Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF): a hundred years struggle for peace and activism

In order to celebrate Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF)’s 100th anniversary, the CIPADH interviewed this courageous and committed women organization to understand the links between women, conflict prevention and peace. This article aims therefore to identify challenges and solutions envisioned by civil society at large to integrate international decision-making fora to make these players more democratic and accountable, as well as relentlessly advocating for social justice, demilitarization and peace.


Before addressing the core of their activities, WILPF presented an overview of its organization. It is composed of 30 national sections around the world where several dozens of volunteers oversee activities and sensitize people on the ground to promote conflict prevention. Maria Muños Maraver, WILPF’s Human Rights Programme Director mentions that national sections are developing fast, especially in Africa. At the next level, the organization relies on two international offices, one in Geneva and another one in New York to participate in the General Assembly’s sessions.

Above all, she insisted on the international role for advocacy it plays within the UN and other international bodies. They have designed four main programs to address some pressing issues at these international fora.

Overcoming the blockage on disarmament’s negotiations

A central issue is disarmament. Through the establishment of Reaching Critical Will programme in 1999, WILPF attempts to consolidate efforts on disarmament and arms control by advocating for “the prohibition, control, and disarmament of many different weapon systems; the reduction of global military spending and militarism; and the analysis of gendered aspects of weapons and war”. While the Disarmament issue used to receive critical attention after the Soviet Union’s collapse, the Human Rights Programme Director admits it is now completely blocked. In this context, it becomes difficult to discuss sensitive issues like nuclear disarmament and drones, which contradict Permanent member states’ security interests.

The Women Peace and Security program is based on Resolution 1325 of the Security Council which monitors and sets in motion an ambitious peace and security agenda. WILPF’s office in New York – composed of three employees – is in charge of implementing this peace and security agenda. It has the responsibility to develop National Action Plan according to each country’s specificity. The organization is working closely with local NGOs and encourage them to push for national action plan.

The Crisis response programme puts emphasis on countries already in conflict and collaborates with women to promote participation and sensitization in line with the Peace and Security Agenda.

Finally, the Human Rights Program builds on two aspects: a country-focused approach and a topic-focused approach. The country focused strategy brings people in Geneva to train them and to let them know how to interact with human rights bodies present here, in collaboration with the Geneva Office. This action sustains the main priority for WILF which is to address the roots causes of war. Tackling such a wide and complex issue with so many human rights implications is very challenging. As a result, WILPF attempts to narrow it down, by for example, talking about weapons in the Human Rights Council, a topic that meets a lot of political resistance. The Women Peace and Security agenda is also a sensitive issue.

Renewed strategies and the evolution in the approach of the organization

Therefore, WILPF has started a new initiative on transnational corporation and Human rights. Leaning on the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights designed by the Human Rights Council in 2011, WILPF has started advocating for these issues by making the link between conflict prevention and the impact of transnational corporations. A few NGO are already following the process, but WILPF wishes to engage more thoroughly in the treaty process in order to influence the outcome.

Besides, another important point in WILPF’s strategy revolves around the extent of the gender emphasis.  The representatives decided “if it feels too pushy to focus on women because there is no obvious specific women’s human rights violations, our focus will be on conflict prevention”. Being a feminist organization, the gender analysis would always be at the roots of all decisions and it is important that we can, as women, advocate on any issue be it specifically related to women’s human rights or not.

After an organization such as WILPF has been working for 100 years, there is definitely the question of the evolution of the approach that rises. We proceeded to ask Maria Muños Maraver, how has the trends evolved over the years. According to her, an important period of change happened during the Cold War, a time where the interests of the main powers where indeed very different. The older women still participating in the actions of the organization today, have lived through this period and can testify of it, they will often bring a different analysis of the current matters that is at the heart of the richness of WILPF. Indeed, today, we are not so far away of this vision of the world, and are experiencing the Cold War all over again with the demonization of the enemy and labeling everybody. A recent change that is also important to mention, is the focus on the environment, which is, according to Ms. Maria Muños Maraver, the only part that was not existing at the beginning. But now, members want the organization to engage more in the environment field.

The integrated approach

We also wanted to know more about WILPF’s integrated approach to peace. Maria Muños Maraver explained that issues such as disarmament, Women Peace and Security Agenda and Human Rights have been separated from each other, but “this separation seems artificial”. The WILPF’s integrated approach focuses on bringing these issues back together, which is in fact a difficult task to achieve due to the defensiveness coming from international community, trying to make it look like these issues are not intertwined. It is not possible anymore, in our globalized world, to separate these issues. What WILPF is trying to achieve is to overcome this division by linking human rights, women’s participation, and disarmament together and not approach them as isolated factors.

Coordination with Women’s considerations on the ground

Regarding the liaison between women’s consideration on the ground and the tools used to empower them, Maria Muños Maraver explains that the most difficult thing, is indeed bringing the work done in Geneva to the people on the ground. There is a strong disconnect with them, since only governments feel obliged by what is done in Geneva. Unfortunately, it is harder to make the local authorities feel involved in the process as well, but they are the most important one. It is crucial for women’s coordination on the ground to properly be done, to bring the international instrument to the local authorities and convince them to apply these instruments, because they are the ones that matter.

The biggest challenges encountered and plans for the future

When talking about the biggest challenge that WILPF has encountered in the most recent years, Maria Muños Maraver explains that the first that comes to mind, is the field of disarmament due to the continuous limitation that the USA continue to impose. For example, last June a vote regarding a resolution about firearms in the Human Rights Council was indeed blocked by the US. The conversation on weapons remains a very difficult one to have. Regarding the future plans for the organization and the direction that it will take going forward, Maria Muños Maraver mentioned conflict prevention, but she insists on the work on extraterritorial obligations: “We hope that they will be a strong use of extraterritorial obligations, as a legal justification.” And make sure that they will look at “the responsibility of other countries involved in conflicts that are happening”. She wants to put all efforts in legal terms, to be able to start a good jurisprudence on extraterritorial obligations.

Source: Women's International League for Peace and Freedom website. http://wilpf.org/