On November 12th, 2010, Hart House Great Hall was the scene of laughter and sharing as more than 150 participants filled the hall to celebrate the courage and vision of the women who founded VOW 50 years ago when the venue, Hart House, was not even open to women, and to urge to action women across the country at a time when our peacebuilding work is needed more urgently than ever.
As the lights dimmed and voices hushed, a single voice rose up in a haunting call to the heart, as the scent of sweetgrass wafted among the tables. Cree grandmother Pauline Shirt was blessing the gathering with an invocation to the spirits of all who had walked the earth before us and the souls of those yet to come.
It was a powerful beginning to a transforming conference. Vietnam war survivor and UNESCO Ambassador Kim Phuc welcomed keynote speaker Cora Weiss, president of the Hague Appeal for Peace, who called us to action. Co-Chairs Janis Alton and Lyn Adamson shared moments of history and vision for the future of VOW. We honoured the courage of guests Iraq war resister Kim Rivera; Kenyan political activist Flora Terah; and YMCA 2010 Peace Medal award winner Lee McKenna.
ECHO Women’s Choir and pianist Pierre Jasmin shared inspiration through music. Marion Kerans was present to launch Legacy of Love, a new book about Muriel Duckworth, one of VOW’s founding members.
Canadian and international activists and academics compellingly presented practical methods for conversion from a culture of fear and military power to a culture of peace. Scientists, lawyers, academics, political scientists, gender specialists, and educators, presented the latest findings in the fields of legal and community-based peacebuilding. These include the International Criminal Court’s mission to end impunity; engaging men and boys in promoting gender equality and ending violence against women; and different ways of preventing conflict and capacity-building through non-violent conflict resolution skills. Betty Reardon, one of the founders of contemporary peace education, and author of the new book, The Gender Imperative: Human Security vs. State Security, stated: “Our task as women has been to make all the people and stuff we’re charged with secure.
“We need a living system to live in. It will sustain us. To feel secure is as much ‘in here’ as ‘out there.’ To feel secure ‘in here’ means to be in relationships where our dignity and identity is seen as fully human. State security undermines human security. Militarized security is destroying security, especially for vulnerable women and children. Demilitarization is possible, step by step, area by area. We have to roll back the military base by base.”
Saturday night featured the premiere of a new play by Shirley Farlinger, “1325: The Key to Peace,” in honour of the 10th anniversary of this UN Security Council Resolution which calls for the inclusion of women in every level of peacebuilding in every country. The Raging Grannies and folk singer Sandy Greenberg shared their gift of song.
The AGM included reflections on VOW’s accomplishments and challenges. Resolutions called for conversion from military spending, dialogue on the White Poppy Campaign, for a Royal Commission on Representative Democracy in Canada.
Growth in new ideas, excitement and energy was evident. There was record attendance by knowledgable and committed young women. Ottawa-based youth activist Leia McIntyre closed the conference with a pledge to mobilize more young women in the peace movement across Canada.
VOW elder Eryl Court spoke for all in sharing this reflection: “We are at the tipping point. As women we speak and act for humanity. We are the greatest power on earth. We represent all people who love children and love the world.”
From address on November 12, 2010, Hart House, University of Toronto
Tonight we are celebrating the courage and vision of the women who built VOW and we are recommitting ourselves to the work and the fun of building peace together. We need to see our role as being co-creators of the future. If we are organized, we CAN make change happen.
We need to DREAM BIG because that is what the world requires of us. Apartheid ended because people dared to dream big, and were willing to struggle. The women who gathered the baby teeth didn’t know if their efforts would make a difference in achieving an atmospheric test ban treaty – but they did. Canada did NOT join the US in attacking Iraq against international law because of our determination – WE joined hands and made that difference.
We need to believe in our own power, and we need that power now more than ever.
We not only need to build a culture of peace, we need to build an economy of peace—not based on harmful resource extraction and waste, but based on renewable systems; We need to insist that human rights are respected everywhere. Not only in other parts of the world—we need to recognize them here, and insist that Canada sign the UN Charter on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. We need to be vigilant and protect and renew the democracy that our foremothers fought for. We need to insist that our financial resources are used for sustainable development and addressing the roots of violence—not wasted on war. To change our world we need to be smart, and organized, and we need to put women’s voices front and centre—where we belong.
The authors are members of Voice of Women for Peace. For more information on Voice of Women, see http://www.vowpeace.org