Report from the recent 2003 Women in Black Conference

Women in Black
Ten women from Britain, with another 430 from around the world, descended on a small town on the Northern coast of Italy for 5 days of sun, sea and inspiration, for the 11th Women in Black conference at the end of August 2003.
Women came from Afghanistan, the Congo, Uganda (with airfare funded by WiB UK), Australia, Austria, Belgium, Spain, Columbia, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Britain, Greece, Iraq, Italy, Switzerland, Palestine, Israel, Balkans, USA, Japan, India, Turkey and Kurdistan.
Women spoke about their struggles and their courage in resistance in what often felt like hopeless situations where human rights violations and murder were common events. We talked of a world that would exclude war and discrimination.

Luisa Morgantini – Italian Member of the European Parliament - talked of a world without borders from the platform in the first morning. Stasa Zajovic from WiB Belgrade spoke about nationalism & militarism in the Balkans and the post war aftermath of 55,000 NATO troops – an armed, patriarchal force. Reema Hammami from Palestine talked about empathy – the need to see from where the other is sitting.

Hannah Safran and Gila Svirsky from Israel spoke about how there are now over 250 WiB vigils across the world – yet after 15 years of vigils in Israel the situation has not improved. ‘From being David, we have become Goliath’, but ‘by attending the vigil I know that I am opposing the occupation’. ‘War blunts our own humanity. Peace will take time, but women have declared an end to war’.

Clara Inez Mazo from Vamos Mujer in Columbia said that there are 5000 women in black in Columbia, where there has been armed conflict for 100 years. Ruth Ojiambo Ochieng from ISIS Women’s Cross Cultural Exchange in Uganda talked about small arms being Africa’s weapons of mass destruction. Women pay a high price from the rapes, diseases, mutilations and murders that come with war [from all sides, including the peace makers].

One of the workshops on the first day, led by Diane Dolev from New Profile, Israel, looked at militarisation in Israel and their resistance to it. She talked about the use of army uniforms in advertisements – symbolising ‘quality’ . On the way out of Pisa airport we saw sequinned camouflage outfits that fit the same picture.

The second day began with Eve Ensler (who wrote the Vagina Monologues) calling for Vaginal Warriors to be everywhere. She talked about V Day (see the website: Then:

Suad Amer from Palestine read from her book (but its not yet in English) called Sharon and my mother in law.

Hisako Motoyama from Women in Black, Tokyo, Japan talked about the remilitarisation of Japan under US pressure, and the drama/art tactics of the vigils held by 6 Women in Black groups across Japan.

Muyesser Gunes from Mothers for Peace, Kurdistan, who had lost two sons in the 20 year old war, spoke about the Kurdish tradition that when a woman puts her veil between two sides of a conflict, it stops. She had been arrested and tortured by the Turkish police. At the end of the session she took off her veil and threw it down.

A speaker from the Afghan Women’s Democracy Association talked about the devastating effects of the bombing of Afghanistan – and the exclusion of women from the peace process.

Amparo Marques of Women in Black, Valencia called for better communication, especially via email/website – now that the WiB network has grown so huge, communication is becoming more difficult.

In the afternoon, WiB from London facilitated a workshop on strategies against the war on Iraq. 30 women from Japan, Australia, Israel, Italy, Spain, Denmark, England, Algeria, USA and the Basque Country came. We introduced ourselves and talked about our frustration at not having been able to prevent war. In the end, it was empowering to hear so many women speak about actions that had been successful, and involved millions of people.

On the third day the conference opened with a speech from Fawsiye Youssef from Iraq ‘From one war to the next, what freedom for Iraqi women?’, then there were workshops in the morning about the WiB International Network, the Social Forum in Paris, Women and the movement of movements, the repudiation of war in the European Constitution, and lesbians in the peace movement.

There were many thanks to the local Commune – Massa Centrale – who supported the conference, and made it possible to hold it in a youth hostel on the edge of the sea, under pine trees.

And to the wonderful Interpreters for Peace who volunteered simultaneous translation non-stop for four days, and all the staff at the Hostel.

Finally to Giulia and all the Italian women who had worked for a year to organise the event.


On 24 September 2003, Stasa ZAJOVIC gave a lecture about the activities and principles of "Women in Black" at the Hague Tribunal, both on the regional and international level.

The lecture was open for the staff from all sections of the Tribunal. The interest was much greater than expected - more than 60 people in the room designed for 50. This is the first time that a representative of civil society from former Yugoslavia gives a lecture at the Hague Tribunal. The audience showed interest in continuing with similar initiatives.

This was also an opportunity for meetings with many officials of the Tribunal, including a short meeting with Graham Blewitt, Deputy Prosecutor of the ICTY.

It is important to stress that the budget of the Tribunal does not have financial means for such initiatives so that the lecture was organized on volunteer basis. Stasa Zajovic is in Amsterdam because of the meeting of International Board of Women's Global Network for Reproductive Rights, which she's a member of.

Zene u crnom/Women in Black, Belgrade