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Women work toward negotiating alternatives

Metta Spencer — October 1984

Women from distant parts of Canada met in Toronto in mid-September to spend three days in the second planning session for an “alternative” peace conference — one that will likely be more congenial than “male” versions that have so patently failed in Geneva, Vienna, and New York. The idea was initiated by the Voice of Women, and has won the support of 26 other women’s organizations, who are now constituted as the “Coalition of Canadian Women’s Groups.”

If their plans are fulfilled, guests from 50 nations will be invited to join 50 Canadian women at the” five-day conference in June 1985, titled “The Urgency for True Security: Women’s Alternatives for Negotiating.” In addition, up to 200 other women may be allowed to attend as observers. Mount St. Vincent University in Halifax, Nova Scotia has offered space for the meeting, and Marion Kerans is already at work organizing it from an office on that campus.

The coalition intends to select participants who are experienced in nonviolent methods of addressing inter-group conflicts. For example, they hope that participants will include some of the May Square mothers and grandmothers of Argentina. (These are the women who marched, year in and year out, wearing black arm-bands, in protest against the political oppression from which members of their families had suffered.) They will also invite women who have used nonviolent solutions in terrorist situations, in conflicts between prisoners and guards, in racial confrontations, and the like. Ideally, many of the women will also have experience in senior elected positions that require negotiating techniques and skills in representing the interests of large groups, such as trade unions; and especially international politics.

The women who are planning this conference point out that women have special aptitudes that can be put to good use in resolving conflicts. (The differences were certainly observable during the planning session, as for example when Montreal activist Dorothy Rosenberg had to depart early to attend the event that Joanne Woodward had organized in Washington. She asked for and received a “group hug.” Someone laughingly remarked that if men gave each other send-offs like this, they might be more successful in reaching agreements.)

The coalition of women claim that we are all worse off because, at present, almost all the diplomats involved in treaty negotiations are maie. The planners of the conference are under no illusion that it will be easy to create equal opportunities for women in the process of disarmament negotiation. Still, they are explicitly working toward that objective by designing the conference as something of a “showcase” to spotlight women who’ have already used creative, innovative approaches to peacemaking in many’ places around the world. In this and other ways, the coalition intends to foster women’s confidence in their own tendencies and approaches.

According to Marion Kerans, women will never be accepted as full participants in the negotiation process unless they are part of a worldwide network of support with other peace women. To weave together such a network is vitally important. To that end, the conference will work to assemble materials which can be shared with local groups of activist women. Kits will be designed to promote general understanding, for example, of how rape, pornography, economic insecurity and militarism are intertwined.

Inquiries about the conference should be directed to Marion Kerans, Room 9, Seton Annex, Mount St. Vincent University, 166 Bedford Highway, Halifax B3M 2J6.