicative
internal establishment of group identity helps deal with difference by making it explicit and not necessarily exclusive (30-31).
Dialogue is vital process of each speaker owning her own subject position and recognising others; it is the key in standpoint
feminism where each consciously conveys “partial situated knowledge” (Patricia Hill Collins 1990 in Yuval-Davis
1998:184). From distant points, conversations effect alliances, and the explication of different needs. Yuval-Davis (1998:180
and 1997:126) considers feminism effective ‘coalition politics’ where delineation with others is by aspiration,
an articulation of “what we want to achieve”, not identity, although
differences amongst women are voiced.
Christine Sylvester introduced the idea of empathetic cooperation as a means to reinvigorate feminist engagement with
International Relations by bridging the rigidity of standpoint feminism and the ambivalence of postmodern critique (Sylvester
2002:242-244). She describes it as “a process of positional slippage that occurs when one listens seriously to the concerns,
fears, and agendas of those one is unaccustomed to heeding when building social theory, taking on board rather than dismissing,
finding in the concerns of others borderlands of one’s own concerns and fears” (2002:247). Empathetic cooperation
presents a broader perspective by denying one fixed theoretical stranglehold, adopted in her earlier work (1994:3) by reference
to Kathy Ferguson’s (1993) ‘mobile subjectivities’ to disrupt ideas of singular stable identities and truths.
Sylvester reveals empathy as a conversational tool that listens without demanding answers, so that multiple stories can be
appreciated, combined with cooperation to enable engagement with “politically difficult negotiations at borderlands
of knowledge, experience, differences, and subjectivities” (2002:256). Though specifically formulating empathetic cooperation
in regard to theory and discussions in IR, she grounds her ideas as bases for action by reference to the women of Greenham
Common peace camp and their commitment to dialogue and cooperation as well as diverse tactics and ideology (260-261).
For activist and academic Nira Yuval-Davis, the framework of dialogue as scaffolding for empowerment and solidarity
is best expressed by ‘transversal politics’, a concept coined by feminist activists involved with Italian Women
in Black, to describe engagement with women from various backgrounds with recognition and respect for difference. These conversations
were based on notions of ‘rooting’ and ‘shifting’ (Yuval-Davis 1998:184). ‘Rooting’ is
speaking consciously from one’s subject position while ‘shifting’ attempts to sympathise with ‘others’
by listening empathetically, enabling exchange while recognising different values and goals (Yuval-Davis 1997:130-132). Yuval-Davis
(1997:125) sets transversal politics as an alternative to the immobilising dichotomy between universalism and relativism.
She indicates a necessity for contestation of ‘the authoritative feminist agenda’ and a commitment to solidarity
informed by cooperation across differences, honouring partiality as opposed to universality but forewarning the easy blur
into relativistic immobility (Yuval-Davis 1998:84).
Cautious universality and reflective solidarity
Jodi Dean’s (1996:13-46) proposed theory of “reflective solidarity” is a means to overcome this divide
between universality and the particular, moving beyond the rigidity of conventional solidarity to suggest that awareness and
nurturing of dialogue can respond to the dilemma of difference. Critical of both the simple emotionality of “affective
solidarity” and the strategic disconnection of “conventional (goal-based) solidarity” (17-22), reflective solidarity is the notion that we can engage cross-culturally, while being cognisant of differences and the
historical contexts informing them. Thus engaging in dialogue and possibly disagreement, to reach a position of solidarity
towards a “mutual expectation of a responsible orientation to relationship”
(Dean 1996:29 italics in original).
Cautioning the silent reprisal contained in dialogue that neglects an exploration of differences by assuming concurrence,
reflective solidarity demands openness to disagreement. Thus feminist agendas cannot be assumed, or continued by deference
to traditional concerns or constituency. As a means to feminist solidarity, “we have to be allowed to get messy”
via constructive, conflictive discussion (Uttal 1990 in Dean 1996:29), and the more questioning the better, given the potential
for group dynamics that lend power to particular individuals and agendas (Dean 1996:31). This ‘reflective solidarity’
depends on engagement for open membership and self-reflectivity. A self-reflective stance enables both responsiveness to criticism
and taking responsibility for the ‘other’ by ownership of concrete fragmented identities within a communicative
universal membership[viii]. Opposing theorists, such as Judith Butler, who condemn discursive universality as totalising and exclusionary,
Dean’s solidarity wrestles with feminist disagreement in order to nurture community via
difference, challenging the mutual exclusion of the universal and particular in what she considers part of a vital feminist
struggle against dualistic gendered hierarchies (148-151). Her embrace of difference becomes reason for inclusion: “we appeal to others to include and support us because our communicative engagement allows us to expect another
to take responsibility for our relationship” (39).
Pragmatic solidarities and bridging movements
Manisha Desai (2002:29) supports reflective solidarity as the product of conversations between women from various women’s
movements globally around “common goals of freedom, justice, and equality variously defined” bridging multiple
identity-divides. She positions women’s emerging solidarities in the context of their different experiences of macro-social
forces, such as religious fundamentalism and post-colonial nation-building, shared globally yet from within historically and
culturally discrete circumstances. Chandra Mohanty (2003:7) defines solidarity by reference to pragmatic decisions to work
together and by “mutuality, accountability, and the recognitions of common interests as the basis for relationships
among diverse communities.” She reaffirms that solidarity is oriented by practice, by political struggle, not the romantic
notion of ‘sisterhood’ (24). Solidarity is the basis of the transborder participatory feminist democracy she calls
for (cited in Giles 2004:81).
At grassroots level, there is a documented focus on politically strategic solidarities; “solidarities for survival”,
for example, between women workers in the informal sectors forming credit cooperatives and networks to exchange ideas and
influence policymaking (Desai 2002:20). The Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), initiated by women in Gujarat,
is described as an example of informal sector trade unionism, and one that moves beyond solely providing worker-support to
enabling social transformation (Mohanty 2003:165-166). Unionisation is an example of women’s solidarity based on common
(if contextually distinct) experiences or identity as workers. Chandra Mohanty is especially convinced of the possibility
for Third World women’s connectivity as workers given their particular experiences within global economic systems (2003:144-145).
Mary Fonow (2005) concurs that women workers develop solidarity through their trade unions in her analysis of cross national
campaigns for human and labour rights as well as union conferences and networks afforded by union-based humanitarian aid organisations.
In the interest of inclusivity, however, feminists should heed warnings about limiting solidarity to the domain of a class
struggle (Mohanty 2003:142) and the need for women to form their unions given the popular perception of these organisations
as controlled by a white male working-class (Mohanty 2003:163).
Transnational feminism networks as a mode of mobilising in solidarity
Solidarity, as discussed briefly above, lends itself to political mobilisation beyond emotional rhetorical synthesis.
Solidarity requires action by reason of moral obligation to another. While debates continue over how to represent ‘women’
as a meaningful identity in feminist academia, the emergence of transnational feminist discourses, networks and actions utilising
notions of feminist solidarity indicate reconciliation between theoretical consternation and collective political purpose.
Feminist theory, North and South, is often consciously based on ground-work. The grounded networks of women and feminist organisations
enable a sharing of resources, knowledges and discourses between women globally. While some activists working at a grassroots
level criticise scholars for being removed from the arena of their study, many feminisms deliberately emerge from praxis,
so the false dichotomy of theory versus action is not entirely constructive. It is my contention that feminist networks, such
as WiB, are actively creating the discursive space for emerging feminist solidarity theories, becoming part of feminism’s paradigm shift.
Women’s organising is often a complicated endeavour, with the clamour of voices necessary to put
into effect feminist ideals for participatory, democratic, non-hierarchical and autonomous engagement (Ferguson 1984 cited
in Marx Ferree and Hess 2000:211)[ix]. Less formal than structured organisations (although they may include women involved in different organisations),
networks of women can nurture a sense of collective identity, empowerment and solidarity. These are critical in constructing
feminist movements that can be inclusive and representative (Marx Ferree and Hess 2000:28,209). The network becomes a flexible
resource to enact solidarity by sharing support, human resources and information between groups and individuals (Moghadam
2005:81). Women Against Fundamentalism (WAF), for example, is a network of women mostly active as individuals although each
may be involved in multiple other groups (Yuval-Davis 1997:128). Yuval-Davis notes that these women are not obligated to subsume
differences by representing a group identity and consider their own knowledge unfinished and dependent on dialogue (1997:128).
Women’s mobilisation without structured organisation enables the direct democracy of autonomous activism, though this
relies heavily on a communicative understanding between members rather than an institutionalised recourse for accountability
(Marx Ferree and Hess 2000:xxi). A safeguard to accountability is accommodated in Dean’s theory of reflective solidarity
by responsibility to multiple viewpoints, especially that of ‘the hypothetical third’ as the marginalised ‘other’
It is imperative to locate women’s solidarity within the emergent transnational paradigm
of feminist politics (Schild 1999:87); transnationalism goes beyond notions of simply ‘international’ by suggesting
a “conscious crossing of national boundaries and a superseding of nationalist orientations” (Moghadam 2005:83). According to Valentine
Moghadam (2005:9) Transnational Feminist Networks (TFNs) came to the fore of feminist organising in the 1990s, securing common
ground between women activists across divisions previously demarcated by ideology and global North/South political divisions.
She proposes that via an expanded agenda, global issues that particularly affect women in developing states, including Structural
Adjustment Policies and reproductive rights for example, may be addressed. These networks enable solidarity between
women who are working from diverse locations on such agendas as development, labour rights and anti-capitalist struggles by
bringing global pressure to bear on local political contexts. Moghadam regards international attention to the issue of women’s
rights in Afghanistan in the late 1990s as a successful campaign of women’s networking between Women Living Under Muslim
Laws (WLUML) and other TFNs circulating and responding to appeals to solidarity by Afghani women such as the Revolutionary
Afghani Women’s Association (RAWA) and expatriates in Pakistan (2005:12).
United Nations Women’s Conferences have been vital to the emergence of contemporary feminist solidarity and consolidation
of TFNs as the contemporary paradigm of global feminism[x]. Though they by no means represent the entire spectrum of women’s networking, from Mexico City (1975)
to Beijing (1995), women’s differences have been voiced and negotiated as part of building a common mode of organising
across diverse notions of ‘women’s issues’ that Desai (1997 cited in Desai 2005:322) has called “solidarities
of difference”[xi]. Articulated through the conferences is the language of women’s human rights, re-embraced by a number
of feminist theorists in recent years following decades of criticism as a tool for exporting western enlightenment rationality.
Women’s rights, interpreted as including labour rights, rights to reproduction and protection against gendered violence
specific to women’s broad needs[xii] for example, presents a means to both pragmatic solidarities and gender mainstreaming in broader agendas of
peace, development and democratisation, recovering rights discourses from the domain of public, institutional politics and
the masculine universal subject on which they were established (Hutchings 2002 cited in Fonow 2005:235). By the same token
though, international conferences draw attention to the limited agenda of some feminist political action, and have been an
arena whereby some women have expressed resistance to cooption by western feminists in the name of supposed solidarity (Sylvester
Solidarity in Feminist Anti-War Discourses
Concurrent to feminist theorising which critiques the sentimentality of traditional sisterhood, critical analyses of
women’s antiwar solidarity are suggesting that multiple roles of women in conflict must be recognised, and antiwar activism
framed as part of multiple conversations that connect women differently in conflict. Women cannot be assumed to be peaceful,
but feminisms can provide key analytical frameworks for positive peace and analyses linking war and domination. It is critical
to analyse how feminist conceptions of war, militarism and nationalism underscore the ways in which women’s antiwar
activism exemplifies solidarity in action. Such critiques and their prescriptive notions of peace are vital for conversations
between women. This is especially so in response to the ‘war on terror’ as part of building solidarities to counter
the hostile binary ‘us’ versus ‘them’ characteristic of the political spin on the war and to reclaim
feminist voices from their appropriation as part of the justification of invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan (Pettman 2004:58).
Women’s multiple and diverse roles in conflict position them differently from men and from each other. The normative scripts for women in conflict zones are generally fairly passive and these gendered roles are bound
up intimately in the languages of nationalism and militarism. Cynthia Cockburn (1998:13) has noted that there is always a
‘gender war’ embedded within war and its architecture of gendered domination and dualism. Militarisation
of thought and cultures is a subtle and pervasive process, and though its invasion into the everyday lexicon is not always
directly about war, it effectively normalises militaristic presumptions (Enloe 2000:2). In a more explicit push for the spotlight,
global militarisation has stepped up on a global stage since September 11, reframing international politics around agendas
of national security, border protection and hard masculinity (Pettman 2004:49,57-8).
There is a particular symbolic weight that women shoulder as keepers of national identity,
purity and longevity that often becomes more pronounced, as do other gendered divisions of labour, during conflict. The idea
of ‘womenandchildren’ (Enloe 1990) as victims in need of protection is defined in opposition to ‘male’
roles in the masculinist normative narratives of war. Nationalism can thus restrict women’s agency during conflict where
social obligations delineating women’s behaviours are more pronounced and symbolically charged. When these boundaries
are crossed, via public protest, domestic non-compliance, or cross-ethnic organisation, women face charges of being ‘traitors’
(Bunch 2004:48; Cockburn 1998:42). Reaffirming women’s multiple active roles in response to cultures of warfare is an
inherently valuable feminist exercise, so centring some women’s experiences of resistance is also a bold response to
Feminist theorising has long illuminated connections between patriarchy, domination and war, citing feminist concerns
for peace with a shared concern for a reduction of violence across public and private spheres (Carrol 1987 cited in Eblen
and Kelley 2002:4). In this way, the spectrum of violence against women is recognised as spanning domestic, structural, state
and military violations, linking these to advocate for broader recognition of women’s rights. This has included demands
for the prosecution of the use of rape and violence against women as war crimes in conflict, and the drafting of Resolution
1325 in the UN Security Council to recognise and enshrine the need for women’s involvement in peace processes (Bunch
2004:49; Fernandes 2005:68). Zorica Mrsevic (2000:41-42) is concerned that the increase in domestic violence in the former
Yugoslavia is the result of militarised nationalism in the region, relating aggressive masculinity to a rise in ethnically
defined nationalism and structural violence. Some feminist critiques that analyse the relationship between militaristic nationalism
and gendered oppression and violence can thus provide a basis for dialogue and solidarity despite differences in particular
Although nationalistic masculinity is often experienced as a violent, alienating force, some women in militaries or
national liberation movements, report their involvement as empowering (Sylvester 2002:217-222). Integrationists equate full
citizenship and equality with military service, and belie the assumption that women are naturally peaceful. In response, some
feminists question the potential for women’s empowerment through involvement in systems built on domination and misogyny
(Yuval-Davis 1997:89-93,100-105). Women’s rights are recognised as an essential aspect of some Third World nationalist
resistance movements, although realisation of these rights post-independence is often limited (McHugh Griffin 1998:257-258).
Even within peace movements, some women activists support the use of violence, especially against property. In one widely
publicised antiwar action of October 2002, three Dominican nuns in Colorado vandalised a US Air Force missile silo by painting
it with a cross in their blood, cutting cables and fencing and hammering at the missile guiding tracks (Kohler 2003).
Thus it is problematic to base women’s activism for peace on their characterisation as the ‘Beautiful Souls’
who weep for the Warriors’ return (Elshtain 1987 in Pettman 1995:25). Although women’s antiwar organising is increasingly
political and strategic, there are still perceptions that peace is a ‘women’s issue’. Given the socialised
gender roles of motherhood, care and nurturing, these sentiments do underscore some antiwar discourse and many women’s
motivations to activism. Separating ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ cannot entirely overcome the connection of
women to an ‘ethics of care’; women’s gendered socialisation is popularly considered the basis of better
empathy, support and mediation skills and broader attention to interpersonal dynamics (Young 1990:50-51). Traditional feminist
appeals to women’s peaceful inclinations generally invoked tropes of mothering and nurturing[xiii].
Appeals to motherhood as a universal experience that crosses boundaries and can connect them with ‘enemy’
women, can be both constructive and problematic. Accessing the ‘other’ by crossing borders and identity boundaries
can be politically valuable and subversive. Caring for the ‘other’ and invoking motherhood to care for the ‘other’s’
children can ameliorate the divisive isolation between conflicting populations. Where women’s traditional roles restrict
resistance activities, utilising motherhood can enable dissent, such as in the activism of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo
in Argentina, and the mothers of Russian soldiers in Chechnya (Bunch 2004:42). However, the sentimentalisation of motherhood
can be appropriated by nationalistic discourses, and risks alienating women who are not mothers from political activities
based on this positionality. What women appeal to in solidarity with others can be pragmatically, and emotionally based. Although
contemporary movements are moving away from essentialist conceptions of women’s solidarity, evoking a shared discourse
of women’s peaceful character or motherly love can be powerful but problematic in universalising one approach without
regard for local and experiential differences.
Postmodern theorist Sandra Harding (cited in Sylvester 2002:208) warns of the discursive dangers of political projects
built on metanarratives or presumed truths of shared values. From this perspective it is facile to assume that all women are
peaceful, or even speak a common language about peace considering the breadth of their different experiences. Of course, this
is not what I am suggesting, and scholars such as Charlotte Bunch (2004:29) have discussed the site-specificity of women’s
peace activism, recognising that it is no longer focused on catching the unicorn of ‘world peace’. Sylvester (2002:215)
criticises the potential for emotionality and maternalism in standpoint feminist’s project of connecting women and peace,
but suggests that this can be ameliorated by allowing the contradictions of multiple standpoints where knowledge is democratically,
not derivatively, constructed (217). Yuval-Davis (1997:111) argues that feminist analyses of war and militarism have thoroughly
interrogated the manipulation of traditional notions of femininity and motherhood as part of nationalist militarisation, so
that the majority of women’s antiwar mobilisation has attempted to move beyond the essentialism of claiming women as
the ‘peaceful’ sex.
Drucilla Cornell (2004a:318) links the US government’s appropriation of feminist arguments for women’s
rights in Afghanistan to analysis of “how women and symbolic articulations of the feminine lie at the heart of many
efforts to consolidate nationalist projects”. She reinforces the need to re-establish the role of feminism in the peace
movement as it has been appropriated by US official rhetoric (314-315). The misrepresentation of solidarity is particularly
sensitive for feminists working towards global advocacy in the wake of the ‘war on terror’, with the US government’s
pursuit of an agenda ultimately inimical to women’s rights, while using feminism to justify invasion and garner domestic
support (Kensinger 2003:15-16). The strategic appeal to US and ‘coalition’ women’s solidarity with Afghani
women can be read as particularly cynical in light of Washington’s disregard for the long campaign of organisations
such as RAWA and their continuing resistance to the apparent repression they still face from the US backed Northern Alliance.
Although explicitly appreciative of global feminist support, RAWA have criticised the Feminist Majority organisation as a
‘mouthpiece’ for the government and for ignoring the long history of feminist resistance by Afghani women (Farrell
and McDermott 2005:43). Arguably, the symbolism of the veiling of Muslim women was also manipulated to incite a limited form
of solidarity based on victimisation (Khan 2001). Shahnaz Khan (2001) discusses the problematic politics of sensationalist
stereotyping implicated in depictions “situating the body of the Afghan woman as totally contained by the veil of her
oppressive culture/religion”. Projecting western women in the role of liberators, the prevalence of such images presents
the interplay of gendered cultural repression and the difficulty of uncritically attaching solidary sentiment to misrepresentations
of ‘other’ women without listening to their articulated demands.
In this political climate, feminist resistance is vital to refusing the language of militaristic nationalism that excludes
‘others’ and thus undermines the possibility of reflective communication. It is evident that women’s solidarity
in antiwar campaigns requires reflectivity to enable self-analysis by western women on their own positions vis a vis those who have been victimised in the war. US feminists are urged to reflect on American historical
military involvement, and the impact of foreign policy globally before they can engage with feminist antiwar and other progressive
dialogues building pragmatic political solidarities (Kensinger 2003:2). On a more directly personal level, attention to localised
differences and how representations of ‘other’ women affect political engagement must be part of establishing
a sense of solidarity that can be based on engagement and receptivity rather than victimisation. Women’s engagement
with antiwar discourses is as diverse as the conflicts occurring globally. Working towards a commitment to solidarity that
recognises this diversity can utilise the complexities of women’s politics, loyalties and abilities to confront the
uncompromising delineation of patriots and traitors, allies and enemies, victims and saviours, that limit dissent and deny
the multiple realities of women resisting violence globally.
This literature review has shown that emerging feminist theories of transnational solidarity are being more attentive
to differences, although criticism continues around the danger of western bias. Although there is no definitive account of
feminist solidarity, some contemporary theories are concerned with a more equitable engagement than the sentimentality of
‘sisterhood’. I have found that the central tenets of these are communication, self-reflection and recognition
of personal experience combined with intersectional analysis linking local and global phenomena. Feminist solidarity articulated
in political struggles is bound to the practical, pragmatic element of shared ethical commitments. I have proven the possibility
for antiwar discourses as a discursive basis to feminist solidarity and I will further demonstrate that pursuant to this,
WiB are not simply responding to feminist theory, but are actually making space for new conceptions of solidarity by practicing
transnational feminism that is diverse and communicative in its shared critiques of war.
Case study: Women in Black
Black is an international movement of women against war and violence; the organisations are simultaneously locally based and
globally connected. The common elements of the movement are based on a shared mode of protest through silent public vigils
where members, mostly women, are dressed in black. They are part of an extensive global feminist movement challenging nationalism
and militarism and are adding to the development of feminist theories and cultures of nonviolence. From its roots in the Middle
East conflict in 1988 as a group of Israeli women opposed to the occupation of Palestinian territory, WiB has grown to an
international membership. Apparently they constitute a fairly informal international network, with a shared general philosophy
of pacifism and anti-militarism and similar strategy of protest. Some groups have described it as a movement, others as a
“means of communicating and a formula for action” rather than a formal ‘organisation’ (Women in Black
International Website 2005).
Analysis of WiB’s activities indicates that the solidary organisation of women globally, informed by feminist
critiques of nationalism and militarism, is nurturing both an awareness of differences and a common concern for ending political
violence. Further, it is arguable that this solidarity can offer an alternative to the limited traditional roles for women
and the demands for political compliance and loyalty in times of conflict. Assessing practices of WiB in terms of previously
discussed feminist theorising about solidarity will examine how differences and shared ideals are conceived communicatively,
as grounding for solidarity. I analyse how these women engage with discourses of nationalism and militarism to build their
antiwar movement. I will do so through analysis of web-based communications made by, and in response to, WiB and also through
analysis of email based interviews that were conducted in April and May 2006[xiv]. Drawing connections between reformulations of feminist solidarity and the character of WiB, it is apparent
that the way the movement is built on minimalist mode of protest with basic undercurrents about shared identity and antiwar
ideals makes it able to utilise flexible notions of universality in its local interpretation. Not hegemonic, controlled or
rigid, it corresponds to central tenets of feminist solidarity. I will also canvass some problematic aspects of assuming WiB’s
convergence with modern feminist solidarity theories, including potential maternalism, essentialism and questioning whether
the minimal mode of protest can inhibit development of political critique.
Difference and diversity in WiB
The number of active sites of WiB vigils is itself testament to a diversity of women involved in the movement. Differences
of both identity and ideals become apparent within each group, as well as between vigils, across cultures and borders. From
the international lists of WiB vigils, they appear to be active in every continent and with over 240 groups meeting in more
than thirty states (Women in Black Frederick Website). Part of their strength is the way in which diversity is conceived of
as a basis for solidarity, rather than a reason for fragmentation. Indeed, opening speakers at their 2005 international conference
reinforced the commitment of WiB to rejecting not only intolerance of the ‘other’ but working towards a notion
of ‘solidarity in difference’[xv].
Demographic patterns of women in the movement emerge when looking at a number of sites. Trends of participation in
Israel suggest a prevalence of wealthier, educated Ashkenazi women in their forties and fifties with histories of political
involvement (Helman and Rapoport 1997:693). Although many women identified as Jewish, and followed similar demographics in
its adoption in the US, many others became involved to protest the US military response following September 11, 2001. Of the
women surveyed by email, most were older than forty, lived in the US and had past experience in peace activism or women’s
rights campaigns. Some associated their peace activism with religious beliefs as Christians, Quakers and Buddhists (Natasha,
Helene, Josie), others had been involved in Vietnam protests (Sarah, Elyse, Adriana, Marie) or anti-nuclear activism (Helene,
Zehra) while three declared no past activism. Women in the US chose to participate with WiB generally after September 11,
2001 and the invasion of both Afghanistan and Iraq which followed (Ellen, Natasha, Sarah, Nadia, Zehra, Sasha, Edith, Alaina,
Narissa, Helene, Marie, Veronica, Martha). Ellen, who stands with the Asheville vigil, observes that although her group is
comprised of Euro-American women, other differences affect political perspectives towards activism. She writes “[t]here
are class differences in origin and current circumstances, we are both gay and straight, older and younger, of various religious
and ethical persuasions, profession and self-employed, rich and poor”. In her opinion, its inclusive membership makes
it receptive to differences and a “safe place” for women to “come out” as activists.
It is apparent that a number of women active in WiB identify as lesbian, and connections between these women in different
groups are documented, particularly Belgium and Belgrade (Women in Black International Website 2005). The women in one Belgian
group, Vrouwen in ‘T Zwart, see their sexuality as a basis for understanding
the feeling of oppression so consider it as an important part of the politics of their activism (Cockburn 2004:3-4). Political
analyses that combine gendered analysis of conflict with other intersecting experiences of domination such as homophobia or
racism can assist in developing more responsive feminist politics and solidarities. Drucilla Cornell (2004b:111) attests to
diversity in identity whereby “[s]traight men, gays, lesbians, and the transgendered are welcomed as women” when they engage in the embodied politics of WiB. Although within more developed nation states,
membership tends towards educated, wealthier women, the cross-section internationally evidences a broader membership. As a
global movement WiB is not entirely reflective of white, western English-speaking feminist mainstream and so has fewer issues
of western domination when viewed as a global movement articulating ideals of solidarity.
Diversity within the movement is assisted by its broad mandate for involvement and the flexible interpretation of membership.
Some men are included in the public vigils, although this is clearly dependent upon a local and generally collective decision
by the women directly involved. Many groups report that some men are involved, either directly participating or as supporters
of their actions. One man who responded to the questionnaire said he had stood with the vigil for a number of years but withdrew
from direct action when he was asked not to participate in the discussion on an international WiB email list. He resented
the rejection from the group and decided that one stream of WiB was characterised by the “same-old (sic) righteous sectarianism”
although he did recognise this stemmed from the women’s collective desire for a women’s only ‘safe space’.
This demonstrates both the variation in local interpretation of the modus operandi of the movement and the complexities of
projecting these onto a global forum, as well as the continuing inability of some men to grasp the notion of women’s
separate activism. In the context of embodied protest where men’s involvement seems somewhat less problematic, their
direct representation as part of a ‘women’s movement’ is indicative of a broadening of feminist principles
in which different genders can represent similar political objectives and stand under an explicitly ‘womanist’
and implicitly ‘feminist’ banner.
Although they began in the Israel/Palestine conflict and initial international momentum was in solidarity with those
women, WiB groups have also become active around issues related to other international and local conflicts. For example WiB
have been active in former Yugoslavia and the Balkans, since 1991. They formed in response to the perceived maternalism of
the early peace movement in Belgrade, defining themselves as antinationalist, antimilitarist, feminist and pacifist so as
not to be associated reductively as protective, peaceful mothers (Mladjenovic and Hughes 2000:259-262). Some North American
groups emerging in the last five years have utilised the momentum of antiwar protesting in the wake of the ‘war on terror’,
combining this platform with local issues and Middle East solidarity. Longer-standing groups, such as those in Italy or France
for example, which formed initially in solidarity with the Middle East WiB through the 1990s have continued to expand this
support to others including Afghani women and wider campaigns against war, violence and poverty[xvi]. WiB Sydney have expressed opposition to the war in Iraq, and support for Indigenous Australian, refugee and
Palestine/Israel causes (see Women in Black Australia Website).
Cynthia Cockburn provides an interesting profile on a number of groups, also documenting international collaboration
and elements that distinguish each group or individuals within the group, to demonstrate unity based on difference and a flexibility of interpretation. One French-language
and one Flemish-speaking group comprise Belgium’s WiB organisations, with little communication between the two and quite
distinct agendas (Cockburn 2004). WiB in India are confronting fundamentalist violence against women, while in Germany neo-Nazism
is a concern; an international web of local vigils that are responding to their particular conflicts also extend their scope
to other or ‘global’ conflicts (Cornell 2004b:110). Links are made between war and violence against women, comparing
experiences between women in different areas. The generalist approach of WiB is based on a core tenet of action against violence
which allows for freedom of interpretation while standing to support others, requiring awareness of their struggles. In this
way, localisation is able to affect the global recognition and support networks key to progressive feminist solidarity, drawing
strength by universal scope without the homogenisation of universality.
Communication is essential
Analysing collaboration and communication between groups spans a number of arenas. Exchange occurs between vigils locally,
nationally, and internationally. It can involve the spread of WiB vigils, information, personal and political support, resources
and fundraising, standing with other groups and attending conferences. Women were asked about their contact with other WiB
groups and their opinion on the role of internationalism in the WiB movement. Of the respondents, Californian resident Adriana
became involved with WiB in Serbia and continues to support women’s peace activism in the Balkans. Marlena, from Denmark,
similarly met WiB in Serbia. Although she does not identify as pacifist, she sought a method to oppose war without continuing
cycles of aggression. Inspired by their protest methods and their “possibilities to reach women in deep crisis”,
she considers herself a founding member of WiB in her state. Ellen valued the physical exchange of women standing with other
vigils whereby “[w]e encounter one another throughout the region in our travels. There are WIB groups in most places
where I travel in the southeast USA”. Natasha also sought out local WiB groups on her travels within the US, but indicated
that language barriers were a potential block to international communication; Adriana, Zehra and Sarah had some contact with
geographically close WiB vigils. Exchanges between groups are part of actualising the ‘global’ aspect of their
networking. Mediation and support have been extended to former Yugoslavian, Israeli and Palestinian WiB, particularly by Spanish,
Italian, Belgian and some UK WiB groups.
A secondary point of access and communication is via the internet and email, apparent in the considerable web-based
presence of WiB by sites, lists and press releases. Although internet access is still limited globally, there is potential
for more democratic access and input offered by new technologies and the flow of ideas even from a single point of access
to grassroots membership. Mujeres de Negro in Spain was apparently the first to set up an electronic list-serve in Spanish,
which was then followed by English lists (Women in Black International Website 2005). Some of the women respondents primarily
communicate with other groups over email and online discussion lists, including Marlena who confirmed that women in Denmark
utilise international webs of WiB for discussions and mobilising for demonstrations. Despite the highly localised embodiment
of WiB vigils, their networks cross borders, cultures, and languages. They present an embedded practice that utilises the
differences between members to engage with a broad spectrum of issues by tapping an undercurrent of solidarity informed by
basic common interests of resistance to political violence. This is not a homogenising move assuming a common single cause,
but leaves women free to interpret how they will respond.
The international WiB conferences since 1991 demonstrate in a tangible manner the diversity of the movement and exchanges
between women. The 2005 conference in Jerusalem brought together women from a vast breadth of cultures and made proceedings
accessible to women globally via an online audio-visual feed with linked spaces for comment and interaction[xvii]. Women often spoke in their own languages so English was not an entirely colonising force for translation at
Speakers referred to other
participants as ‘sister’, a familial, embracing signifier. The potentially narrow scope of affective solidarity (see Dean 1996:17-22) is mitigated by the way this very personal term (‘my sister’/‘our
sisters’) is subversively extended to include a vast number of women who may never have had contact, or met each other
personally. In this way it concurs with Elam’s (1994:82-84) ‘groundless solidarity’, extending solidarity
because of shared ethics to women who may not be explicitly and intimately known. Signifying other women as ‘sister’
could possibly escape some of the dilemmas of the notion of ‘sisterhood’, as the association of these women with
this particular organisation suggests a willingness to communicate and self-identify under a broad banner with awareness of
differences (“our sisters from Bulgaria”), rather than the assumption
captured by unmediated demands of international sisterhood. Involvement in WiB does not assume a single understanding of feminism
or preclude wider activity with other political, religious and social groups.
An implicit form of communication is also evident in feelings of support women experience knowing that they are part
of a broader movement. Sasha valued the conceptual legitimation conferred by internationalism, believing “even without
communication in its usual forms that our efforts are amplified because other like-minded people are also vigiling”.
In her opinion a “critical mass” effect meant their efforts would be stronger because of an international momentum.
In the same vein, while silence may characterise many of the public events, on the whole, this movement is far from uncommunicative.
The use of silence, and minimal discussion can be analysed in two different directions. It can be seen as inclusive, not drawing
boundaries or limitations, and not excluding others by actively naming and refusing them. It may resist unequal group dynamics
or hierarchies because each acts autonomously. There is a concern however, that it may limit political development by not
nurturing discussion publicly, or with members who limit involvement to silent vigils (Helman and Rapoport 1997:689).
Solidarity and the mode of protest
Respondents identified why they became involved with WiB and what they considered its primary ideals. Ellen said she
“liked the simplicity. The association without demands of an organization. The public silence. The solidarity”.
Similarly some identified the simplicity of the mode of protest and the freedom from dictates of a formal organisation (Ellen,
Josie, Alaina) and the silence (Zehra, Ellen, Alaina, Helene) as motivating factors. Others were attracted to the opportunity
to be politically expressive in a public forum to raise awareness (Natasha, Ellen, Elyse, Sasha, Edith, Narissa, Adriana,
Veronica) with other women (Zehra, Elyse, Marlena). Despite the outward silence of the group it is clear that they are engaged
in a program of public awareness and public witness, these ideals likewise confirmed by the women surveyed. Central to each
groups’ function is to give support and information to other women, and to act as public educators against war (Women
in Black Australia Website). The support role for other groups, and the extension of care to the general public is central
to the way in which solidarity is conceived of as extending beyond immediate group boundaries to a sense of universal responsibility
so that it is not as limited as in familial and emotionally constructed ‘mundane’ solidarities (Hayes 2006:1-2).
Clare wrote that she became involved with WiB after September 11, although she has a twenty-five year activist history
and recently served a prison sentence for peaceful protest against the US School of America’s Military Academy. She
says she was drawn to WiB for its simplicity and freedom from the demands of formal organisation that allowed her to express
her solidarity publicly and silently. The women involved stand in solidarity explicitly with other WiB activists and with
broader women’s peace movements in the areas of conflict, and implicitly with the general population. Although they
recognise that they may be unable to change the mindset of someone indoctrinated into militaristic ideologies, appeals may
be made to the ‘silent majority’ or those who may support their peace advocacy but not feel compelled to action
(Svirsky 2000:241-242). Considering this, the scope of their solidarity is not limited, and supports the universalist framework
of Dean’s reflective solidarity which extends the potential for membership and conversation to an unlimited constituency.
The minimalist protest format is part of the attraction for many women. However, many WiB groups do more than just
public vigiling. Even within groups that primarily exist for public protesting, there are often internal dynamics of organising,
filtering and disseminating information and resources. Some groups, such as the Belgrade WiB which holds NGO status, engage
in peacework, performance art and lend assistance to refugee populations, for example (Mladjenovic and Hughes 2000:261-264;
Cornell 2004b:110-112). Two symbolically rich aspects of WiB’s public protesting are those of celebration, and conversely,
mourning. Although a complete analysis of the diversity of methods is beyond the scope of this paper, it is of interest to
note that within the numerous ways in which WiB are active, they are also bound by a common thread, a recognised basic mandate
that itself is the clarion call of solidarity that demands we act responsibly towards one another.
One symbolically powerful method of protest adopted by WiB is mourning as a public spectacle. The black robes and silence
are part of a performance that they conceive of as grieving for violence ‘everywhere’. At first glance this can
appear as maternalistic, reinforcing essentialised roles for women built on their passive, protective characterisation, and
exclusion from formal political processes. They are however, “visible, unavoidable, inescapably political” in
their public protests and a more concentrated analysis throws light on possibilities to disrupt traditional constructs (Helwig
1993 in Svirsky 2000:241). By the politicisation of women’s roles, spaces and manipulating women’s ‘traditional’
roles in mourning rites as a method of resistance, these women use the symbolic strength of common scripts to enable cross-national
readings and adoption of their actions. In the context of conflict when women’s traditional obligations are invoked
in nationalistic discourse and women’s political resistance may thus be limited, making use of ‘acceptable’
images provides a point of access from which to subvert social orders (Cornell 2004b:109). WiB do this by accessing a language
of grief, that itself crosses many borders, and is traditionally associated with women’s roles as mothers or wives,
remembering the ‘Beautiful Souls’ depiction. The public spectacle of grief and emotion disrupts its association
with the arcane private realm. This is made more potent by the extension of mourning for the enemy, recognising the bereavement
of the ‘other’. In this way the action speaks to not only local and national audiences, but projects acknowledgement
and support to people further and unknown; it is not simply an extension of domestic expectations (Helman and Rapoport 1997:696).
In these ways it is not only politically potent resistance, which can be less confronting and quite distinct from standard
protest mechanisms, but aligns with the persistent aspects of feminist conceptions of solidarity.
The public subversion of women’s mourning is a refusal to align with notions of a political constituency deemed
natural and pre-eminent by the demands of nationalism. Cynthia Cockburn, who has profiled a number of WiB groups from the
dual-positioning of participant and researcher, also supports the assertion that WiB pursues the possibility of ambiguity
in political conflicts which would otherwise draw exclusive lines around groups of people and delimit action and resistance
(2000). Nationalism, as discussed above, often demands a particular set of loyalties
from a population to exclude ‘outsiders’ and is often, particularly in conflict situations, associated with militaristic
nuances (Pettman 1995:24-25). Cockburn (2000) refers to the difficult stance of WiB protests in London around the 1999 conflict
in the former Yugoslavia. WiB were shunted into the pro-Serbia camps because they opposed NATO air strikes, yet also opposed
the aggressive nationalistic stance of those supporting the Milosevic regime. The simplistic, rigid dichotomy between those
who supported military action from one side or another could not represent the complex perspective of those supporting non-violent
resolution or supporting a people without necessarily pledging allegiance to a regime (Cockburn 2000).
Drawing from traditionalist imagery does not necessarily equate to public acceptance. Negative, even violent responses
from public audiences are common when the women are perceived as disloyal to the nation. Women in Yugoslavia reported violence
from nationalist antagonists, including dirt and stones thrown along with threats of murder (see Zene u Crnom website). Helman
and Rapoport (1997:690-694) canvass numerous instances of verbal abuse towards Israeli WiB, noting that the substance of the
invective vehemently combined sexism and nationalism. Israeli women’s protest against the occupation and its violence
was perceived socially as tantamount to treason (Helman and Rapoport 1997:694). Although some of the American women surveyed
reported favourable, appreciative responses from many people, many had experienced abuse centred on criticisms that equated
their antiwar activism with unpatriotic behaviour.
Sarah related the negative responses to protesters’ perceived “disloyalty” and Natasha commented
that her extended family involved in the military had been “indoctrinated into thinking war protestors are anti-American”.
Nadia also expressed her concern that nationalism has limited possibilities for criticising the validity of military response,
as many people are “appalled” by her activism and “see pro-peace as unpatriotic”. In contrast she
believes that “pro-peace is the ultimate in patriotism – the people who care enough to be involved in their county’s
political discourse are the most patriotic”. Narissa, Adriana, and Marie received some negative remarks from the public,
noting that abuse often came from men; Veronica’s group had provoked similar reactions when some “older women
have actually stopped to cuss us out and say their son [or] husband is in the military and we are being disrespectful…”.
Narissa considered these perceptions as a direct “result of nationalism”, which Sarah considers a national form
of “propaganda” linked to the ways in which “militarism is embedded in the community culture” in the
US where military proponents are common in public parks and parades for example.
Through personal experiences and feminist discourses, WiB develop critiques linking militaristic nationalism with violence
against women and the discouragement of political dissent and choice. Solidarity is evident in women supporting each other
in spite of these reactions and by pressure nationally not to continue. Pressure is applied socially (the angry passer-by,
the irate taxi driver) and politically, by governmental condemnation as in the case of WiB Belgrade (Mladjenovic and Hughes
2000:264), or criminalisation as in the US where WiB were reportedly investigated by the FBI as “anti-American”
and thus a potential threat to national security (Off Our Backs 2002:7).
Tensions and limitations of Women in Black’s Solidarity
As mentioned throughout the case study, appeals of WiB to notions of international feminist solidarity are not without
difficulties and tensions. Helman and Rapoport (1997:689) analysed the minimalism of some women’s experiences of communication
within the vigils, arguing that the “avoidance of ideological deliberation” (681) throws into question the possibilities
for nurturing political debates and democratic development of a more solid organisation. Proclaimed solidarity without communication
is inimical to key aspects of feminist solidarity, and it is clear that claims to solidarity are stronger where dialogue is
undertaken. Part of a failure to communicate is the failure to self-critique, an essential element of truly reflective solidarity.
Some of the women met with their group only for vigils or did not engage with wider discussions, locally or internationally.
It is arguable that the silent, self-contained character of some WiB protest may result in limited political discussion and
internal dissent, and may weaken appeals to solidarity.
I have, however, previously argued that the women’s public silence is only part of their protest method and does
not necessarily delimit communicative establishment of their political platforms and wider activities. Zehra grounds her engagement
across differences by communication and self-reflection; “first you have to do your own work” where this involved
confronting “your own homophobia, your own racism, and you have to be a good listener to bridge that gap” to enable
responsible communication. Helene is similarly conscious of the fact that responsibility to diversity in the movement means
recognising “that freedom and feminism… mean very different things in different cultures and to different religions”
and the “need to suspend our attachments to how it ‘needs to be’ and hear each others’ stories and
needs, and respond to that”. It is the occasional conflict within groups that creates part of the necessity for communication,
and as I suggested earlier, it is clearly not a homogenous movement. The differences of opinion forwarded in the surveys were
generally resolved with “compromise” (Zehra), “consensus” (Sasha) and “creative solutions”
(Helene) that sometimes meant accepting differences to “honor each others’ needs” (Natasha).
I have suggested that the women are actively subverting traditional ‘female’ tropes, but what of their
own conceptions of women’s relationship to peace? Of course, the diversity of experiences and levels of feminist critique
within the movement and the highly personalised interpretations of involvement similarly bring a wealth of perspectives about
why it is women engaged in the struggle for peace. Some of the women surveyed demonstrated seemingly biologically essentialised
understandings of women as the peacemakers, as having “a higher level of consciousness around these issues” (Zehra),
or musing on the prospects for peace “if women ran the world” (Narissa) because “the women of the world
will work harder to promote peace than men will” (Martha). Natasha refused the image of women as ‘soft’
but framed women’s strength by their relationship with their families and as mothers.
Essentialism is a charge often levelled at women-only organising, and is not entirely fair to apply these concerns
to the movement as a whole, when other women presented politically sophisticated, reflective accounts of their activism. Elyse
was compelled to work in solidarity with women in Iran given her critique of fundamentalism and the threats to freedom presented
by structural violence. For her this involves awareness, information sharing, fundraising and political mobilisation to support
women with whom she has developed connections. She is one of many whose activism is not based on a sentimental assumption
of sisterhood but the politically aware decision to work with others, across differences. The Women in Black are accessing
symbolic potential for women’s collective political mobilisation, as distinct from assumptions of a totalising construct
of ‘sisterhood’ or women’s inherent peacefulness. There is however, a continuing difficulty that with the
isolation of each group, global connections and other WiB struggles may be ignored. There is a problematic possibility of
US WiB becoming more controlling of the movement simply by their access to communications, internet and resources. This can
be mitigated by the established global frame of WiB, although comparatively few opportunities exist to redistribute resources
internally as the network is generally informal, volunteer-based and not focused on accumulating capital or assets.
Concluding Analysis of Solidarity in Women in Black
The gendered analyses of conflict developed by WiB are simultaneously locally informed and globally connected, reflecting
multiple positions on peace and challenging expectations of nationalistic loyalty and the traditional submissiveness of normative
gender roles. Women in Black is a unique movement built on inclusivity and flexibility within feminist commitments to women’s
solidarity against war and political violence. They access women’s mobilisation by drawing on their collective political
aspiration, rather than their essential ‘peaceful’ nature. Public protest may draw on the symbolic power of women’s
traditional roles in grieving and caring, yet they subvert the process of mourning by creating public spectacle and in doing
so “seek forms of solidarity with the so-called enemy in the name of trying to develop a more sweeping program of anti-militarism”
The lack of specificity in their political mandate may threaten organisational coherence, capacity and longevity, as
well as inhibiting development through debate. Minimalist binding principles to end violence against women are, however, broad
enough that WiB are able to appeal to a wide audience without victimising a particular population of women. Thus they are
capable of offering generalist solidarity in raising public awareness. The freedom to voice local emphases as part of WiB
vigils, and the strong support for women’s peace actions in the Middle East by the movement internationally see the
combining of political objectives. In this way WiB is not exclusive and adopts a flexible notion of women’s universal
inclusion in the movement where each autonomously brings her own concerns. As a reflection of progressive feminist solidarity,
WiB are self-reflective, communicative and responsive to the ‘other’, using notions of difference and diversity
to create the solidarity of a global movement. They are thus pushing at the boundaries that delimit traditional feminist organisation,
helping create the discursive space to support, by their activism, the reconfiguration of feminist ‘solidarities in
Developments in feminist thinking complicate traditional notions of women’s solidarity so that it must be reformulated
to draw not on the assumed similarity of women under sisterhood, but on an analysis of difference that takes into account
the global processes underlying these differences and their interconnectedness; so that it is self-reflective, communicative
and inclusive, and responsible in its commitment to action/mobilisation not simply as a rhetorical stance. The politics of
diversity as they are reflected by women’s antiwar movements show that solidarity is critical for effective globally-framed
activism and can counter the maternalistic essentialism of past (dominant western) feminist antimilitarism and criticisms
of western bias, possibly bridging some of the divides between feminisms emerging from Third World feminists. This is not
to assume that all women’s movements are reconcilable or peaceful, but to offer a response to the totalising intransigence
of past criticisms that have either assumed or denied cooperation by homogenising women’s identities and political aspirations
or asserting their incompatibility across difference.
Many women share antiwar discourses and dialogues based on very different experiences of conflict, and the transnational
character of this confounds their isolation within nationalistic political climates. Evidence of self-reflective solidarities
is emerging in some contemporary feminist antiwar activism, but is especially urgent since September 11 and the ‘war
on terror’ given the cross-cultural aspects of the conflict and the unambiguous drawing of boundaries by political leaders
which would make such communicative gestures suspect, labelling dissent and solidarity dangerously unpatriotic. Antiwar activism
that complicates the ‘us’/‘them’ divide is arguably an extension of traditional feminist concerns
to continue challenging oppressive hierarchies and divisions. Sentimental invocation of women’s peaceful sisterhood
is unable to convey women’s varied analyses of war and peace; such a limited dialectic cannot represent the complex
meshwork of women’s antiwar dialogues.
Women in Black are actively working to enable the consolidation of emerging feminist theories of solidarity by embodiment
in women’s very physical political resistance. I have deconstructed the common themes of these emerging theories and
scrutinised them by reference to WiB’s mandate and activities to argue that they are working to create solidarity in
diversity through communication networks, reflectiveness and the grounding of their global movement each by their localised
interpretation. Through a flexible set of core ideals they resist the hegemonic dictation of the few, allowing for inclusivity
that refuses to designate women across national or cultural borders as the ‘enemy’ or the ‘other’.
Although tensions remain, and the informal structure of the movement may yet undermine its longevity, these women are proving
that solidarity in resistance to war is possible. Women involved describe the cumulative strength of the movement, in the
knowledge that others globally stand ‘with’ them in witness, in resistance to militaristic national discourses
that would deny these connections and the potency of their solidarity through difference.
Questionnaire to Women in Black Members
I am an honours student in International
Relations at the University
of Queensland in Australia,
currently writing my thesis on women’s solidarity in the antiwar movement. Very broadly I am writing about contemporary
women’s antiwar activism and the possibility of solidarity between women globally, in response to war and the cultures
of militarism that fuel it. I have read a little about Women in Black, and am very interested in the antiwar campaigns you
are involved in, and your perspectives on how these seem to be approached as part of an international conversation between
women. I am interested in including the voices of women involved with Women in Black as a case study in my thesis. If you
would agree to having a chat with me over email and giving me some feedback, I’d love to ask as many of you as I can
given just a few questions in the fairly limited period of time before this work is due.
Perhaps I should tell you a bit about myself?
I did my undergraduate degree in political science, with subjects that tended towards international relations and peace &
conflict studies. I was really inspired by the classes I took on nonviolence, peacebuilding and human/labour rights. I have
been involved in women’s and student activism over the last few years, and generally use art and performance as a medium
I understand if you are not interested,
or too busy to assist me, and thank you for your time anyhow. That said, I promise to try and make this as painless an experience
as possible if you’d like to help me out!
I have attached questions below, just to
save us all some time. Apologies for cross-postings, and for only being able to write in English language.
Feel free to answer creatively, or by telling
stories to paint a picture if you like.. feel free to re-write questions, I am not a journalist!
Who are you?
When did you get involved with WiB?
Had you been involved in any feminist or
anti-war activism before being involved in WiB?
Why did you get involved with WiB?
What do you feel are the key ideas/ideals
of the WiB group you’re involved with? Does this differ from the general motivations of WiB internationally?
Are feminism and anti-war activism connected
Do you have contact with women from other
WiB groups, inside and beyond your own country?
if so, how do you communicate and what kind of things have you discussed - have you talked about ideas related to the anti-war
campaigns of WiB or broader issues like feminism and war?
-if not, is the idea of internationalism
important to you and does it affect the way that you’re involved in WiB?
A lot of the WiB websites talk about having
a commitment to solidarity with other women, especially those in conflict areas and particularly with women in Israel and
Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan- what does that mean for you?
In my own country I’ve noticed that
women are getting together over different issues, and that many of the recent feminist conferences down here have focused
on the idea of differences and identities beyond gender that also influence experiences, like race, religion, ethnicity, sexuality
etc… do you think that it’s possible to work together despite different standpoints?
Have there been any differences of opinion
or problems within your WiB group or between groups? How was this resolved?
What has been the general response from
people (especially other women) to your actions and involvement with WiB?
What is your experience of nationalism
in your country?
some talk in feminist circles of creating cultures of peace. Do you feel this idea is applicable to the work of WiB?
Could you describe how it does/doesn’t/maybe applies?
[i] I am judiciously appropriating Benedict Anderson’s feted notion of an ‘imagined
community’ (1983 cited in Mackie
2001:183-4) for use in a feminist context, as it can well describe the connections between women engaged by notions of transnational
feminisms, where women feel a sense of community despite distance and the possibility
of not having met other women on an individual level.
[ii] Feminist frustrations with postmodernism’s
preoccupation with a fragmented isolated subject stem in part from its apolitical effect of overlooking structural oppression
(see Moya 1997).
[iii] I am consciously employing
the term ‘Third World women’, aware of the dilemma of designating core/periphery status to particular women, but
also aware of other feminists’ critical use of this term as a politically descriptive designation which can apply to
women in ‘Third World’, in post-colonial contexts as well as to some structurally oppressed/disadvantaged women
(Black women, refugees, indigenous women and poor immigrants) in the ‘Global North’ (a term also employed for
its useful description of global disparity and political marginalisation). Many US feminists use term ‘women of color’,
where my preference is to use ‘Black women’ given its acceptance in my own local lexicon as a potentially empowering,
not pejorative, term.
[iv] see for example Charles 1995:2-3, hooks 1989, Morton-Robinson 2000, Mohanty 2003.
[v] Judith Butler is an example of a leading postmodern
scholar who questions the dynamics underlying identity categories as oppressive and limiting. It strikes me as particularly
interesting, in light of my similar concerns, that she is able to reconcile criticism with positive commentary on women’s
political resistance. See Judith Butler’s (1990) Gender Trouble or critiques
by Alison Weir (1996) Sacrificial Logics: Feminist Theory and the Critique of Identity
[vii] This could potentially include some white
women engaged with the same political struggles and the reflective critique of traditional western feminism. Working class
women’s associations and more specific ‘unions’ for informal sector work, such as sex-worker networks are
creating cross-national alliances characterised by exchanges of knowledge, experiences and similar material concerns. See
for example Australian sex worker association Scarlet Alliance website.
[viii] Part of self-reflection is by measure against
‘the hypothetical third’ similar to George Herbert Mead’s (1962) notion of ‘the generalized other’
– a subject that represents the voices of the marginalised were it possible to include them (Dean 1996:170-2). This
assumes that a ‘shifting’ (similar to Yuval-Davis conception engaged by ‘transversal politics’) of
being able to take on the perspective of another is possible despite criticism
that oppressed standpoints can simply be ‘imagined’ by those who are ultimately complicit in the maintenance of
inequitable power relations.
[ix] Although much of women’s organising
is explicitly feminist, women’s actions in line with feminist principles that do not wear its label have been described
as ‘de facto feminism’ (Misciagno 1997 in Moghadam 2005:78) for their impact of effectively prescribing feminist
action to challenge gender norms (Moghadam 2005:78-79).
[x] This claim is supported by a number of feminist
scholars, though not without critique, see also Mohanty 2003:229, Vargas 2003:908, Desai 2005:322-4, and Pettman 2004:52 for
[xi] Desai actually pinpoints this shift from contestation to negotiation of difference
via contemporary solidarities as occurring at the 1985 UN Women’s Conference held in Nairobi (2005:322).
[xii] Such needs are of course articulated from within, and with regards to, specific
cultural contexts. Feminists engaging with the dialectic of human rights and cultural specificity have vocally rejected the
protection afforded by the ‘cultural alibi’ used to deny women’s rights and justify political and religiously
instituted oppression (Correa and Petchesky 1994 in Pettman 2004:53; Pettman 2004).
[xiii] For further maternal peace theorising, see Ruddick 1983,1989 (cited in Yuval-Davis 1997:111-112).
[xiv] The questionnaire sent to WiB lists is attached as Appendix I. email addresses were sourced from publicly accessible
sites online, and email was forwarded privately between some WiB members at their discretion. Names have been changed to preserve
privacy of individuals.
[xv] This is relating a common theme of speeches given by both Gila Svirsky (Israel)
and Lepa Mladjenovic (former Yugoslavia). See conference website.
[xvi] See the Italian Donne in Nero genesis story. The Marseilles Femmes en Noir introduces their activism primarily by reference to solidarity with the Israeli and Palestinian women protesting Israeli
[xvii] Officially named the ‘Women Resist War and Occupation: Women
in Black International Conference’, the program and audio-visual recording are accessible via conference website. The conference included women from Austria, Bulgaria, Denmark, Finland, Greece, Abkhazia, Chechnya and Russia, Sweden, Switzerland,
Holland, Germany, Belgium, Iceland, France, UK, Basque country and Spain, Italy, the Balkans including Serbia, Macedonia,
Croatia, Bosnia Herzegovina, Philippines, Japan, Australia, India including one Dalit woman, Canada, USA, Mexico, Costa Rica
(who were broadcasting live to their radio station), El Salvador, Guatemala, Chile, Colombia, Bolivia, Nigeria, south Africa,
Palestine and Israel, Catalonia, and allied women (not WiB) from Cambodia.
did her undergraduate degree in political science, with subjects that tended towards international relations and peace &
conflict studies. She writes, "I was really inspired by the classes I took on
nonviolence, peacebuilding and human/labour rights. I have been involved in women’s and student activism over the last
few years, and generally use art and performance as a medium for protest."
"Life is something that happens when you can't get to sleep." Fran Lebowitz