Women in Black


Gender Agenda

Gender Agenda

Issue 1 Michaelmas 2002

The magazine of

Women's Union

Women in Black Cambridge:

Being Seen and Being Heard

Rachel Foxley

You may have seen the Cambridge Women in Black holding silent vigils
against war in the market square on a Friday or Saturday lunchtime. You
may have wondered what we’re doing and whether you should come and join
us. What follows is one member’s view of what we are trying to achieve.

Women, and black clothes, and the peace movement. It makes a lot of sense,
instinctively, that these things go together. Women in black clothes are
symbols of female mourning for the savage cutting-off, twisting and
destroying of lives – male and female, military and civilian – caused by
all wars. It’s easy for citizens of the UK and most other western
countries to assume that there is some planning of a life that is worth
while, that it is not tempting fate to make plans for education, and
parenthood, and work, and where and how to live. It’s easy for us to feel,
when we think about it at all, that we can do this because of the absence
of war. But if we think twice, we have to realise that we live not with
the unproblematic absence of war but with the exporting of war.

I think that may be why it’s so powerful for Women in Black – a worldwide
movement now strongly established in many cities in the UK – to hold
women-only vigils, dressed in black, in silence, in public places. It is a
matter of placing in front of us as we go about our undisrupted lives the
suffering of others – suffering which may be the other side of the coin of
our own sense of safety and even apathy. What we have exported – in the
form of depleted uranium munitions and cluster bombs – suddenly seems not
to be so far away, after all.


Women in Black

But, when all’s said and done, the real action is far away. How can we,
standing in black in silence in the market square in Cambridge, hope to
change anything for the better in Palestine or Iraq? What matters here is,
again, our presence and our visibility. Not just that we make others’
sufferings visible and present, but that we make our unease, our anger,
and our opposition visible. Our government has not stopped exporting arms
to Israel. Our government is one of the very few to offer relatively
unqualified support for an American attack on Iraq. When the war in
Afghanistan has killed more civilians than died in the attacks on
September 11, how can we be in any doubt about the horrific consequences
of a blunt military attempt at ‘regime change’ in Iraq? Now is the time to
be both influencing public opinion and demonstrating exactly how much
opposition there already is to such an attack.

We don’t expect to achieve all this just by holding vigils, of course.
Vigils capture attention, and we use them to distribute leaflets to
passers-by – who are often very receptive. People often come past who want
to talk more about the issues or the group. But of course action builds up
into effectiveness through a mixture of tactics and a combination of
forces. To that end Cambridge WiB, always after consultation with the 90
or so women on its mailing-list, is joining in other actions and campaigns
against the ‘war on terror’. We are sponsoring ARROW’s pledge of
resistance in the event of a US/UK attack on Iraq; we will be
participating in a ‘teach-in’ on Iraq on 17 October, and anyone
participating can suggest and organise other initiatives.

We’re not saying masculine aggression is the problem and feminine
peacefulness the answer. We’re not saying we nurture while men destroy.
We’re saying that we are in a position to reflect the consequences of our
government’s actions back into society, so that all of us, women and men,
can have a good look at them and see them for what they are. And when we
have seen that, we must take action, and we must keep on making ourselves
heard. And one of the best ways to do that is to make ourselves
definitely, and constantly, and in numbers, seen.

All women are welcome to join our vigils, whether you come just once or
regularly. We have a mixture of women from the university and the town, of
all ages and many nationalities, and we normally go for a coffee after the
vigil to get to know each other better and discuss the activities of the
group. For more information see http://www.camwib.org.uk, or email
info@camwib.org.uk, or ring 0845
458 1688.



Email us at gender-agenda@cusu.cam.ac.uk