by Stephanie Urdang


A women's peace petition is circulating throughout the world

and fast gaining momentum. The petition, a non-governmental

initiative that now has more than 150 organizational co-

sponsors from around the world, demands that all governments

of the world transfer a minimum of five percent of their military

budgets over the next five years to health, education and

employment programmes. The 100,000 signatures collected

thus far were presented on United Nations Day - October 24 - to

the President of the General Assembly, Mr. Hennadiy Udovenko

of Ukraine following a press conference sponsored by UNIFEM.

In a brief but moving ceremony, Mr. Udovenko pledged his

support for the spirit of the petition and offered to collaborate in

whatever way he could. He also agreed to have the Ukrainian

translation of the petition (which is so far available in 17 languages)

circulated amongst women's organizations in Ukrainia.


The petition calls for delegitimization of war as an acceptable

form of social behaviour, in the same way that slavery,

colonialism and apartheid have now been delegitimized, and

that governments and civil society together develop new

institutions that do not resort to violence for the settlement of



It is an idea that has gained currency in a number of United

Nations forums and was picked up early this year in the form of

the petition to be signed by women and supportive men. The

word was spread by mail, e-mail, the Internet and personal

communication. The signatures have been collected thus far

from 100 countries, most of which are in the Global South. The

petition will continue to be circulated through the year 2000 as

an expression of a hope that the new millennium can usher in

an era marked by the culture of peace.


At the press conference piles of petitions were displayed, paper

creased and worn, that had been handled by many women from

countries as far afield as India and Turkey, South Africa and

Rwanda. Some of the petitions had been carefully stitched into

cloth covers before being mailed to New York. Others came by

hand, e-mail and fax. A nine-year girl from Turkey signed the

petition as a symbol for the youth of the world who passionately

desire a future without war. The Ambassador of Liechtenstein,

Claudia Fritsche, Senator Margaret Reynolds of Australia and

Cora Weiss of Peace Action International were among the



It's a movement that has begun small, but one while gaining

strength, is up against enormous odds. As a Kenyan young

woman present at the press conference said with emotion in her

voice, "The real reasons for war are economic. It is not simply

the impact on women and children but a reflection of the

broader imbalance of power in the world."


Five percent of a nation's military budget is a small figure, one

that with sufficient government will would not be impossible to

transfer. The many tattered and grimy petitions and the

meticulously sewn cloth covers in which some of them arrived,

speak to the painful need of women the world over.

Impoverishment, conflict and war are the tangible realities of

their lives, and behind the careful signing of their names we

hear a cry for real change.


Copies of the Peace Petition from Women of the World can be

obtained from: Peace Action International, Tel: (212) 750-5795;

Fax: (212) 682-0886; e-mail: <> or

Commission of the Churches on International Affairs of the

World Council of Churches; Tel: (212) 867-5890; Fax: (212)

867-7462; e-mail: <> or the International Women's

Tribune Centre, Tel: (212) 687-8633; Fax: (212) 661-2704;

e-mail: <>. Address for each organization is:

777 United Nations Plaza, New York, NY 10017, USA.


Return to Main Menu