In April of this year 1,000 women, members of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, met in the Hague to celebrate 100 years of working for peace. There were two representatives from Costa Rica.
The league was founded in Abril 1915 by women from many different countries trying to halt the course of the war which was in its eighth month. Although they did not succeed, they were determined to continue. When the war ended three years later, millions were dead, countries were in chaos and economies were shattered. The women of the league promised to continue “fighting” for peace and for civil rights in spite of incredible odds.
The Second World War shattered their dreams for peace soon but also renewed hope as people around the world became aware of the consequences of war.
In the 100 years since WILPF was founded, a lot of progress has been made. Women got the vote in most countries, as did minority populations, colonies became independent nations, the United Nations was formed and international cooperation for science, health, and law were established. Conventions and treaties now prohibit landmines, child soldiers, biological and chemical weapons and the use of the seas and space for military purposes. The Arms Trade Treaty ratified in December 2014 oversees arms sales and transfers to prevent arms shipments to groups or armies that violate human rights. Work is under way for a treaty to prohibit nuclear arms. Women of WILPF were a part of every one of those achievements.
But the week after the women met in the Hague to pledge their support for peace, the governments of the world continued to gear up for war. Nicaragua announced plans to get combat planes from Russia, Quatar signed an agreement with France to purchase fighter jets and French president Hollande flew to Quatar to sign the agreement. China showed off its “advanced” fighter plane, and Saudi Arabia, with U.S. supplied weapons, bombed Yemen. Within a month Russia presented its newest T-14 tank which will be topped off with 152-mm guns with projectiles that can “burn through a meter of steel.” Fighting continued in the Ukraine, Syria, the Republic of the Congo, Iraq, and there are threats to the peace in north Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, and Palestine to name but a few armed conflicts.
Even countries living in peace prepare for wars. Military spending has increased. Argentina, seeing a threat over the Falkland Islands, tripled its military expenses since 2005. The United Kingdom also increases military spending to defend the Falklands. They plan for war instead of peace.
Among the top 15 countries in military spending is Brazil. India, beset by poverty and social problems, is the biggest importer of arms, according to a report from Germany which gladly sells them more.
The United States and China top the list for military expenditures. Among other top “defense” spenders are Italy, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey and Australia. While some western countries are reducing their war expenditures, African and Asian countries are increasing theirs.
Even reductions in military spending can be misleading because newer weapons are more potent and require less personnel as “unmanned” weapons take over. More kill for less bill.
The tragic story of refugees, millions leaving war-torn areas, victims of wars or ruined economies, is the outcome of choosing war over negotiations and peace. Millions of people are forced to abandon their homelands to live precariously in refugee camps or risk their lives trying to reach safety so that wars can be fought. A generation of children is growing up without the security of homes, schools and family.
The clamor for peace has not abated. The women at the Hague in 1915 determined to work for peace. The women meeting in the Hague in 2015 are equally determined. Someday peace will take precedence over war.
*Olivia Ramos is the collective name for the Heredia group of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org