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Women hold peace conference

Somer Brodribb — November 1984

Women and Education for Peace and Non-Violence was the topic of a two-day conference sponsored by the Centre for Women’s Studies of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. The conference, held in late September, was attended by a largely feminist and female audience of about 140 persons, including local and international peace activists, teachers, librarians. academics and students. The papers presented will be part of a Round Table on Women and Peace movements that will take place next year in Stuttgart, Germany.

The Toronto conference, which drew on the immediacy of its participants’ shared concerns over peace, stood in distinct contrast to another conference in London, Ontario, on Philosophy and Nuclear Arms. Participants in London discussed Game theory and “gamesmanship” with a largely male audience — only one woman was on the programme.

The Women and Peace Conference did not represent a unified perspective on issues, nor did it resolve them. Rather, it opened them to serious” debate. During presentations and discussions, questions about the relationship of women to peace proved more complicated than stereotypical and facile associations might suggest.

For example, American Berenice Carroll indicated that we should not equate feminine passivism and feminist pacifism, and Dorothy Thompson of England traced the general history of peace movements and called a specific female claiming of them disingenuous. Thompson further argued that female control over socialization is important in promoting war, and we should not shift the responsibility or blame for war onto one sex or class. After all, she commented, women do exercise violence against their children.

A response from the floor cited statistical information which indicated overwhelming male responsibility for violence in “both the domestic and public spheres. Tensions between these two perspectives resonated throughout the conference.

. Speaking of women’s attempts to prevent World War I, Sandra Cooper of New York reminded us that the long record of women’s peace activism takes as many forms as peace activism. However, she did not pursue questions of female specificity. Veronica Strong Boag of Vancouver paid important attention to the activities of Canadian women in the interwar years.

A wonderfully moving presentation by Setsuko Thurlow of the Toronto Board of Education pointed to the absence of research on women as important motors in the Japanese peace movement. She moved on to explore the sociopsychological consequences of the atomic bombing of Japan. Her presentation brought alive these compelling issues, and the need for community awareness and action for peace. This call was taken up by Margaret Wells, also of the Toronto Board, who offered her experience in teaching peace studies in the classroom. She has undertaken curriculum development in that area, and kits for students and teachers should be available before the end of December.

Films were well integrated into the formal presentation. Women, Peace and Power, by Bonnie Klein, Terri Nash and Dorothy Rosenberg of the NFB is in the final stages of production, and the conference assisted in its birthing. If You Love this Planet by Terri Nash of the NFB was screened, as well as two lesser known films on the atomic bombing of Japan: a 8-minute animated piece called Pica Don and a 26-mimute film called The Lost Generation which used film footage purchased back from the American government.

These two films can be rented for a $25 donation from Hiroshima/ Nagasaki Relived, 69 Olsen Drive, Toronto, Ontario M3A 3J4 (416) xxx-xxxx.)

The conference played a crucial role in initiating and facilitating research and action .by women on peace. It was a promising beginning for the urgent exploration of the connections between women’s studies and peace studies, feminism and peace activism. This work will be continued by several feminist journals: RFR/ DRF (Resources for Feminist Research /Documentation sur la recherche feministe) is soliciting information about women and peace projects (RFR/DRF) O.l.S.E., 252 Bloor St. W., Toronto, M5S 1T6).

Atlantis is producing a special issue on feminist peacework, and invites submissions on scholarly, artistic and activist forms. (For more information contact Barbara Roberts, c/o Atlantis. Mount Saint Vincent University, 166 Bedford Highway, Halifax. Nova Scotia, B3M 2J6).