An Interview with Janis Alton
by Adriana Gonzalez
My first encounter with the Canadian Voice of Women for Peace (VOW) came during their annual conference entitled “Conflict and Climate: Changing Course Now” held over a weekend in November. During this time, I was in absolute awe of the incredible amount of passion for peaceful resolutions to global conflicts that each woman held and exuded during this fascinating weekend. Janis Alton, one of the directors for VOW, was at the forefront of the annual conference. Immediately, I was captivated by her impassioned words of peace, women’s rights, and additionally, all of the international experiences she has engaged in.
I had the incredible privilege of speaking with Janis Alton later on in the month. We conversed about her initial experiences with VOW, what drew her to the organization, the UNSCW, and additionally, young feminists in the present day.
Janis Alton noted that her initial encounters with pacifism came at an early age. She first started working with VOW in the mid 70s as a member. During this time, she was studying Politics and disarmament issues in particular. Janis noted that the zeitgeist and the pressing political issues of this time also proved to be quite impacting in her decision to join VOW for Peace. “This was a very tense period in history”, she stated. During our conversation, Janis also mentioned that the founder of VOW for Peace, Helen Tucker, lived in her neighbourhood. She went on to explain that this woman had such an incredible presence about her and really captivated Janis for quite a while! “Helen Tucker had enormous ideas”, Janis said. Therefore, Janis’ academic background, her husband’s involvement in disarmament positions, and Helen Tucker’s great influence impacted Janis’ decision to begin furthering her engagement with VOW for peace.
Janis Alton has had the opportunity to visit the United Nations office in New York City for the UN Commission on the Status of Women. This is something Janis is incredibly proud of and shared with me the incredible opportunities her and many other VOW women were able to partake in last year. One highlight of their visit to the UN office was the session VOW for Peace hosted entitled: “An intergenerational dialogue: Building Young Women’s Political Empowerment”. Janis was incredibly excited to share this experience with me! Issues around female engagement in the political sphere were discussed by a group of people, covering a multitude of different age brackets. “The session was so warmly received by all”, Janis said. Additionally, the VOW women had the opportunity to engage in many other sessions and workshops during their stay in New York. One feature that Janis also pointed out to me was her briefings with other International NGOs, such as WILPF (Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom).
After our discussion about the VOW for Peace session at the UN last year and the nature of the dialogue that went on around young female engagement, I thought it would be appropriate to ask Janis about young feminists advocating for peace in the present day and their current challenges. Janis gave an incredibly encouraging response that left me feeling extremely inspired and motivated! Janis went on to state that the term feminist has “suffered quite a bit”. However, in order to break the stigma surrounding this movement, women must connect and share what they know, while appreciating the fact that they are not alone. “The company of like minded women is so vast”, she stated. “There needs to be an empowerment of the work we do as well. It is necessary”.
Janis Alton is an incredibly honest, kind, and passionate woman, as demonstrated during our conversation this past month. Her fervent voice around disarmament and peaceful resolutions is so prominent and I feel so fortunate to have gotten the opportunity to talk to her about VOW for Peace!