4 March 2006

Iran – a call for peace

By Jacqui McCarney

Wednesday is the 97th year of International Women's Day. This day was first marked in America in 1909, as women were struggling to participate in society on an equal footing with men. On the eve of the First World War it became part of the brewing peace movement in Europe and on March 8th 1917 Russian women took to the streets; sickened by the loss of over 2 million of their men folk, and desperate to feed their families, they demanded "bread and peace". Within days, the Russian Revolution forced the Tsar to abdicate and Russian women were given the vote.

These women's agenda honed by the circumstances of their time has continued to call for equality and peace. It continues to reach out across national, cultural, ethnic, political, and economic boundaries to unite women the world over.

With political leaders queuing up to be interviewed on Radio 4 Women's Hour before the last elections, boasting about the number of female MP's they have, and desperate to attract women’s attention, you would think that women here in Britain had at last been heard.

But the recent publication of "Women and Work Commissions" findings makes for depressing reading – there is still a 17.1% pay gap between men and women. Women represent just over one fifth of the seats in the Commons and the global figures for 2005 stood at just 16% of women’s seats in parliaments.

The rate of change in our seats of power is "alarmingly slow" according to Katherine Rake, director of the Fawcett Society, an organization which promotes women’s rights. Without first, a change in equality, the efforts to achieve the second aim, that of peace, are well nigh impossible - as is all too frighteningly clear today.

With too few women in Parliament, it is rare for true feminine values to be represented - they have had to fight to survive a combative adversarial world which is still stereotypically male dominated. All too often for women to succeed and survive, they must abandon the feminine qualities which would allow them a fresh and different approach and adopt male modes of operating. The 'Iron Lady' was rewarded for a toughness that even few men possessed. We desperately need the more feminine qualities of empathy, cooperation and wisdom in the political arena – yet it is toughness and winning that are valued. The dominance of male qualities has become particularly exaggerated during the time of this Government. Blair's babes have turned out to be just more window dressing and the opportunity to introduce feminine values in parliament has been thrown away.

Visit faslane365.orgAnd so the women's call for peace has never moved beyond the streets. In Northern Ireland, this meant stretching across sectarian divides, as is the case with women's peace movements in Bosnia, Israel, and Cyprus. Women held hands around the nuclear base in Greenham Common until it was shut down and now many of the same women are planning an audacious civil resistance initiative: a year long blockade of the Faslane nuclear submarine base in Scotland (http://www.faslane365.org/).

This year International Women's Peace Day will be marked by a breathtaking collaboration between American and Iraqi women and women throughout the world. On that day, a delegation of nine Iraqi women and a group of American women will be handing a petition into the White House. The petition is circling the globe via the internet at this very moment with the aim of collecting 100,000 signatures. This initiative has been organised by CODEPINK, an American women’s advocacy group that has spent time in Iraq witnessing the conditions for themselves. They are demanding the withdrawal of American troops and set out a possible timetable for this.

More crucially the women are calling to 'Stop the Next War Now'. They want America foreign policy "to shift in strategy, from a military model to a conflict resolution model." The next war, as insane and frightening as that prospect is, could be the likely attack on Iran. Many observers are increasingly certain that this is America's next move, and some even suggest that it will involve tactical nuclear weapons. As our Prime Minister has shown himself determined to support George Bush, he will find it difficult again to support all those calling for peaceful resolution.

Women who care passionately about our world can be heard as a chorus of voices circling the globe calling "Enough". We have made that call for centuries, particularly the last hundred years. Peace can only be achieved by leaving behind the chauvinistic, dangerous world where might is right – the world sorely needs more empowered women promoting true feminine values to do this.