On the eve of World War II, the iconic writer Virginia Woolf responded to a male attorney’s question about how to prevent war. The key, she replied, is that women must be educated and able to earn a living. Only then, once they were not dependent on fathers and brothers, could women possess “disinterested influence” to exert against war. The man’s question, she continued, is “how to prevent war.” Ours is, as she put it in “Three Guineas,” “Why fight?”
Peace and the security of nations are powerfully linked with the equality of women, though it is the rare male power broker—whether a diplomat or military liaison—who acknowledges this. I traveled to Ghana recently to participate in the International Feminist Peace Congress, organized by the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF). My interviews—with Western women prior to the congress and with African women and a few men during their sessions on feminist peace in Africa—reinforced the mounting conviction that the fate of nations is tied to the status of women.
WILPF members from the war-ridden Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) grasp the totality of this conviction. The congress pulsated with vibrant color and bold geometric designs woven into African clothing, wall hangings and tablecloths. Wearing traditional apparel mixing electrifying color and patterns and emblazoned with “Rien sans les femmes,” (“Nothing without women”), DRC members elaborated to me: “We mean everywhere throughout the world. If women are not involved, nothing of critical use to the world will happen.”