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The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) was founded as a result of an April 1915 conference at The Hague, Netherlands. A Dutch suffragette and socialist, Arletta Jacobs, called the meeting to protest the ongoing internecine slaughter of World War I. The meeting was attended by a large American contingent from the Women’s Peace Party, which had been created two months earlier by the socialist reformer and pacifist Jane Addams, who chaired the meeting at The Hague. An outgrowth of that meeting was the International Committee of Women for Permanent Peace. Four years later (in 1919) this organization changed its name to the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, and Addams became its first President.
The League’s first Secretary was Emily Balch, a former professor at Wellesley College. The League drew sharp denunciation from President Theodore Roosevelt, himself an avid supporter of women’s suffrage, for its inability to grasp the realities of international politics.
In its early years, the League adopted redistributionist, socialist resolutions on private property and urged its members to “loo[k] to the gradual abolition of property privileges.” At WILPF’s 1929 Prague Congress, the organization endorsed Joseph Stalin’s government as one that had “continuously declared a position in favor of complete disarmament and … opposition to war.” The League was an eager participant in the World Disarmament Conference of 1932-1937. WILPF's 1934 Zurich Congress harshly criticized the rise of fascist dictatorships, but was completely silent on the USSR.
After World War II, WILPF placed its faith almost entirely in the United Nations and insisted on universal disarmament. At its 1953 Paris Congress, WILPF criticized the possession of overseas military bases by the great powers, condemned American and French military and financial activities in Indo-China, and denounced the Paris-Bonn accord which allowed West Germany to rearm itself. The 1959 Congress in Stockholm urged that a broad demilitarized zone be created in central Europe under a disarmed but united East and West Germany. The League was silent on the question of the USSR’s 1956 invasion of Hungary.
The 1962 San Francisco Congress condemned any attempt to overthrow Castro’s regime in Cuba. The 1965 Congress at The Hague urged American nuclear disarmament, called for an immediate cease-fire in Vietnam, and condemned U.S. intervention in the Dominican Republic. The 1968 Congress in Denmark denounced the United States for maintaining naval bases abroad (particularly Okinawa), and called upon the U.S. to immediately cease bombings in North Vietnam; by contrast, in reference to the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, WILPF merely reiterated the right of indigenous peoples to self-determination and did not mention the USSR by name in proposing a withdrawal of all foreign forces.
In the 1970s, WILPF urged economic sanctions and political isolation of the Chilean government that overthrew socialist President Salvador Allende; criticized the U.S. for not moving more swiftly to make reparations to the government of Vietnam; and demanded the total isolation of the governments of Rhodesia and South Africa.
When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, WILPF said that while military intervention was always "regrettable," it was nonetheless "understandable," given the "Soviet interest in having close relations with a neighboring country with which it shares a 2,000-mile border."
The 1983 Goteborg Congress condemned U.S. intervention against Communist guerrillas in Central America and exhorted NATO not to deploy Pershing and Cruise missiles in Europe. A resolution urging the withdrawal of all forces from Afghanistan did not mention the invading country -- the USSR -- by name. In WILPF’s estimation, the greatest danger to humanity’s welfare rested in American foreign policy. "All life on earth is threatened by U.S. imperialism," WILPF declared.
In the 1990s, WILPF called for an end to all nuclear testing; urged then-Governor Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania to stay the execution of cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal; and demanded that the U.S. end its trade embargo of Cuba -- praising the Cuban police state on grounds that its “people-centered social and economic development is a model of resistance to globalization.”
WILPF's agendas extend beyond anti-war activism, into the realm of feminism. Viewing the United States as a nation rife with discrimination against minorities and women, WILPF endorsed Pay Equity Now! -- a petition co-sponsored in 2000 by the National Organization for Women to “expose and oppose U.S. opposition to pay equity” for women. WILPF is a member of the National Council of Women's Organizations.
The 2000s have seen WILPF continue to mount attacks on the U.S., its policies, and its allies. An enthusiastic supporter of Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization, WILPF at its 2000 Congress in Berlin called on President Clinton to end the sale of American weapons to Israel, and urged the United Nations and the European Union to protect Palestinian rights while remaining uniformly silent on the question of Palestinian terrorist attacks.
WILPF recently initiated a Middle East campaign to “examine the role of U.S. policy in the dynamics of current conflicts … [in] Palestine, Israel, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.” “What economic interests underlie the power struggles in the region?” asks WILPF. “What U.S. policy changes will end violence and promote justice?” In WILPF's estimation, the anti-terrorist security fence constructed by Israel in the West Bank is an an illegal “apartheid wall” that violates the civil and human rights of Palestinians.
In an April 2006 statement regarding the overwhelming victory of Hamas candidates in Palestinian elections, WILPF acknowledged “the difficulty some might have in accepting the Hamas victory,” but exhorted the U.S. to “continue diplomatic relations with the Palestinian Authority,” and to “continue its humanitarian aid for the Palestinian people.” “While we do not agree with the official Hamas party platform,” explained WILPF, “we believe Hamas politicians are willing to work towards peace with their neighbors.” WILPF then exhorted Congress “to stop funding the [Israeli] military occupation of Palestine.”
As for the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, WILPF asserts that “this illegal war” has destabilized “the entire Middle East region” and destroyed Iraq’s infrastructure, “politically and physically.” The League demands an immediate withdrawal of American forces from that country.
“The Bush administration created the so-called ‘War on Terrorism’ to instill fear as the premise for U.S. foreign policy,” says WILPF. “Basic human rights are being curtailed in the U.S. and abroad to propagate this lie. The administration uses the USA Patriot Act … to justify its actions. We call upon Congress to rescind the Patriot Act and to investigate all imprisonments caused by this fear-mongering.”
Since its inception in 1915, WILPF has grown to an organization with National Sections in 37 countries. Its Secretariat is in Geneva and it maintains an office at the United Nations. WILPF is a member organization of the Abolition 2000 and United for Peace and Justice anti-war coalitions.
In May 2007, WILPF participated in the 14th Congress of the Women's International Democratic Federation in Caracas, Venezuela. More than 1,000 delegates representing 165 organizations in 80 countries collaborated to issue the following statement:
"... We are women ... working to bring down the unjust economic social and patriarchal order that rules the world today imposed by Neo-liberal globalization. Because we want a peaceful world, we denounce the imperialist military escalation across the planet, in particular the war of aggression sustained by the US government and its allies against Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine. … [W]e will not have peace so long as there exist the exploited, the hungry, the excluded, and the marginalized. For this reason it is necessary to change the capitalist system. It is also necessary to change the patriarchal system in order to eliminate the imbalance of power between men and women. … We condemn the undeclared war that transnational corporations have imposed with their neoliberal policies giving way to world hunger, poor nutrition, misery, illiteracy, inequality, which particularly and powerfully affect women."
For a number of years, WILPF was one of numerous leftist organizations that rented office space inside a three-story Manhattan office building which was dubbed the “Peace Pentagon” and was owned by the A.J. Muste Memorial Institute (AJMMI). In 2016, however, AJMMI sold the building to developer Aby Rosen for $20.75 million, and all of the organizations with offices therein had to relocate.