At a recent all-Britain meeting of the Communist Party Womens Commission, Anita Wright, secretary fo the National Assembly of Women outlined events and decisions reached at a world congress of the WIDF [The Women’s International Democratic Federation].

The Women’s International Democratic Federationheld its XV Congress in Brazil in April 2012 and delegates from forty nine countries pledged to continue the fight for peace, full employment and equality. The final statement made it clear that the current world crisis is not simply one of debt or the failure of management by neo liberal or social democratic governments, but the crisis of the capitalist system itself.

The statement went on to deplore the destruction of the environment that exacerbated a food crisis particularly in Africa and Asia, and condemned continuing inter-imperialist aggression that increased the likelihood of war, with women and children being the first victims of wars and occupations.

The Women’s International Democratic Federation (WIDF), founded after the Second World War, was the first women’s mass organisation in history. It evolved as a result of the efforts of women worldwide to unite in the cause for an everlasting peace between nations and creating the conditions for guaranteeing real equality for women and for the protection of children. It inspired the creation of women’s organisations in many countries and led to the formation of the National Assembly of Women (NAW) here in Britain.

Founded on 8th March 1952 at St Pancras Town Hall, the NAW brought together over 1,390 women from across the country and from many walks of life who were determined to fight for women’s political, social and economic rights as well as the conditions for the happy development of all children and future generations in a peaceful world free from wars.  After working in fields, factories and hospitals and having the benefits of nurseries and child care provision many women were determined to retain and consolidate these gains but knew that this could only be achieved in a world without wars.

The veteran suffragette, Charlotte Marsh made this clear when reading out the closing declaration which stated that “an arms race can only increase the risk of war and endanger social progress recognising that a better standard of life, a happy future for the children and full opportunities for women can only be realised in a world of peace”.

Peacetime had brought with it high expectations for both men and women with the opportunity for full employment, decent homes, free education and health care. However, this was to be short lived. The Second World War had barely finished when Winston Churchill made his infamous speech in Fulton, Missouri, turning on Britain’s erstwhile socialist ally the Soviet Union accusing it of being responsible for “an iron curtain coming down over Europe”  and heralding the start of the cold war and the commencement of the first of many conflict between capitalism and socialism.

The newly established National Assembly of Women unanimously condemned the Korean War and held many demonstrations and meetings. Ninety year old Ada Gibson, an NAW founder member from Liverpool recalled walking up and down Chester station trying to persuade soldiers leaving for the war not to go and “kills other mother’s sons” whilst ostensibly giving out fruit until she was removed by senior officers.

As well as campaigning on the central issue of peace, NAW members organised themselves throughout the country to fight for a better education system, health care, pensions, childcare and women’s health clinics, demands that were taken into the trade union movement. But the NAW did not escape the impact of the cold war. The Labour Party with its bans and proscriptions attacked the NAW, regarding it as a subversive organisation because of its policies and affiliation to the Women’s International Democratic Federation.

Despite these political prejudices, the WIDF went on to achieve non-governmental status within the United Nations and helped to initiate the UN International Women’s Year in 1975 which led to the UN Decade for Women 1976-85. Far from being an obstacle to development, the National Assembly of Women’s continued involvement with the WIDF has been a source of strength and marks it out as a truly internationalist women’s organisation.

As the only British affiliate to the WIDF, the NAW has been able to share experiences with sisters from all over the world by taking part in the UN 4th World Congress of Women in Beijing in 1995; participating in conferences in America, Cuba and China and sending delegates to last month’s XV Congress of the WIDF in Brazil.

This year the NAW celebrates its 60th anniversary and has pledged to continue to work with sisters everywhere in the campaign for peace, equality and internationalism.

In summing up the WIDF XV Congress, the great American campaigner and WIDF delegate to the UN, Vinie Burrows said: “ Our earth and all living things may be on the verge of extinction: climate change, global warming, and environmental degradation are real threats in a world of 9 billion people where one percent live lavishly and avariciously, consuming one-quarter of the world’s total resources while the rest of us, the 99%, struggle along for work, for bread, for shelter, for dignity and for political power to change our lives”.

She concluded by reading thewords of the great Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish:

THINK OF OTHERS

As you prepare your breakfast, think of others

Don’t forget to feed the pigeons. As you conduct your wars – think of others. Don’t forget those who want peace

As you go home, your own home – think of others – don’t forget those who live in tents

And as you think of others, think of yourself and say “I wish I were a candle in the darkness”.

 

Anita Wright

Secretary, National Assembly of Women

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