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
The findings from the Iraqi field study show that the US occupation increased secterian thinking within the country and severly crippled women's rights. Photo: Anna Lithander/The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation.
Violence, corruption and unequal laws are some of the obstacles that keep women in conflict-torn regions from participating on equal terms with men in peace processes. Another big part of the problem is that the international community gives priority to men for senior positions in peace operations. This according to the new report Equal Power – Lasting Peace made by the Swedish women and peace organization The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation.
Equal Power – Lasting Peace is based on field studies made in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iraq, DR Congo and Liberia. Although the countries and conflicts differ, the patterns are strikingly similar.
In all the regions women and women’s organizations play important roles in resolving conflicts in local communities and in handling everyday life.
But when it comes to formal decision forums the doors are closed for women. This contrary to the statements of UN Security Council Resolution 1325, which emphasizes that women must participate on the same terms as men in all parts of peace processes, for the peace to be sustainable.
The exclusion of women is present both within the international missions and negotiating team at national level. Equal Power – Lasting Peace shows that very little has happened, despite the fact that twelve years have passed since Resolution 1325 was adopted.
– Peace Processes that excludes half the population are imperfect. Women’s needs and experiences are made invisible, says Lena Ag, Secretary General at The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation.
Equal Power – Lasting Peace’s survey shows that the most common obstacles for participation that women face are:
- Legislation and standards
- Rumours and threats
- Domestic violence, including sexual violence
- Poverty and corruption
- Ignorance of the international community
- As in other policy areas, the male dominance within the peace and security area needs to be broken. It is a question of democracy and a basic condition for sustainable peace processes. It is also important to push for the appointments of more women to key positions within the EU and the UN. How else can the international community credibly argue that equality is important? says Lena Ag.
No female UN Chief Mediator
Examples of the representation of women and men in key positions related to peace and security:
- At the 24 largest peace negotiations held between 1992 and 2010, only 7,6 percent of the negotiators and 2,5 percent of the mediators were women.
- The UN has never appointed a female Chief Mediator.
- 89 percent of the UN’s special representatives and envoys are men.
- 84 percent of the UN peacekeeping operations are led by men.84 percent of the UN member countries’ UN ambassadors are men.
- There are only men leading the EU’s CSDP operations (operations under the EU’s common security and defense policy).
- 2 of the EU’s 10 special representatives are women.
Equal Power – Lasting Peace, the report
Equal Power – Lasting Peace, summary
Statistics of women and men in key positions within the EU and the UN
Team building activities for the participants of the feminist summer school. Photo: Julia Lapitskii/The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation
In the midst of the hot summer, young women from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey came together for a week in Kobuleti, Georgia, to take part in a feminist summer school. The region has for many years been dominated by the wounds of several frozen conflicts, and for many of the participants, meeting women from the other side was a new, and very emotional, experience.
Lika Nadaraia from the Women's Political Resource Center in Georgia. Photo: Julia Lapitskii/The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation
The idea to organize a feminist summer school came to Lika Nadaraia, from the Women’s Political Resource Center in Tbilisi, after seeing it first in the Balkans. When the school was arranged for the first time five years ago, participants were only Georgian women from various women’s organisations, as well as activists and politicians. A few years later, in 2010, it became a regional school – including all the countries of the South Caucasus region, joined this year also by participants from Turkey.
- I’ve seen a lot of women’s meetings on peacekeeping, and I realized that as long as women continue to represent patriarchal values and keep supporting dominant structures, nothing can be achieved. Women can unite and have an impact, only if they have a common philosophy when they start criticizing militarism, nationalism, that often dominate in the patriarchal context – says Lika Nadaraia, feminist summer school organizer.
A turning point
For Elene Natenadze, a student of psychology at the Tbilisi State University and an employee at the Caucasus Institute for Peace, Democracy and Development, this is the second summer school, and it has became, in some ways, a turning point in her life:
- I used to think that there was something wrong in the way men were treating me, but I could not understand what was the problem and why it happened. After the first school I realized that they simply have no right to behave in that way.
Nare Hovhannisyan, one of the participants from the Women’s Resource Center Armenia, is confident that the school will help her take on a more active role in her organization.
- I have been thinking a lot these days about what is most important to me. I am now a volunteer, and I participate in all the organisation’s activities, but most importantly, I realized that I should have a goal. I have to pass on the knowledge I obtained here. It is not enough to just participate in what the organization is undertaking, I have to find my own mission.
Important to meet
For Elene and Nare, as well as for the rest of the young women taking part in the school, it was very important to meet new people, which otherwise is virtually impossible to do in a region torn by conflicts and divided by insurmountable borders. A fact that also was confirmed by Leyla Jahangirova from the Azerbaijani organization Yuva Humanitarian Center:
- It was a chance for me to meet young women from other countries in the region. I told the Armenian participants myself yesterday: I was born in Karabakh; the war happened in front of my eyes; I lost my home; loved ones. Years have passed and now we are here together. It does not matter, because I understand that this is not a war that they started, they are just citizens of a country that is at war with a country I live in. But this does not change our relationship.
Common feminist platform
These connections and these meetings are in fact the aim of the school, according to the school organizer Lika Nadaraia – it is not just about the transfer of knowledge, but it also important to establish contacts between organisations with a clear feminist position and with a clear vision that will eventually lead to the creation of a common regional platform, but through a living structure, which will not become too bureaucratic.
- They are happy to go beyond their national realities and realize how similar they are. Why is this described as an Armenian culture, for example? They say we do not want to change our culture, but it is in fact one and the same culture, one where women has always occupied the same place.
On the one hand there is a beautiful, new arena and a glittering spectacle for European music lovers. On the other hand there are women being beaten and discriminated and an alarming increase in child marriages. When Azerbaijan hosts the Eurovision Song Contest next week, activists hope that the media circus won’t only be reporting about which artist that wore what.
Pervana Mammadova, Yuva. Photo: The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation/Sara Ludtke.
The music festival Eurovision Song Contest, with European and neighbouring countries as contenders, takes place in Azerbaijan’s capital Baku. A magnificent, new stadium – Crystal Hall – has been built for the event and the Eurovision Song Contest’s official website paints a picture of Baku as a modern city. But a look behind the beautiful facades, gives a more complicated story.
– Yes, on the surface, it is the true picture. The reality is however different. Azerbaijan is rich in oil, but oil money that could be used to improve the situation of the population are instead used on beautiful new buildings and renovations in downtown Baku. The government forgets the real problems, like violations of human rights, gender violence and child marriages. This is the real situation behind the beautiful facade, says women’s rights activist Pervana Mammadova.
Women controlled by their families
Pervana Mammadova is the founder of the youth organization YUVA that works with empowering young women. They organize group discussions and offer seminars on gender issues,as well as training in leadership and human rights.
– Gender is a complex issue in Azerbaijan. We have laws that says that women and men enjoy equal rights and that prohibits domestic violence. But in reality, the implementation is inadequate. The patriarchal structure permeates the entire society, and young women’s lives are controlled by their families. For these women life is first and foremost about getting married and having children.
Abortions of female fetuses
Although the situation for women has improved in recent years, through the adoption of laws that strengthen women’s rights and a greater representation of women among politicians at local level, there are also many negative trends in the country. The number of child marriages are increasing and so are the number of abortions of female fetuses. And there are more girls dropping out of school. Some of these impairments may perhaps be explained by the religion’s growing influence on issues concerning women’s rights.
Doesn’t want boycott
But although the real situation of Azerbaijan’s population is at risk of being neglected during the big Eurovision event, Pervana Mammadova doesn’t want a boycott of the song contest.
– This is a great opportunity for us to raise awareness about the situation in Azerbaijan. When reporters and fans are traveling to Baku, it is important that they talk to the locals. Ask them if they have access to the beautiful buildings, or the Crystal Hall. Also make a trip outside of the contest area, to experience the real Azerbaijan, she says.