For women’s full participation in conflict resolution and peacebuilding

An initiative from Kvinna till Kvinna

Women from the Caucasus: Common Problems – common search for solutions

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The traditional pattern of the mother-in-law and daughter relationship became the subject of a spontaneous workshop on the "Forum Theatre" method.

The traditional pattern of the mother-in-law and daughter relationship became the subject of a spontaneous workshop on the "Forum Theatre" method. Photo: The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation | Julia Lapitskii

A regional conference “Caucasus – our common home” took place from 23 to 24 March in Yerevan, Armenia. It brought together representatives of women’s organizations from the Caucasus region,  both from South Caucasus – Armenia, Abkhazia, Georgia, and the North Caucasus region of the Russian Federation – Adygea, Dagestan, Ingushetia, North Ossetia and Chechnya.

Unique opportunity

In the region torn apart by ethnic tensions and “frozen” conflicts, this conference was an unique opportunity for women to meet and discuss common problems, share their experiences and thoughts on how to handle difficulties.

Gulnara Shahinian from the Armenian NGO “Democracy Today” opened the conference with the words:

“Our idea is to reach peace without mediators. We always talk via someone, but it’s time to speak to each other directly, to learn to say things right to each other’s faces, even if it is extremely tough. We welcome the efforts of international organizations, but in the quality of advisors and friends.”

Azerbaijani organizations were also invited to the conference, but, according to Gulnara Shahinian, they had to cancel the trip for administrative reasons at the last minute.
Anna Safaryan, Deputy Ombudsman for Human Rights responsible for women’s rights and family law in Armenia, stressed the complexity of the peace processes and women’s role in it.

“Peacemaking is not a matter of one day, it is a long process. But most of the effort is required to keep peace, and for this the dialogue between state and civil society, not least women’s organizations, is crucial. Women have shown many times that they are able to create the conditions for a peaceful existence.”

Return of traditions often means two steps backwards for women

However, before speaking about women’s political participation, which is prerequisite for taking part in the negotiation process, the basic rights of women are to be guaranteed. Speaking of problems, many participants mentioned traditionalization of the societies in the Caucasus region. The return of the tradition of bride kidnapping was testified by Alla Gamakharia of the “Sukhumi” fund in Georgia as well as by Inna Ayrapetyan from the “Sintem” women’s centre in Grozny.

“Once twelve girls were kidnapped during one night, we got crazy. We tell the girls that this is illegal, you can sue, but the girls’ family has a big impact. They say, ‘Who would want to marry you now?’ And unfortunately, their families often insist on marriage to avoid the ‘family disgrace,’” says Alla Gamakharia.

In order to somehow deal with the problem, the cultural and humanitarian activist fund “Sukhumi” holds informational meetings and training sessions for the general public as well as for the local authorities and the police in Kutaisi.

Women’s groups in Grozny witness the same issue.

“Thanks to the mobilization of women’s organizations and their efforts, a fine of one million rubles (around 25 000 Euro) was introduced in Chechnya for bride kidnapping, which significantly reduced the problem,” says Inna Ayrapetyan, head of the psychosocial center “Sintem”, which works to support female survivors of domestic violence.

Besides bride kidnapping, early marriage is getting more usual in Chechnya. The internal statistics of the center for 2012 show 116 cases of girls getting married at the age of 14-17 years.

Nino Modebadze from Women’s Information Center in Georgia says on early marriages:

“This is a problem in the villages of the Marneuli region. Girls are married off at 12-13 years, not having a chance to graduate from secondary school. According to some sources of statistics, as little as 10% of girls in the region reach the level of basic education”.

One of the participants from Dagestan witnesses about a number women’s rights abuse.

“In addition to bride kidnapping, which is increasing in Dagestan, the female circumcision gets more widespread. Circumcision is usually done by an elderly woman in unhygienic conditions; it is a terrible trauma for girls and certainly affects their sexual life afterwards. Another issue which concerns us are married girls who get into very difficult situations when they cannot get pregnant. Traditionally, they get labeled as “defective” and are often left by their husbands.”

Honor killings have also been discussed at the conference, when, under the cover of Islam or tradition, male family members murder their female family members who allegedly brought dishonor upon the family.

Common platform

As a result of the conference, the participants agreed upon creating a common platform with the aim to share experiences and give mutual support in the promotion of women’s rights in the region of the Caucasus.

Julia Lapitskii

You can find photos from the conference on our Facebook page.

Young Women Caucasus Peace Award 2013 goes to women from Armenia, Azerbaijan and Dagestan

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The winners of the Young Women Caucasus Peace Award 2013 Zaruhi Hovanessian (Armenia) and Malikat Djabirova (Dagestan, Russian Federation). Photo: The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation | Julia Lapitskii

The winners of the Young Women Caucasus Peace Award 2013 Zaruhi Hovanessian (Armenia) and Malikat Djabirova (Dagestan, Russian Federation). Photo: The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation | Julia Lapitskii

The laureates of the Young Women Caucasus Peace Award 2013 were announced in Yerevan on March 25. The Azerbaijani journalist Khadija Ismailova, Zaruhi Hovanessian from Armenia and Malikat Djabirova from Dagestan were announced winners.   

One of the award founders, Gulnara Shahinian, UN special rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery and board member of the Armenian NGO ‘Democracy Today’, opened the ceremony stating that the award is granted for human rights work and peace promotion in the region. “These young women are activists in their societies, their potential to achieve change is enormous, “ she said.

“This award is a living body. It is not only celebration, there is much work behind it. We want to motivate and provide these women with the opportunity to participate in peace processes in the region.”

Neither award-winner Khadija Ismailova nor any representative from Azerbaijan were present at the ceremony.

“It is extremely painful that our colleagues from Azerbaijan could not come, though we arranged it in detail. However, we are fully aware that all these years we have been walking on thin ice, and we do our best to avoid slipping. It is our duty to protect each and everyone of the project participants,” said Shahinian. Since 1994, Armenia and Azerbaijan have been in the state of a “frozen conflict” with the territory of Nagorno-Karabach at stake.

The third award winner, Malikat Djabirova, leads a regional NGO “Mother and Child” in Dagestan, one of the Russian republics. Since 2005, she has been working to actively promote tolerance among youth, as well as working with young women and their rights.

According to her, the level of education in Dagestan is very low, that’s why “many women don’t have the slightest idea of their own legal rights”. The organization runs a clinic for women as well as provides women with legal and psychological consultations. “My work is in no way extraordinary, I only want the people of Dagestan to be happy and live in peace”, says Malikat. Since the 1990s, Dagestan has been a scene of low-level Islamic insurgency, occasional outbreaks of separatism, ethnic tensions and terrorism.

“I have never thought I deserve any kind of award, everything I do comes from inside of me. This award makes me move forward,” says Zaruhi Hovanessian from Armenia, who leads the civic initiative ‘The Army in Reality’. Together with other human rights organizations in Armenia, in particular the Vanadzor office of the Helsinki Citizens’ Initiative, they take part in the investigation of deaths in the army. “We are trying to get rid of violence and corruption in the Armenian army during peace times,” she said.

Last year’s award-winner Sophia Shakirova presented the award to the first winner from Azerbaijan, the investigative journalist Khadija Ismailova. Ismailova is actively working in the fields of human rights and democracy.

“A special topic of her investigations is corruption. She revealed corruption in the highest echelons of power, which does not go unpunished,” said Sophia Shakirova.

Last year, Khadija was at the center of international attention because of slander and blackmail she was subjected to. “Despite all that, she continues her journalistic work at ‘Radio Free Europe’, teaches young journalists investigative techniques and shares her experience with them, thus preparing change,” said Shakirov.

The Young Women Caucasus Peace Award  was founded in 2011 by Democracy Today (Armenia), Society for Women’s Rights in Azerbaijan (Azerbaijan) and Women’s Information Center. This award is the first of its kind and  has been established to acknowledge the exceptional role and leadership potential of young women in peace building, empowerment of their communities and working to prevent conflicts and to restore and protect human rights. It has been inspired by the work of the famous peace and human rights activist Anahit Bayandur (1931-2011), a winner of the Olof Palme Award.

Armine Martirosyan, Caucasian Knot
Julia Lapitskii