Shelley J. Anderson – Netherlands and USA

Linked with IFOR’s Women Peacemaker’s Program WPP, and with the International Fellowship of Reconciliation ifor.

She is one of the 1000 women proposed for the Nobel Peace Price 2005.

At the heart of the Women Peacemakers Program (WPP) and Shelley Anderson’s approach is dialogue and listening. “We actively ask the women we work with ‘What do you need?’ and really try to listen,” she says. The requests for nonviolence training are increasing every year. Since the WPP began in 1997, they have trained at least 15,000 people. Shelley Anderson was born in Daytona Beach, Florida, USA. At the age of 19, she went into the military to earn enough money for university. During her time in the US Army, though, she had a crisis of conscience. “Even though I was not actually pulling a trigger I was involved in a system that was working for death. What became very clear to me as I struggled with this was that I would like to die without blood on my hands,” she said.

It was during this period that Shelley became interested in peace issues. She found a group of Quakers who explained to her conscientious objection, and she started looking for opportunities to educate herself about issues of women and peace. “I was lucky because I was raised in a time when the civil rights movement, the anti-Vietnam war movement, and the women’s movements were all very active. As a young girl I had the feeling that change was possible, and that people could make change. All of those inspired me” …


Sorry, no downloadable photo found for Shelley J. Anderson, Netherlands and USA

She works for the International Fellowship of Reconciliation’s Women Peacemakers Program IFOR WPP.

… The critical turning point in moving Shelley to leave the military was attending a speaking tour organized by Quakers of Habakusha, Japanese people who survived the US bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. “On the tour there was a Japanese woman who was a Habakusha,” she said. “She had a daughter who had been pregnant several times, had several miscarriages, and when she was able to bring a baby to full term, it was so deformed that it died very quickly. Now the daughter was pregnant again, and the family was living in fear.

Immediately after this Japanese woman an American woman, also on the tour, spoke. Her husband had been a US soldier who was sent in immediately after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to clean up. He had recently died from leukemia. They had a daughter who had been pregnant several times and miscarried. When she was finally able to bring a baby to term, it was so deformed that it died. Her daughter was pregnant again.

Shelley remembers: “This was like a slap in the face to me. I thought ‘this is what war really is.’ I looked at the Japanese woman and the American woman and I thought ‘the Americans were supposed to have won and the Japanese lost, but both of these women’s families are living in fear.’ That was a turning point for me. I decided to leave the military. I did not know what the consequences would be, but I would leave and I would start working for peace, especially to get rid of nuclear weapons.”

After leaving the military as a conscientious objector in the early 1980s, the first peace group Shelley worked for was a local group in Minneapolis, Minnesota called Friends for a Nonviolent World. The organization was a Quaker peace group and her supervisor, who had worked with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., was an inspiring example of total dedication to the struggle for peace and justice.

Anderson went to university and majored in women’s studies. “I’d always known that if we want a better world, we have to improve the status of women,” she said. “Women are going to change the world.”

She moved to the Netherlands in 1986 and worked for an international news service called Disarmament Campaigns. She began work at the International Fellowship of Reconciliation (IFOR) initially as a volunteer in 1988 and has been with the organization ever since.

Though some IFOR member organizations were already working for women, the Women Peacemaker Program (WPP) is IFOR’s first attempt to systematically increase the nonviolent empowerment of women. Spurred on by the 1995 UN Fourth World Conference on Women and the Beijing Platform for Action’s concrete recommendations regarding women in conflict situations, the WPP aims to bring an awareness of gender into all of IFOR’s work. Anderson had a monumental role in establishing the WPP, and has seen it grow in its capacity and importance since it began in 1997.

The WPP began as an experiment in developing and integrating a gender perspective into peace and reconciliation work. The program recognizes that women play multiple roles in conflict, as victims, occasionally as perpetrators, and most of all as leaders.

The WPP has four major objectives:

  • 1. First and foremost is the prevention of violence. This is being met through the cross the lines component: the regional consultations of women.
  • 2. Education and training in active nonviolence. Such training helps grassroots women’s organizations develop skills in nonviolent conflict resolution, mediation, and leadership.
  • 3. Documentation and analysis of women’s peace initiatives. This involves collecting and making available existing materials that explain the links between militarism as an obstacle to development and women’s role in reconstructing societies broken by conflict, in building peace and reconciliation, and in strengthening civil society. Women’s strategies and experiences are documented through videos and various publications.
  • 4. Support for the building of self-reliant and sustainable women’s groups. Requests or help from peace researchers or groups who want to get on email or submit a grant proposal are linked by the WPP with organizations that can provide technical and financial support.

The WPP has faced its share of obstacles in its eight-year tenure, including fear and defensiveness of men to a program that explicitly works to empower women peacemakers. “I have seen resistance to the program within our own peace organization, lack of respect for women’s ideas, and a definite lack of knowledge as to what women have accomplished in building peace and resisting violence,” Shelley said.

“I also think international women’s movements have learned so much about the root causes of violence, about preventing violence, about supporting survivors and that it is a great pity that peace movements do not use that knowledge and those skills that women’s movements have developed.”

“Women peacemakers need to document what we are doing. We need to document it for history, so we do not become invisible in the next generation. More importantly, we need to document it because we are having success. We are changing things. People need to study this.”

“There’s a story I heard from an African human rights worker who had heard it from a woman who was involved: There was a war going on in East Africa where women from opposite sides had made secret contact with each other because they wanted to stop the killing. A group of ‘enemy women’ had found out that a commander was going to attack a village in a few days. They knew the wife of the commander as she was in this secret network.

So the women contacted her and said ‘your husband is going to attack this village and you have got to stop him.’ The attack was supposed to take place in two days. She thought about it and the next day she told her husband ‘tomorrow I need to do some shopping, and I need to go to the market in this village tomorrow.’ Of course the village was the one he was supposed to attack. Thus she stopped the attack.

I love that story because I think it is tremendously creative, I think it took a lot of courage … and it is about shopping! It’s just an example of the undocumented victories of women.

There is another story I heard from Mali, where women got so sick and tired of the fighting they actually walked in front of the two sides and literally took the guns out of the men’s hands and threw them in the river.”

Integrating gender, the roles and expectations a society has about women and men, boys and girls is sometimes a difficult sell. Terms like gender analysis, gender sensitivity and mainstreaming gender are new and unfamiliar to people, but as Shelley points out, the reality of power relations between men and women is not new.

As human beings we make our world, and we are socialized either to build cultures of peace or to build and maintain cultures of violence. So gender is an absolute keystone if we want to build a culture of peace,” she said. “We have to look at the ways boys and girls are raised, and the way they are socialized. How are they supposed to act as boys or girls? We have especially got to reach out to boys and we have to break the link that has been made between violence and masculinity. If we cannot do that, we will be lost. And we have to break the link that has been made between femininity and passivity.

In addition to obstacles in her work, Anderson has come up against personal hurdles. She is just becoming aware of secondary trauma. “You educate yourself about human rights abuses and you develop a shield in a way. For example, I once showed a video on the situation of women in Burma to a group of churchwomen. They were devastated, and I was puzzled. I had seen this video several times, talked about the rape of Burmese women by soldiers, and I was shocked that they were so upset because to me, of course this happens! You have to watch that in yourself. I do not want my heart to harden.”

Shelley’s supervisor at Friends for a Nonviolent World, gave her a piece of advice she has kept with her ever since: “What is important is the work, not the recognition or the rewards you get.” What gives her energy are the people she meets. As a practicing Buddhist, she says: “These exercises help you to keep your heart open and cultivate the compassion and the wisdom that you need to do your work well.

As long as she can make a positive contribution to empowering women for peace, she will continue. When asked if eventually enough people at the international level will listen to women peacemakers, Shelley smiles. “Absolutely. When people get sick and tired enough to say, I am not cooperating with you anymore.
When men say no, I am not going to pick up a gun and kill someone just because you tell me to, and when women say I am not supporting the military or the war system anymore. I am not going to raise my kids to kill, and I am going to resist everywhere I can. I am going to refuse to work in arms factories, and I am not voting for a warlord. When people withdraw their cooperation, others will listen.” (1000peacewomen).

Sorry, no other results found in the internet under the name Shelley J. Anderson.

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(My comment: Normally when a person is born in one country and then is living her life in a new country, I place this person as comming from the country where she is born. In the 1000peacewommen project Shelley J. Anderson is stated being from Netherlands. So I respect this choice).

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