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.

Three women ministers in new Georgian government

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Late October, a new government was approved by the newly elected Georgian parliament. Many analysts call this a historical election – for the first time ever Georgia experienced a peaceful transition of power. And three of the key positions within the government went to women.

The incumbent President Michal Saalashvili congratulated the newly elected Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili to his victory. The elections were preceded by a dynamical campaign period, mostly concentrated around these two men’s personalities. When it comes to women’s participation, however, from the moment of registration of party lists and candidates for majoritarian elections, it was clear that there would be no breakthrough in terms of gender balance. Yet, there have been some positive developments.

In relative terms, it sounds great – the share of women MPs has risen with 60 percent in the Georgian parliament. But they still are only 10,8 percent, compared to the previous 6,6 percent, the lowest rate in Europe. The number of women in the newly elected cabinet is unchanged – three women out of 20. The good news is though that the women occupy key positions within the government, Maia Panjikidze as a head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Tea Tsulukiani of the Ministry of Justice and Khatuna Gogoladze of the Ministry of Environment.

Financial incentive no effect

Elena Ruseckaja from the Georgian women’s rights organization Women’s Information Center is happy about the increase of women in parliament, but says that she and her colleagues analyze the results, to draw lessons for the future. For instance had the recent amendments, providing parties with financial incentive to have no less than 20 percent of women on party lists, no effect.

Elena Ruseckaja, Women's Information Center

Elena Ruseckaja, Women's Information Center. Photo: Julia Lapitskii/The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation.

– This opportunity was only used by two parties: the Christian Democrats and the New Party and they were not even elected to the parliament. Thus, the efforts of the international community and women’s organizations in this direction have not played a role.

What did play a role, according to Elena Rusetskaja, was direct interaction with the parties and support for women candidates.

– Women’s groups had meetings and discussions with the parties, and the majority of women that were elected to the parliament are known to us. Many of them have their background in civil society, such as Manana Kobakhidze, deputy speaker of the new parliament and the former chairman of the organization Article 42 of the Constitution (Georgian citizenship: fundamental rights and freedoms).

First democratic transfer of power

For the first time in the history of independent Georgia, the transfer of power took place in a democratic way, and several political branches are now represented in the parliament:

– We see it as a positive development, that we now have a multi-party parliament, which opens up for constructive cooperation. We will monitor how they are living up to their obligations and follow the implementation of the Gender Equality Law, the Law on Domestic Violence, the National Action Plan for the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security. We hope to be able to advocate for changes in the Labor Code, because now it has loopholes that makes it possible to discriminate against women in the workplace. In addition, we very much hope that a Gender Advisory Board of the parliament will play a major role in achieving equality at all levels of the government. The gender thinking should permeate all state institutions, says Elena Ruseckaja.

Hope for resolution of frozen conflicts

There is also hope for a peaceful resolution of the frozen 20-year old conflicts concerning Abkhazia and the South Ossetia/Tskhinvali region. This issue has disappeared from the political discussions during the last few years, but now parties actively put these questions on the agenda.

– Parties that are new to the political arena are striving for the resumption of economic and cultural relations with the Abkhaz and South Ossetian population. Guram Odisharia, an IDP (internally displaced person), was appointed Minister of Culture and Monument Protection. We believe there will be people in the government who have close ties with Abkhazia. The Geneva talks will certainly be changing format, but we hope that the 40 percent women participants in the Georgian delegation will not be reduced.