On the last Saturday of each month a group of women come together in Brodick to stand for peace. We do this as part of a broader movement around the world called Women in Black. Women in Black started in 1988 in Jerusalem by a group of Israeli women who wanted to show their opposition to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories. They stood in silence, wearing black, and holding placards, and thereafter came each week at the same hour and to the same location. This simple protest, that could be done anywhere, with their children beside them, soon spread to other parts of Israel. The idea then moved further afield with solidarity vigils springing up in Europe, the US and Canada, India and Australia. Today the reasons for meeting have broadened beyond the Israel-Palestine conflict, and women across the world hold vigils for a variety of causes. But for all, women come to bear witness and express their commitment to and hope for peace in the world, and against all war. With this intention, we started a vigil in Arran at the end of 2015. From a small two women effort, some months the group grows to a considerable size of 12!
I spoke to several of the group about why they come to Women in Black, and about what it means to them. The women in Arran who join the vigil come from a wide variety of ages, faiths and backgrounds. These influence the reasons why they come to Women in Black but as one woman put it, “We may all have various ways of looking at the world but we have the same hope – to work for peace, not war”. Another woman had heard about Women in Black some years ago, through a Quaker friend who had spent time in Israel and Palestine as an Ecumenical Accompanier, and told of her experience of Women in Black in that region. She says, “So when I heard a Women in Black was starting here, I was thrilled to be able to be part of it,” and “have the opportunity at this age to join a movement. Sitting holding a placard is about what I want to do. I can be a witness to a need for conflict resolution and peace because it’s the biggest need there is, and I hope it makes people think a bit”. Some women have campaigned for peace, and with CND particularly, for many years. One woman said, “I’ve always wanted to work against wars and violence. Having lived a long time, if I can help a little by showing I’m against wars; and really it’s violence of all kinds I hate. My husband and I were in CND for a long time. We used to have a caravan and we’d take it down to Brodick, and different areas, and put up anti-nuclear signs, and people wanted to talk about it.”
Bringing awareness to other people about peace is an aim that many of the women have for Women in Black; as is the idea that our vigil is itself peaceful. Women in Black is not about chanting, shouting, or angry demonstrations. One woman says she likes it because, “There’s no violence, no shouting, or anger. We’re sitting peacefully, not throwing rocks etc…” While another says, “I go to Women in Black because I think a peaceful demonstration makes a clear point. There is so much noise and anger that when you stop and stand to make a point it’s deeper, more poignant. It’s important to do it, because everyone is shouting about war and arguing with each other, that it’s good to be quiet”.
In Arran, and Scotland, and the West more generally, we are fortunate enough not to live our lives in the midst of a devastating conflict. However with Trident submarines on our doorstep, and the threat of global war perhaps never far away, we stand at our monthly vigils to highlight the constant need for working against these situations and the suffering that goes on. People may have a feeling that there is nothing that ordinary citizens can do. Politicians make decisions for us about global security and fund weapons systems which many of us would never support. But by joining Women in Black we bring the belief that, as one of our group said, “The more people who are aware the better, we do have the power to change. Even in the mind, the more people who think positively and wish for peace, it will have an impact”.
Women in Black in Arran are always keen to welcome new and interested people. And despite the ‘Women’ in the title, sympathetic men are also welcome in Arran! Any readers who wish to come, meet at the Coastal Way start in Brodick at 1pm on the last Saturday of each month, and in all weathers!