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Women's conference attends UN talks

Isobel Hill — April 1984

An important breakthrough was achieved on March 8, International Women’s Day, during the current session ofthe United Nations Conference on Disarmament at the Palais de Nations in Geneva, Switzerland.

A joint statement prepared by women representing 27 countries from around the world was read, at our insistence, on the floor of the conference chamber. This was the first time that a statement from a non-governmental body has been read into the minutes of the proceedings of the Conference on Disarmament.

The women who prepared the statement, including three delegates from Canada, had gathered for an international conference, “Women and the Campaign for World Disarmament,” held in Geneva March 6-8. The conference was sponsored by the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF).

Delegates. from four countries – the USSR, Czechoslovakia, China and the US – spoke on March 8. Each of them acknowledged our presence and thanked us for our message, but then proceeded with the presentation of their cautiously-worded position papers.

Listening to these delegates, it was not difficult for those of us present to understand why the Conference on Disarmament has not been able to achieve a consensus. It was as though the delegates were dancing a stately minuet inside the walls of the conference chamber, while outside the massive build-up of deadly weapons continued unaffected.

Our frustration with the proceedings and our fear were reflected in the words and actions of an Iranian delegate, who also addressed the conference th:lt day. After speaking of Iraq’s use of chemical weapons on the people of his country, he looked at the men who have been stalling on reaching an agreement on the banning of such deadly weapons for so long, and said “you do not even care.” He then broke down in tears and left the chamber. As he left, each woman in the gallery wondered “will my country, my family, be next?”

Situations such as this compel us to set the record straight. Our close proximity to the USA and our isolation from the rest of the great countries in the world make it easy for us in Canada to be taken in by the propaganda fed to us by the media.

But we in Canada must become aware of the constant bombardment of this propaganda, and openly express our dissatisfaction with the positions taken by our government.

In striving to make our government change its position, we should also express our support for those people in the USSR and the eastern bloc who are working within official peace movements sanctioned by their governments. We must be able to see these official peace groups as expressions of national unity and not as the product of state coercion, as our media would have us believe.

The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom was founded in 1915 in the Hague by women of the suffragette movement who were motivated by their distress at the outbreak of World War I. It has a unique non-governmental organisation status associated with the UN.

The WI LPF head office is a short block away from the Palais de Nations in Geneva, and it serves as a nerve centre not only for its own branches in more than 25 countries, but for all peace groups around the world. It is a source of authentic, unbiased information for these groups and for workers in the UN.

Annual subscriptions for its quarterly paper, Pax et Libertas, may be ordered from any of the following WILPF offices:

Isabel Hill is an active member of the Toronto branch of WILPF. She attended the “Women and the Campaign for World Disarmament” conference along with two other Canadian women, Alice Wiser of Guelph, Ontario, and Marion Kerans of Halifax, Nova Scotia.

The UN Conference on Disarmament (CD) to which the women’s message was directed, is the only multilateral forum negotiating for disarmament. 771e CD meets from February to August in Geneva. There are 40 member states, including the five nuclear powers.