WHO ARE WOMEN IN BLACK?
The first group of Women in Black was formed in Israel in December 1988. It was initiated by a group of Israeli women. Later, Palestinian women joined them. Since its beginning, the group has expressed strong opposition to the aggressive policy of the Israeli government in the occupied Palestinian territories. Women in Black—Israel were soon joined by support groups; groups of Women in Black formed in Italy, the USA and Germany. In the beginning of the war in the former Yugoslavia, a group of Women in Black was formed in Belgrade. As a sign of support for this group, Women in Black groups were formed in around twenty countries. Later, these groups developed activities related both to their local circumstances and global peace policy.
HOW THE NETWORK STARTED
In February 1992, Women in Black—Venice organized a conference entitled ‘Women against War’ in the former Yugoslavia. About 20 women activists from civil society groups throughout the former Yugoslavia and around thirty other activists, predominately members of Women in Black from different places in Italy, attended the conference.
It was at that gathering that the activists became aware of the numerous contradictions that the war had created among them (in relation the issues of state/nation, country, army, and others). It became clear that women’s solidarity is not something that comes into being spontaneously; on the contrary, it requires a patient creating of space for confronting all these complex issues, particularly int time of acute crisis and war.
Immediately after the Venice conference, Women in Black—Belgrade decided to organize their own conference and to hold it in the country that they considered most responsible for the wars in their region. This led to 11 network conferences. All of the conferences (except the ninth, which was held in the European Parliament in Brussels, and the eleventh organized by WiB, Italy) were organized by Women in Black—Belgrade with enormous emotional, political, and financial support from other Women in Black groups, as well as other women’s peace groups from European and non-European countries.
THE FIRST NETWORK CONFERENCE
The first network conference was held July 18-20, 1992 in Novi Sad. Approximately 100 women activists participated; fifty from Italy and an equal number from Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, and Slovenia. Activists from Croatia were unable to attend because of the war.
At the Novi Sad conference, controversial issues (nation/gender; country/state) were discussed. All the participants fundamentally opposed war and all forms of ethnic homogenization.
THE SECOND NETWORK CONFERENCE
The second network conference was held August 3-8, 1993 in Novi Sad. It was attended by 180 participants from the countries of the former Yugoslavia and a dozen other countries. The majority of the women had traveled together for days before the conference. There was a caravan from Andalusia to Novi Sad, with stops and organized actions along the way (in various parts of Spain, southern France, northern Italy, Zagreb, and Belgrade.) The journey helped strengthen alternative international women’s politics. At the conference, women testified about the war and against the war. Their approach was clearly elaborated from a feminist pacifist point of view.
THE THIRD NETWORK CONFERENCE
The third network conference was held in Novi Sad from August 3-7, 1994. There were 170 participants. The Yugoslav embassy did not grant visas to 22 Spanish activists. This marked the beginning of the regime’s repressive measures against our conferences.
The conference included women’s testimonies about war and hardship, but also about women’s resistance to war and militarism. The question of responsibility and guilt was raised, particularly by the participants from Serbia. The connection between feminism and antimilitarism was emphasized even more clearly.
THE FOURTH NETWORK CONFERENCE
The fourth network conference was held August 3-7, 1995 in Tresnjevac, a village in northern Vojvodina. One hundred and fifty women from 14 countries participated.
The Yugoslav authorities had imposed numerous obstacles to organizing this gathering. They refused to grant visas to Spanish women activists. They did not allow a bus carrying activists from Italy and Great Britain to cross the border. The police questioned the inhabitants of Tresnjevac and many conference participants.
At the conference, topics such as gender, nation, feminism and antimilitarism were further elaborated, and the issue of sexual identities was tackled. Kosovar Albanian women attended the conference for the first time.
THE FIFTH NETWORK CONFERENCE
The fifth network conference was held August 1-4, 1996 in Novi Sad. This conference was marked by a massive participation of women from Bosnia and Hecegovina and Kosovo.
In addition to the usual topics, the significance of peace agreements (The Dayton Accord in particular) was analyzed. The institutional apartheid policy of the Serbian regime in Kosovo was subject to extensive scrutiny for the first time.
THE SIXTH NETWORK CONFERENCE
The sixth network conference was held from August 7-10, 1997 in Novi Sad. It was attended by 200 women from all of the countries of the former Yugoslavia, as well as from other countries. New topics were introduced, such as forms of fundamentalism and patriarchal control over women and the globalization of conservatism.
THE SEVENTH NETWORK CONFERENCE
The seventh network conference was held August 6-9, 1998 in Subotica. Two hundred and ten women participated. The participation of Kosovar Albanian women was particularly high (27). Albanian was one of the official languages, in addition to the local south Slavic languages, English, Italian, and Spanish. A special emphasis was put on militarization, responsibility and culpability, and the concepts of solidarity and humanitarian help.
THE EIGHTH NETWORK CONFERENCE
The eighth network conference was held October 7-10, 1999 in Ulcinj, Montenegro. There were 250 participants. Since the conference was held a few months after the NATO intervention in FRY, it dealt predominantly with topics concerning daily life, local and global militarization, international “peace” politics, and culpability and responsibility.
THE NINTH NETWORK CONFERENCE
The ninth network conference was held on October 13, 2000 in Brussels under the title ‘If You Want Peace, Create Peace.’ The conference was held in the European Parliament Building. It was attended by 160 activists (ten of whom were from the former Yugoslavia). Participants, along with 55,000 women from all over the world, took part in the World March of Women against War, Poverty and Violence on October 14, 2000. The ninth conference marked the beginning of a more active involvement with international institutions by women, as part of their attempt to bring about change and strengthen their influence on mainstream politics.
THE TENTH NETWORK CONFERENCE
The tenth network conference was held in Novi Sad on August 23-26, 2001. The conference was attended by 210 women from about 25 countries. The issues that dominated the conference were related to militarism and feminist resistance to daily, local, and global militarism. The topic of globalization and identity was also prominent at the conference.
THE ELEVENTH NETWORK CONFERENCE
The eleventh network conference was held in Marina di Massa, Italy on August 28-31, 2003. The conference was attended by 300 women from over 30 countries from all over the world. The most important issues at the conference were nationalism, fundamentalism, militarism, and organized non-violent women’s resistance. A noteworthy aspect of the conference is that it marked the beginning of a “de-Balkanization” of the conference. It is only the second time that conference took place elsewhere. Additionally, many activists from Africa and Asia participated.
WHAT BINDS THE NETWORK TOGETHER?
- Creating space for women’s voices against war and the transformation of bitterness into active nonviolent resistance to war;
- Rejecting all forms of war policy, focusing our efforts on the policies pursued by the country or community we live in.
- Building a solidarity network among women across state, national, ethnic, and all other boundaries and divisions;
- Denouncing the ties between local and global militarization and the militarization of our everyday lives.
- Linking feminist and antimilitarist attitudes to practice.
- Encouraging women’s nonviolent resistance to all forms of ethnic homogenization and patriarchal control over women;
- Supporting the participation of women in peace negotiations on the local, regional and global levels;
- Creating peace through education for peace, nonviolence, and anti-militarism.
WHO IS IN THE NETWORK?
All women who
- Do not accept the role of passive victims of nationalist and militarist policies;
- Transform their anger and bitterness into nonviolent actions against patriarchy, militarism, and war.
- Will not allow others, particularly militarists, to speak in their name;
- Publicly express their disobedience to nationalists and militarists, especially in their own communities;
- Overcome ethnic divisions and barriers, both symbolically and physically;
- Respect ‘otherness’ and differences.
HOW DOES THE NETWORK WORK?
There is no 'center' or board of directors of the network. In some countries, such as Italy, Spain, and Israel, Women in Black conferences are occasionally organized on the regional level. The primary activity of the network thus far has been the aforementioned conferences. Throughout the year, communication is maintained by e-mail, which enables us to spread alternative information, mostly about developments in critical areas. We also maintain contact through visits and participation at various conferences.
The network of women's solidarity against war – The Women in Black Network – was established outside all official structures and spaces. It is maintained by the persistent efforts, mutual support, and financial assistance of the members of the network. The ninth conference marked the beginning of direct involvement in international institutions; we are trying to reclaim them as forums that belong to all the citizens of the world.
Women in Black received the first Millenium Peace Prize, which is awarded by UNIFEM (the UN agency for women). The award was accepted by Women in Black—Belgrade, on behalf of the entire network, on March 8, 2001.
Nobel Peace Prize Nomination.
In May 2001, members of the Norwegian, Finnish, and Danish Parliaments nominated Women in Black—Israel and Women in Black—Belgrade for this award.