Women in Black (WIB) is a self-described “world-wide network of women committed to peace with justice and actively opposed to injustice, war, militarism and other forms of violence.” “Challenging” what they term “the militarist policies of our own governments,” WIB members across the globe periodically organize vigils “against any manifestation of violence” they perceive — all in an effort to “educate, inform and influence public opinion” and thereby “make war an unthinkable option.” Toward that end, they seek to promote “a feminist view” of the world to counteract the violent tendencies of “masculine cultures.”
Wearing black to signify their mourning on behalf of those who have already died by violence, participants in WIB vigils usually stand together silently in a public place, at regular times and intervals, carrying placards and handing out leaflets that explain their position regarding whatever matter they are protesting. Sometimes they use alternate forms of non-violent direct action, such as:
WIB’s first local chapter was formed by Israeli women in Jerusalem in 1988, shortly after the December 1987 outbreak of the First Palestinian Intifada. These activists held silent vigils every Friday — not to protest Palestinian terrorism, but rather to draw attention to Israel’s alleged human-rights violations in Gaza and the West Bank. Participants carried signs bearing messages like “End the Occupation” and similar themes. Before long, this WIB initiative spread to almost 40 additional locations throughout Israel, where black-clad women staged weekly vigils at city plazas, busy highway junctions, and other public places.
Similar WIB vigils were soon being held in other countries as well. Initially these were intended to express solidarity with the Israeli groups, but their focus later broadened to other social and political concerns as well.
WIB-Israel temporarily curtailed its protest activities during the 1991 Gulf War (following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait), when it became more difficult for Israeli women to openly support Palestinians because of Yasser Arafat‘s public backing of Saddam Hussein.
After Israeli and Palestinian leaders signed the Oslo Accords in 1993, WIB, sensing that an Arab-Israeli peace might finally be within reach, again became less active. WIB vigils were discontinued in all but four Israeli locations.
The outbreak of the Second Palestinian Intifada in late September 2000, however, injected new life into the WIB movement, which now sought to shine a spotlight on the alleged Israeli abuses that supposedly had provoked the Arab uprising.
After the September 11, 2001 al Qaeda terrorist attacks against the United States, WIB as an international network quickly issued a statement urging “Justice Not Vengeance” and condemning “the pursuit by the USA and allies of a ‘war on terror’ in Afghanistan and elsewhere.”
Because WIB is not a formal organization but rather a loosely knit movement of likeminded women, it is unknown exactly how many members or local chapters there are worldwide. Anecdotal evidence provides a clue, however: When WIB/Palestine called for vigils in June 2001 against Israel’s “occupation of Palestinian lands,” at least 150 WIB groups (and some 10,000 women) across the globe responded.
WIB members maintain regular contact with one another via e-mail and the Internet. They also hold annual international conferences which have taken place in such far-flung locations as Beijing, Brussels, Italy, Jerusalem, and Serbia.
In 2001, WIB was awarded the Millennium Peace Prize for Women by International Alert and the United Nations Development Fund for Women. WIB chapters in Israel/Palestine and the former Yugoslavia were also nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and the Right Livelihood Award.
Women In Black is supported by the Lipman Miliband Trust, and the Maypole Fund.
Over the years, some WIB chapters have been member organizations of the United for Peace and Justice anti-war coalition.
For additional information about WIB, click here.