Many of the articles in this issue focus on Africa, where women's peace groups are multiplying. The WRI Women's Working Group (WRIWWG) had been discussing with South African groups the possibility of holding the 5th WRI Women's conference in their country. While several groups were supportive, the challenges of building a new non-racist and non-sexist society are absorbing their energies.
"Before the war, a group of women decided to go to the border with flowers for the soldiers," Sanda Muminovic of Bosnia said. "I will never forget how those soldiers looked at us, like we were boring flies. We threw our flowers into the river and went home. It was too little, too late. While we were buying flowers, they were buying guns."
African women peace activists were very visible during the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women and the parallel NGO Forum, which took place in Beijing, China, in September 1995. A highlight of the opening ceremony for the NGO Forum featured the presentation of a peace torch by the African Women for Conflict and Peace Project. "The woman is the first person to promote peace, because she is the first victim when there is no peace," said one African activist. Below is a brief sketch of some of the peace work African women are involved in.
In the summer of 1995, the group Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ) had to withdraw their exhibit at the Zimbabwe International Book Fair. The President of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, said that he found it "extremely outrageous and repugnant to my human conscience that such immoral and repulsive organizations ....should have any advocates in our midst."
The organizers of the state-funded Book Fair were forced to withdraw their earlier permission for GALZ to have a stand at the Fair. State police visited the Fair and removed posters protesting GALZ's exclusion.
The United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) has initiated the African Women in Crisis (AFWIC) program, which has developed the African Women for Conflict Resolution and Peace (AWCRP) project. The project helps African women take a more pro-active role in reconciliation and peace-making processes, and links grassroots groups with regional or international organizations working on the same issues. The program has organized expert consultations on issues such as "Reproductive and mental health issues of women and girls under situations of war and conflict in Africa".
"MOTRAT QIRIAZI" is a woman's group in Kosova which is working on the empowerment of rural women, changing traditions and responding to educational needs. We would be very happy to correspond women working on similar issues by email and to hear your comments, suggestions or about your experiences.
"MOTRAT QIRIAZI", the Society for Education of Women in Prishtina, Kosova, was named after the two sisters Qiriazi, who founded the first school for girls in Korca (Albania) 100 years ago.
Thoughts turn around like the wheels of the Peace Train
Towards the women who ride and towards the women who wait,
and the women back home and the women long gone,
towards the women not born, and the women who fear,
and the women who dare and the holy women of prayer.
Here we are, here in Helsinki, free to be who we are
And there they wait for us, in places with fairytale names--
St. Petersburg and Kiev, Bucharest and Sophia, Istanbul and Odessa,
Alma Alta and Urumchi, and that most forbidden city, Peking.
Congratulations to Simone Maria Helwig on becoming the youngest WRI Women's Working Group member! Simone was born December 20, the first child of WRI Women's Working Group coordinator Maggie Helwig and former "Peace News" editor Ken Simons. Congratulations to the happy parents! Maggie and her family will be returning to Canada in a few months, where they will continue their peace work.
Our Human Rights: A Manual for Women's Human Rights Education is the first comprehensive training manual that addresses many aspects of women's human rights in an ´interactive format' which is suitable for many audiences, from school teachers, to advocates for women's rights, to general human rights groups.