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