Women Wage Peace
Women Wage Peace is a broad grassroots movement, the largest in the country, that was founded in the summer of 2014 following Operation Protective Edge. The movement has tens of thousands of members from the right, the center and the left of the political spectrum, Jews and Arabs, religious and secular, from the center of the country and the periphery, women from kibbutzim and from settlements, all of whom are united in a demand for a mutually binding non-violent accord, agreeable to both sides. Members of the movement from all over the country initiate and organize diverse and creative activities on a regional and national level within the framework of 50 regional teams and 12 professional national teams: Strategy, Strategic Partnerships, Strategic Communication, Digital, Government Engagement, Reaching out to Palestinian and International Women, Projects, Diversity, Budget, Training, National Coordinators, and Logistics. We spoke to Hamutal Gouri, one of the women in the group. Here’s their story.
Could you tell us about the origins of Women Wage Peace?
Women Wage Peace is a grass-roots movement of over 30,000 women in Israel. When I speak about the movement, I am speaking on behalf of so many sisters. It was established in 2014, at the end of summer, after the last war in Gaza – called Operation Protective Edge. It was a very difficult summer – women in our country were no longer willing to sit alone and despair about their children on the front. One woman had the idea of a peace movement for a mutually binding peace agreement, and at least forty or fifty women in her immediate circles agreed with a resounding yes. From a group of forty or fifty, we quickly grew and the message brought many more, since it was so compelling and inspiring for women across the country.
From forty to thirty thousand, that’s a lot of diversity and dynamics coming together. What are some of the principles that ground you in your work?
We started by articulating several key principles which guide us. We are a political movement, but a non-partisan one. We want to be very inclusive of women from all the different communities and different political affiliations. And so women from the left, centre and right; Jewish and Arab; religious and non-observant, of different ages, from all the different geographical communities and so on, are included. We also make it a point to only speak for, and we do not speak against. We are actively working to create a new language, and a new political discourse that is based on non-violent communication, radical listening, compassion, hope and faith in the power of women and their knowledge to make a difference and to bring about positive change. We are a flat, grass-roots, non-hierarchical and non-personal movement in the sense that it is not about having one charismatic leader, but really about the collective leadership of hundreds of thousands of women around the country.
You have quite a diverse membership – could you talk a little bit about that?
As someone working in the feminist field for over fifteen years now, I am amazed at how powerful this movement has become. As a feminist activist and professional, I know that mobilizing people to act for social change is not an easy task. I’m glad this movement allowed people to start witnessing how much strength there is in putting women in charge of social change. Throughout the years, we’ve focused on leadership, activism and women being in the centre of social change. The most beautiful thing about Women Wage Peace for me is to see women discovering their agency, as they come into activism and coming into their leadership. This is just so beautiful. There is so much to be achieved through the active participation and engagement of women from all walks of society. In 3.5 years, we have grown to from several dozens to more than 33,000 members in the country. We have around 70 local and regional coordinators from the North to the South and we are actively working to constantly engage women, and men, in the movement. It is a women-led movement, but 20% of our membership is men. We do not exclude men. Women are the leaders and men are more than welcome to join us as allies and support our efforts, but it is women-led. We were inspired by the UN Security Council Resolution 1325. When it comes to promoting women’s political participation and women’s engagement in peacebuilding, we are really standing on the shoulders of giants, from the previous generation and the current generation, in Israel and globally.
As a political but non-partisan initiative, how do you reconcile divergent views and channel them towards coexistence?
It is a labour of love. It is not easy, and requires commitment to pluralism and inclusion as a part of the movement’s DNA. This is true around the world – political affiliations are part of people’s identities. When you seek to create a collective identity that is based on the principles of pluralism and inclusion, it means we all have to be able to listen very differently and react very differently to political opinions very different from our own. It is difficult. I can tell you that personally, I went through such a meaningful and transformative process of really being able to not just to listen, but to listen with passion, respect and appreciation, and to see the value in that. I think this is the key – to learn to appreciate the value of different political opinions, and to see diversity and plurality of opinions as a gift rather than as an obstacle. I think that what we are seeing is that our commitment, the fact that we are not giving up no matter how challenging it may be, we remain steadfastly committed to pluralism, diversity, inclusion and intersectionality, we see how we grow not just in numbers, but how we grow in power and in impact. People are looking at us and noticing that we are different. There is something special about creating a politically inclusive women’s peace movement. I think that this commitment to creating a new language, based on very deep principles of no shaming, no blaming and being able to develop a shared consciousness of reconciliation and mutual understanding – it is a very deep political process.
Does Women Wage Peace include Palestinian women as part of the collective? How do they engage?
Women Wage Peace is based in Israel and is an Israeli movement. Our major task is to influence public opinion and policy makers in Israel. However, we do have strategic partnerships with Palestinian women leaders and peacebuilders. We are a volunteer movement, but we also have several professional teams that handle different responsibilities – one of which is a dedicated team working on strategic collaborations with Palestinian women leaders. We have events around the year, and one mega event – the last one took place in October this year. We had around 2,500 Palestinian women coming in to participate.
What are some of the major challenges you’ve encountered in your work?
One structural challenge remains that women have been systematically excluded from conversations in peace and security. We have to create a serious cultural shift and promote the concept that women can be experts on issues of peace and security and that they do deserve a place at the negotiation table. Security is perceived rather narrowly in Israel, as being confined to the military lens. We try to get people talking about their kinds of security – such as civil security. There is a lot of perspective needed on ground, and that can come only if we actually include more women’s voices. It is quite a big shift, in itself. A second challenge is that there is a need to reignite the hope for peace in the region. People want peace on both sides – no one wants a life in strife. People want to raise their kids and live with their families in peace. When you ask people if they want peace, they all say they do. But scratch deeper and ask them if they think it can be achieved, and they will all tell you that they don’t think it is possible. When people tell us that they’ve tried peace and it hasn’t worked, we tell them that we’ve all also tried war and it hasn’t worked – and so, we can afford to give peace a chance. Israel has made and kept peace accords with Egypt and Jordan – in fact, on the eve of the signing of the accord with Egypt, most people didn’t believe it would happen. Reigniting hope is a big challenge. Another challenge we’ve encountered in the first years of our work was that few people took us seriously. We, the women of the movement, were not sure that they would take us seriously. I am so happy that we have overcome this.
Do you foresee an inclusion of a strategy for justice, as well? Since Sustainable Peace can be built on the foundations of justice, how will this operate?
A few years ago, if you were to talk to people about the idea of working for reconciliation before a political agreement was in place, most people would resist and tell you that it wouldn’t be possible. But now, that is changing. More conversation and commitment has entered the picture, and more people are working towards justice. We follow a no-blaming and no-shaming approach, so our goal is to create a scenario where we take responsibility for our lives and actions. A lot of healing does need to happen, and it is here that the role of women is key. We need to shift from a consciousness of victimhood and revenge to a consciousness of agency and reconciliation.