Women, War, and a More Sustainable Future

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Reflecting on the current situation in Ukraine and International Women’s Day.

This year we celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8th against a backdrop of war – yet again unfortunately. This time, women are on the frontlines in Ukraine, making up between 10% and 15% of Ukraine’s armed forces, including, for the first time, combat forces[1]. Women have long been part of civilian global resistance and democratization efforts. Whether as mothers, daughters, sisters, spouses or partners, women bring to this conflict, as to so many others, a particular set of convictions and social persuasive powers to mobilize forces along the entire continuum from war to peace. Let us remember for example, Sophie Scholl, German anti-Nazi activist and co-founder of the White Rose resistance movement in Germany, who was executed on 22 February 1943 at the tender age of 22 for her efforts to halt fascism. Or Leymah Gbowee, winner of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, awarded for her leadership of the women’s peace movement that effectively ended decades of civil war in Liberia.

Let us not forget that while the Ukraine-Russian conflict takes centre stage in the media today, women continue to bear the brunt in terrible “silent” wars and conflicts that do not seem to hold our attention to the same degree. Gender-based violence against women and girls has made Ethiopia’s Tigray and Democratic Republic of Congo’s civil wars particularly lethal. And Amnesty International has called Yemen “one of the worst places in the world to be a woman.”[2] This is not to take away from the horrific developments in the heart of Europe but to note that it is one of many impacting human life in terrible ways every day.

And yet, women remain and thrive as drivers of a sustainable future for all humankind. Women have been at the forefront of many environmental and good governance initiatives essential to building sustainable futures. They also are at the core of human migration supporting not only their own generation but those that come after. Thus, when we think about celebrating Irish or Hellenic heritage in Canada this March, let us recall the contributions that women have made to strengthening the immigrant experience over many generations.

It comes as no surprise that a majority of the McGill University School of Continuing Studies’ learners are both women AND newcomers or foreign born. For many immigrants, it is this commitment to lifelong education and professional advancement that ensures the future longevity and socio-economic success of their communities. In many ways, women form the foundation of the transformative professional networks and advances in knowledge and skills that emerge from the adult learning experience. Let us celebrate International Women’s Day with these contributions to a more sustainable and peaceful future in mind.


[1] Martin Kuz, Dominique Soguel, “‘We want to keep Ukraine free.’ Why women rise in Ukraine army.” Christian Science Monitor, 22 February 2022. https://www.csmonitor.com/World/Europe/2022/0223/We-want-to-keep-Ukraine-free.-Why-women-rise-in-Ukraine-army; Matthew Luxmoore, “If War With Russia Comes, Ukrainian Women Will Be on the Front Lines”, The Wall Street Journal. 17 February 2022. https://www.wsj.com/articles/if-war-with-russia-comes-ukrainian-women-wi...

[2] Talab Harb, “Yemen: One of the worst places in the world to be a woman”, Amnesty International 17 Dec. 2019. Posted on Reliefweb: https://reliefweb.int/report/yemen/yemen-one-worst-places-world-be-woman.



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