Cynthia Cockburn discusses Women in Black



Cynthia Cockburn talks how the group Women in Black was formed in 1993. She comments on how the name transcends the divides of ethnicity, religion and territory that are central to most conflicts.

Women in Black

Women in Black is a worldwide network of women ‘committed to peace with justice and actively opposed to injustice, war, militarism and other forms of violence’. There are Women in Black regional groups across Europe, North and South America, Asia and Africa. Each group holds a vigil once a week at which a number of women dressed in black stand in silence in a public venue to raise awareness of a current conflict or military campaign.

Why do you think the Women in Black vigils are held in silence?

Do you think women can share a common experience that can transcend boundaries created by conflict? Can you think of any examples?

Image details
Israeli left-wing activists from the 'Women in Black' movement photograph © AFP / Getty Images
Activists of the anti-war organization 'Women in Black' in Belgrade photograph © AFP / Getty Images
Members of the 'Women in Black' association from Serbia photograph © AFP / Getty Images



1981, the Gulf War, we set up Women Against War in the Gulf, and started demonstrating in central London as a small group of women, ex-Greenham women living in London, many of my old friends. Then, it became Women Against War Crime, and the Bosnian Yugoslav wars broke out and in 1993 we started calling it Women in Black. We called it Women in Black because women in Belgrade, who had learned about Women in Black from Italian women who had learned the name from Israel, so that the idea of Women in Black was travelling; Israel, Italy, Yugoslavia, the women resisting Milosevic, really brave women in Belgrade, trying to stop the country sliding into war, they became a group called Women in Black - Zene u Crnom. Now I had had connections with Yugoslavia through my international work well before the war broke out, well before the Soviet Union disintegrated. So, my partnership with Yugoslav women was important to me. And Women in Black, taking the name Women in Black in London was a way of naming our anti-war movement in a way in which Serbian, Muslim and Croat women living in London could all participate, without falling into the animosities that their country was falling into. Because Women in Black was a Serbian idea, the idea of progressive, brave, anti-militarist Serb women. So, it was inclusive, and could include the other countries. So we became Women in Black. And we were standing pretty soon every week, I think, for one hour on a Wednesday, and have continued to this day. I was there last Wednesday, and the Wednesday before when it rained and poured.
Cynthia Cockburn discusses Women in Black
13 - 14 January 2012
Cynthia Cockburn
Sound recording
Sisterhood and After: The Women's Liberation Oral History Project
© British Library
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British Library

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