ORIGINS OF WOMEN IN BLACK
An International Movement of Women for Peace
The international movement of Women In Black draws on historical international groups of women standing against war and violence, such as Women Of The Black Sash standing against apartheid in South Africa, The Mothers Of The Disappeared in Argentina, Women Peacemakers in Northern Ireland and others. Women In Black in its current form began in Israel in January 1988, one month after the first Palestinian intifada broke out, with a small group of Israeli women who carried out a simple form of protest:
Once a week at the same hour and in the same location at a major traffic intersection, they donned black clothing and raised a black sing in the shape of a hand with white lettering that read "Stop the Occupation".
The idea spread quickly and spontaneously to other places in Israel. It was a simple form of protest that women could do easily. We didn't have to get to the big city, we could bring our children, there was no chanting or marching, and the medium was the message.
Within months, vigils sprang up throughout Israel. Several months after the first Women in Black vigil in Israel, "solidarity vigils" began in other countries. Initial reports came from the United States and Canada, and these then spread to Europe and Australia. Some vigils were primarily Jewish, while, in other cities, the groups were mixed Jewish and Palestinian.
Around 1990, Women in Black vigils took off with a life of their own. They formed in many countries, and many of these had nothing to do with the Israeli occupation. In Italy, Women in Black have protested a range of issues, from the Israeli occupation to the violence of the Mafia and other organized crime. In Germany, Women in Black have protested neo-Nazism, racism against migrant workers, and nuclear arms. Women in Black in Belgrade and Zagreb set a profound example of interethnic cooperation that was an inspiration to their countrywomen and men. And, in India, Women in Black held vigils that called for an end to the ill treatment of women by religious fundamentalists.
Women in Black has become a movement of women of conscience of all denominations and nationalities who hold vigils to protest many forms of violence in their part of the world: war, interethnic conflict, militarism, the arms industry, racism, neo-Nazism, violence against women, violence in the neighborhoods, etc. Each vigil is autonomous, setting its own policy and guidelines, though in all the vigils the women dress in black, symbolizing the tragedy of the victims of violence.
What unites us all is our commitment to justice and a world free of violence.
The movement of Women in Black in Israel won the Aachen Peace Prize (1991); the peace award of the city of San Giovanni d'Asso in Italy (1994); and the Jewish Peace Fellowship's "Peacemaker Award" (2001). In 2001, the international movement of Women in Black was honored with the Millennium Peace Prize for Women, awarded by the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM). In 2001, the international movement of Women in Black, represented by the Israeli and the Serbian groups, was a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize.
In June 2001, 150 groups of Women in Black from around the world (listed in the web site below) held vigils to protest Israel's ongoing occupation of the Palestinian territories. This international protest was initiated and organized by the Coalition of Women for a Just Peace, an umbrella organization of ten Israeli women's peace organizations. For more information on the Coalition, visit their website at http://www.geocities.com/EndTheOccupation/.