Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF)

Thursday, January 21, 2010

5 January:Mosques, Bhadra Fort, Hindu Temple

On Tuesday, our morning excursion began at the Juma Masjid.

Description: "At the eastern side of Teen Darwaza, Juma Masjid is one of the most beautiful mosques in India. AHmed SHah built the grand edifice in 1423 A.D. from the items ransomed from the demolished HIndu and Jain temples.

Built in yellow sand stones, this marvelous mosque has a combination of Hindu and Muslim styles of architecture. There are about 260 columns within the mosque to protect its roof."

Photo of some of the intricate inlaid stone work within the mosque.

Detail view of the front of the mosque. All carving was done by hand.

Ahmedabad is a city of gates. This is one of its gates.

The Bhadrakali Temple is housed in the Bhadra Fort. Description: "It is dedicated to Hindu goddess, incarnation of goddess Kali. This Hindu sanctum was built in 1411 A.D. during Maratha rule in Ahmedabad." The outside of the temple is flanked by statues of a penguin and a rabbit.

Here is a view of the Bhadra Fort from within the city: Description: "Among very eminent tourist destinations in Ahmedabad, Bhadra Fort is the most prestigious one. The royal fort, built by Ahmed Shah (founder of the city), had added charm to the city of Ahmedabad."

The final destination of our morning excursion was the Sidi Syed Mosque. Description given: "The Sidi Syed Mosque, built in 1573, is one of the most famous mosques of Ahmedabad. The mosque was built by Sidi Saiyyed, who was a slave of the Sultan of Ahmedabad.

The mosque is entirely articulated. The world famous 'jalis' in the mosque are taken from a temple. The rear wall is filled with square stone pierced panels in geometrical designs. The two bays flanking the central aisle have reticulated stone slabs carved in designs of intertwined trees and foliage and a palm motif." The mosque had a blue door on its side with intricate carving above it.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

4 January: Dance Program by Dr. Kajal Muley

Author's note: originally, I was going to skip the other cultural events, to try to get my thoughts about the IB meeting up as quickly as possible. However, I was so impressed by the Indian Section's understanding of the intersections between cultural and politics, and I want to honor the work that they did to bring us a complete program by describing as much as possible. I apologize that my work schedule does not allow me to complete this reporting faster.

On Monday night, we returned to the auditorium for a classical dance program, developed by Dr. Kajal Muley. Dr. Muley received her doctorate from Gujurat Vidhyapith in "Attainment of Peace Through Music." It is such a pleasure to know that the interconnection between art and society is taken so seriously in Ahmedabad. Dr. Muley and her students performed four dances and provided a written explanation of the program.

Dr. Muley performed the first solo item, "Tal - Tintal (16 mantras)." The written description is: "Starting with Ganesh Vandana, followed by Amad, Toda, Tukda, etc."

The second dance, Paramparik Kathak, was performed by students. The description is: "Performing technical part of classical Kathak which is a pure dance form. Its contents are Paran, Parmelu, Chakradhar, Kavit, Palta, & Tihai."

Thumri, the third dance, was performed by Dr. Muley and her student. The description: "Thumri is the Bhava Portion of classical Kathak. Words of Thumri are "Biraj mein Hori Kaise Khelungi mein Savariya Ke Sung." In India Holi is the festival of colours, this thumri depicts how th Gopis will play colours with Lord Krishna."

The final piece, Maa Kalika Stuti, was performed by the students. It was a very striking piece, with multiple group poses. Together, the dancers created the image of a single god, complete with other-worldly eyes. The description: "In this program the last item will be a dance related to women Empowerment. The words of the song are "Mata Kalika....." which depicts the various images of Maa Shakti."

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

4 January: Presidents' Report

The WILPF International Co-Presidents provided copies of their report to attendees on 3 January. Monday afternoon, they opened the meeting up to discussion of the report. Unfortunately, I did not have time to finish reading the report before this section of the meeting (partially because I gave my copy to another meeting attendee before I had a chance to read it).

You can read the President's Report on the WILPF international website.

It provides a quite thorough review of political events, the work of WILPF, and the current areas that need to be addressed. Several board members objected to the way current events were described in the report. Apparently, it is not appropriate to describe how governments describe the reasons for their actions. Personally, I believe we need to fully understand the rationale given for government actions, so that we can accurately refute erroneous reasoning, rather than simply speaking from a place of authority that doesn't acknowledge alternative viewpoints.

In any event, the discussion of the agenda and the President's Report did not leave time for the previously scheduled discussions of the Secretary General Report, Executive Committee Vacancy, and Regional Meetings. Those items were moved to later in the week.

4 January: Orientation, Agenda Review

It felt quite weird to have a logistics and orientation session at 4:30 pm on Monday, after a full day of activities. While I really appreciated the time spent reviewing examples of effective WILPF work from around the world, I wonder if we have a universal understanding of the consensus process and how much time is needed to develop consensus. My observation throughout the week was that the board developed agreement on proposals through a combination of consensus building and voting. I am hopeful that we can reach an agreement on our process prior to our next meeting. The reason I'm spending time writing about this is that as a convener of a standing committee, I am a non-voting member of the International Board. I think this means I can participate in the consensus process, but I cannot vote. When polls are used to check for consensus, it makes it difficult for me to know whether it is legal for me to express my opinion.

My technical questions are the most benign of the queries that rose during this part of the meeting. Several representatives from European sections spoke about their disagreement with the schedule's structure. They were convinced that having a communications workshop before talking about the meat of our program was putting the cart before the horse. (I tried to explain that the workshop was developed to give all participants a baseline understanding of campaign planning before we got into detailed conversations about our program.)

It's difficult for me to attempt to report on Monday afternoon in an unbiased way. I feel that I understand all sides of the argument: people who brought up concerns via our board listserv felt their concerns were not fully answered by the Executive Committee. The ExCom felt that people who objected to the proposed agenda did not offer an alternative (i.e. what areas should be cut to allow time for additional conversations). While the agenda was ultimately adopted, the process showed some interesting divisions:
--members of the International Board do not have a unified understanding of the purpose of the board
--members of the International Board do not agree on what makes WILPF unique, nor do we all agree on the political priorities of our League

Again, I'm hopeful that we can work through these differences. By working with my international WILPF sisters for a week, I've learned that there are many things that divide us. It's not just the divisions created by age and nationality. We also come to this work from different perspectives. For example, since I have a BA in Peace & Justice Studies, I have a strong appreciation for the role of civilian institutions in creating a peaceful world. Therefore, I'm committed to supporting the structural health of the League as much as I support its political aims. Having served as the national program chair of the US Section, I'm not as interested in arguing the relative importance of one plank of our program over another plank. There's a simple reason for my perspective: regardless of how much we debate whether to focus on the economic causes of war or the environmental effects of nuclear weapons and nuclear power, our members will decide individually which area to put their time into. I believe we need to develop international programs that provide a unified theoretical framework for distinct local, national, and regional projects.

To do this properly, our local program leaders need to be connected to our national program leaders and they need to be connected to our international working groups. Being connected to the different levels of WILPF doesn't have to be a huge time commitment: often it simply means signing up for a listserv and agreeing to respond in a timely manner to messages received. Of course, our communication system can be a huge barrier to women whose mother tongue is not English. But for those of us who are fluent in English, we simply have no excuse for not connecting our work to the work of our WILPF sisters around the country and around the world.

4 January:Women's Human Rights Mechanisms

The goal of this workshop was to describe the way women's human rights mechanisms were utilized in a local conflict situation to provide an example for how to utilize these mechanisms in other situations.

First, let me say I truly appreciate the work of the WILPF India Section for the people of Kandhamal, Orissa. They provided an extremely thorough presentation of their work. First, we learned about the history of the state of Orissa, including some of the reasons ethnic violence erupted, through a PowerPoint presentation. (I'm hopeful that the presentation will be available in the near future on the web.)

Then, WILPF India President Dr. Ila Pathak, WILPF India Vice President Dr. Pushpa Motiyani and WILPF International President Annelise Ebbe described their experiences touring camps where internally displaced people are living.

The complete report of this work on behalf of the women attacked in Kandhamal, Orissa is available on the WILPF international website. (pdf) It provides background information, reports from three IDP camps, recommended legal actions, and conclusions. Here's the key take-away: citizens must hold their government accountable for living up to the international treaties they sign. WILPF has systemically pointed out how India is not living up to its commitments for protecting civilians during times of violence, nor does the country have a good process for integrating women into the conflict resolution process.

Unfortunately, no discussion occurred on how to replicate this example nor on how the international WILPF community could utilize the report in support future work of the WILPF India in support of the women of Kandhamal. I am hopeful that we will begin these discussions via email and conference call.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

4 January: Seminar on Non-Violence and South Asian Realities

In the morning, we were joined by local WILPF members and members of the Gujurati NGO community for a seminar on non-violence and South Asian realities. During the first hour, there were introductions: of the leaders of WILPF India and WILPF international, along with the panel of speakers.

We also received a written history of the Indian section written by Krishna Ahoojapatel, the IB member from India. I hope that this history will be available soon on the international website.

Due to time constraints, the seminar speakers felt it was prudent to speak very quickly in order to complete their remarks during the allotted time frame. Unfortunately, it was very difficult to follow the seminar because everyone was speaking so quickly. Some things that I was able to discern:

There is some discrepancy on what constitutes South Asia. Some people are expansive, including all countries from Afghanistan to Sri Lanka to Nepal. The smallest definition is Pakistan and India. Usually, it refers to Sri Lanka, India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan.

South Asia has a common history, but rarely had a common government. It was a political dispute that led to the creation of India and Pakistan following independence from Britain. (Though this could be construed as politicized history, it's generally believed that the leaders of independence could not agree on a power-sharing structure, leading the Muslim leaders to agitate for their own country - hence the creation of Pakistan. However, it is false to assume that all, or even most, Muslims moved to Pakistan following the division. In fact, India is a vibrant mix of multiple religious groups, most prominently Hindus and Muslims.)

Originally, Pakistan had a Western and Eastern side. Urdu was declared the only official language, which discriminated against the citizens of Eastern Pakistan and was one of the reasons for the war of independence and the creation of the state of Bangladesh in 1971. [Aside: I heard an interesting description of this history from a Bangladeshi woman in the Singapore airport who was on her way home to happily participate in an arranged marriage.]

An interesting point was made by Shri Prakashbhai Shah (sp?), the journalist on the panel: India's democracy, especially its vibrant journalism, creates the space for the free flowing of ideas and emergence of new theories and practices not seen in the West.

Dr. Indira Hirway, the economist on the panel also hinted that there are economic theories and practical applications being created in India that could be replicated in other places, but said there wasn't enough time to go into details.

Social scientist and gender expert Dr. Kamla Bhasin was also on the panel. Some of her published work (in Hindi and English)is available from Sangat, South Asia Gender Activists and Trainers. Dr. Bhasin was also the South Asia coordinator for the 1,000 Women for the Nobel Peace Prize 2005 campaign.

Dr. Puspha Motiyani, Vice President of WILPF India introduced the panel, which was moderated by Vice Chancellor Dr. Sudarshan Iyengar.

I really hope we have the opportunity for further collaboration with the intellectuals featured on the panel. I also hope we have the opportunity to learn more about the academic and political work of our WILPF India sisters. Dr. Pushpa Motiyani, as an expert in Gandhian philosophy and feminist activist would be a perfect candidate for a US speaking tour.

4 January: Excursion to the Shaking Minarets and Kankaria Lake

The Gujurat branch organized local excursions Monday through Thursday from 6:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. These voluntary trips (which cost 50 rupees each, approximately $1) allowed participants a chance to see the highlights of Ahmedabad tourism while participating fully in the IB meeting. I really appreciate the time and effort they put into planning these trips: not only did they hire a bus to take us from place to place, but local volunteers were our docents and took the time to do test drives beforehand to ensure the traffic would allow us to get from place to place in the allotted time frame.

When we registered, we received a WILPF India IB meeting tote bag, a notepad holder created by SEWA (Self Employed Women's Association), a pad of paper, a recycled pen, and detailed information on the morning outings.

Here is the description of the Shaking Minarets: "It is believed that the mosque was constructed by Sidi Bashir, a slave of Sultan Shah. The mosque was completed in 1452.

There are two minarets in the mosque, each of which is three stories tall with carved balconies. The Shaking Minarets of Sidi Bashir's Mosque remains a mystery till today. Shake one minaret and the other resonates in harmony while the interconnecting terrace stands still. The actual cuase of this is unknown. This phenomenon was first observed in the 19th century by Monier M Williams, a British Sanskrit scholar."

We received a tour of the mosque from its care-taker, who told us the job has been in his family for generations. I really appreciated the time he took to show us the architectural details. Also, as the week went on, I would learn to appreciate the fact that he was such a gracious host to a group of women, since many mosques do not allow women inside.

After leaving the mosque, we were taken to Kankaria Lake: "Kankaria is a polygonal artificial lake. It is the biggest lake of the city of Ahmedabad, Gujurat. It has an approximate circumference of 1.4 miles (2.3 km). Built by Sultan Kutubuddin in 15th century A.D> This bewitching lake has intricate sluice gates and 34 sides which were completed in 1451. Its ancient name is Haui-E-Kutub. It also consists of a water purfication system but that is lost with time. At one point of the circular lake, there opens a walkway which later merges into a garden called Nagina Wadi (means jewel garden in Urdu) that is located in the center of the lake.

Mughal Emperor Jahangir and his Empress wife Noor Jahan frequently visited the lake. It now stands as a local picnic spot and a space for joggers."

After taking a group photo at the lake, we returned to the campus of Gandhi University for breakfast, the morning seminar, and the beginning of the board meeting.

Monday, January 11, 2010

3 January: Gertrud Baer Seminar and Dance Recital

Editor's Note: Internet access was not available for IB participants on the campus of Gujurat Vidyapith. I am back in Los Angeles and will blog as my schedule allows with some details from the meeting. The minutes of the meeting will provide the most comprehensive report, but the Executive Committee will need time to compile and approve them before they are published.

Unfortunately, I did not attend the Gertrud Baer seminar. It was attended by many members of WILPF India and all international WILPFers who were on campus at the time. It began in the morning with an introduction of the leaders of WILPF India and WILPF International. The seminar itself began with an introduction to WILPF: Susi Snyder gave her famous presentation on WILPF's structure. I hope this portion was videotaped and/or the information is now available in a presentation. One of my goals is to make all presentations from the meeting available not only on WILPF's website, but also on Slideshare. By distributing our information on community platforms across the net, we'll increase our visibility and potentially attract new members and new funders.

The participants were broken up into small groups to answer 3 questions:
1. Why join WILPF?
2. What would you say to an older member of WILPF?
3. What would you say to a newer member of WILPF?

The discussions got quite lively and a lot of new energy was found for membership recruitment and retention. I look forward to the written report from the seminar.

Unfortunately, Young WILPF (Y-WILPF) was not represented at the meeting. There was some age diversity in the participants, but the international networking group for younger members did not meet during in India, nor was its future discussed in depth. I know from discussions with the WILPF US representative to the international Y-WILPF organizing committee, Kristina Mader, that it has been difficult for US Y-WILPFers to maintain contact with their international sisters. I hear that young members are quite active in some of our sections (including the UK and Sweden), but not as active in other sections. As a reminder, on the international level the definition of "young" is left to the interpretation of individual participants. In the US, the network is available to all WILPFers 35 and younger.

I arrived in the evening and was able to join my sister WILPFers for a delicious vegetarian meal and then attend a cultural program. The entire hall filled up with local people, and they graciously reserved the first two rows for us. The program consisted of folk and modern dance, performed by students and it was just wonderful. The evening ended with singing the Indian national anthem.

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Saturday, January 09, 2010

Transitions in WILPF

WILPF's Secretary General, Susi Snyder, will be leaving her position effective Janaury 15. The Executive Committee, recognizing that her participation in our governance process could not be replicated, requested that she attend the International Board meeting in India. I had the privilege of rooming with her during the meeting.

I wish we had more time for the giddy chatter we shared on my first night at the Vidyapeeth. Instead, her nights were filled with ad hoc meetings and our mornings were filled with incredible sight-seeing journeys coordinated by the Gujurat branch.

I've known Susi for seven incredible years. She came to a US Section board meeting when she was transitioning from being the director of our Reaching Critical Will project to being the head of our UN office. The leadership and vision she exhibited seven years ago have inspired me to continue putting my volunteer time into WILPF. We share a common belief in the power and need for our incredible League.

We WILPFers talk sometimes about the pressure put on our staff, but I don't know if we fully understand it. Susi has been the only full-time staff person in the Geneva office for the last 1.5 years. She represented WILPF at the UN in Geneva, pushing open the Conference on Disarmament to allow space for NGOs to speak, coordinated our sections, participated on the Executive Committee, and oversaw our UN office in New York. I've seen the toll this has taken on her emotionally and physically. So, when she announced her resignation, though I knew it was a blow for WILPF, I recognized it as a healthy step for my dear friend.

I also believe that our League's true strength lies in the coordinated efforts of thousands of women across the world, not in any one individual leader. Though Susi is among our brightest, shining stars, she's allowed us to develop individually and collectively so that we can take the next step, building our League to even greater heights as we approach our 100th anniversary. Plus, she's still a member, so I remain hopeful that she'll continue to be active in the years to come.

Below is a short video in honor of Susi's departure. It was compiled by our UN Office Director Anjie Rosga. We had hoped to surprise Susi by showing it at the IB meeting, but technical difficulties made that impossible. I can't bring myself to repeat the title Anjie gave the piece, because I refuse to believe this is an end; rather, another door has opened.

Farewell Susi! from WILPF-UNO on Vimeo.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

International Board Meeting, Gandhi University

It's hard to know whether to try to describe everything that's already happened at the meeting or get back to the proceedings. I'm at an internet cafe across the street and I'm sure I've missed some important events by taking this time to report back to the US Section.

We've been represented by five people: Laura Roskos, our co-president is the alternate IB member since Audley Green could not attend. Nancy Munger, our other co-president is also here. Nancy Ramsden, our international treasurer is here, as is Joan Bazar, the editor of International Peace Update. I'm here as the convener of the Communications Committee.

I co-lead a workshop on Tuesday and had a successful committee meeting yesterday. I'm also trying to write the story of this meeting on my laptop and plan to post more detailed updates once I get back to the States on Saturday.

I am so grateful for this opportunity to represent WILPF US and am so excited about our future. Thank goodness we exist and thank goodness we're growing towards our 100th anniversary. Yesterday, Amparo gave an exciting presentation on the emerging Mexico Section. We also had an Americas regional meeting, and Sandra gave a great talk on what's happening in Colombia. So much is happening and I wish you could all be here. I also wish we could stream video from our meetings, though that might be tricky since several people do not want to be on film. I think we need discussion about this because to me, it's important to utilize all available forms of communication to spread our events to members who are unable to attend.