Global: In Georgia, Women Without Peace
By Bettina Corke
Will the women of Georgia go through the same stories of displacement, eviction and separation from their loved ones and yet find ways in which they can exist without their husbands and sons and, in some cases, without their entire families after the conflict is over? Because, this is what the women of the former Yugoslavia have had to do after the war in the Balkans. Will the European Union (EU) choose the same military NATO approach in trying to solve this outbreak of civil and governmental violence in Georgia? During the early discussions about the EU, civil society was told that NATO's continuation within Europe was to protect and to promote "human security". We imagined that NATO would be reformed to act as a "peace-keeping force". We did not imagine that it would bomb Belgrade, that it would bomb civilians and that it would use its military forces to impose the will of one country or a group of countries against
another country in Europe.
Is this attack by the Georgian government followed by the Russian troops coming into the country going to be the beginning of a long civil conflict in Georgia? One hopes not. If the conflict is not solved peacefully and continues, does it have the potential of forcing the women of Georgia lead the same lives of uncertainty and suffering that women in situations of civil conflict and war, elsewhere in the world, experience?
Helen J. Self, (the author of 'Prostitution, Women and Misuse of the Law', Frank Cass, London) in a paper, 'Women and War' - presented in Berlin in 2004, says, "As I am a historian I will begin by taking a backwards glance at history and then concentrate upon more recent conflicts. If we look backwards, we see that women have always been disadvantaged by war. No surprise in that! One illustration of this is Ruben's great painting of "The Rape of the Sabine Women" reminding us of the long history of women as the spoils of war. They become trophies, gifts, slaves, concubines and sometimes a form of currency. A commodity or possession to be bought or sold or given away. Many of these features are still with us today."
She goes on to say, "...war does far more than just kill people... It redefines borders, destroys economies, wastes resources, shatters lives, leaves behind toxic wastes capable of injuring or deforming future generations... people lose their homes and flee becoming refugees or misplaced people, thus law abiding citizens are transformed into illegal immigrants and asylum seekers in other countries." Most certainly, this scenario sketched by Self is the reality in some of the newly-established countries of the former Yugoslavia.
There are similarities between the population make-up of Georgia and that of the former Yugoslavia. In the former Yugoslavia, one in six marriages were mixed marriages - between Muslim, Christian and Orthodox couples. In Georgia, there is a mix of religions and cultures: Orthodox, Muslim, Christian, Georgian, Russian, Azeri and Armenian. Until now (as in the former Yugoslavia) these communities have lived side-by-side without conflict.
Georgia is a small country - its population is around five-and-half million and its borders extend to Russia in the North and to Turkey in the South. Its neighbours are Armenia, Azerbaijan and Iran. It is a fertile and rich land, full of natural resources, oil and gas. And it is at the risk of being used as a testing ground for a long drawn out war ("if this is what it takes" as some leaders in the oil industry often say) to solve the oil, gas and transportation needs of the transnational oil and energy consortiums and companies operating throughout Europe.
For the women of Georgia and Central Asia, the world in which they live is becoming a very dangerous place. They are at risk. During the war in the Balkans this is what one observer, Robert Jay Lifton had said about the war taking place in Bosnia, "We are particularly shocked by the extent of the rape - little girls, young women, old women - mixed in with the killing and with the arrangement for the most extreme humiliation... He then went on to say that people viewing these horror images, "tuned out", switched channels and in this way they felt better, but then, by switching off the channel - and I quote - "...we cannot quite free ourselves from some of those nagging images. We are then likely to join a chorus of ostensibly well-meaning voices insisting that, though things are indeed terrible in Bosnia, it is all very complicated". (Source: 'Continental Drifts - Travels in the New Europe'; Colin Fraser; Vintage UK - Random House 1998; P.199).
It is interesting to note that throughout the 20th century - European women worked hard and long on the need for peace, multi-ethnic cooperation and, of course, for women's emancipation and yet, once again, the women of Europe and, more specifically, the women of Georgia are on the brink of a serious conflict without the power or the influence to change the situation, as were the women from twenty-six countries, who came together to draft a Peace Manifesto, one month before the outbreak of the First World War...
"We, women of twenty-six countries having banded ourselves together in the International Women's Suffrage Alliance, with the object of obtaining the political means of sharing with men the power which shapes the fate of nations, appeal to you to leave untried no method of conciliation or arbitration for arranging international differences.... We cannot stand passively by ... whatever its result ... this conflict will set back civilisation and (it) will be a powerful check to the gradual amelioration in the condition of the masses of the people, on which so much of the welfare of nations depends. The fate of Europe depends upon decisions which women have no power to shape" ('Peace Manifesto...' presented to the British Foreign Office, London, July 1914)
UNIFEM states in its Humanitarian Appeal for Women - "War has always victimised non-combatants, but contemporary armed conflicts exploit, maim and kill civilians more callously and more systematically than ever before. Gender specific threats to women and girls compound the challenge of ensuring their protection". UNIFEM's and the international women's movement' support for Security Council Resolution 1325 regarding for Women, Peace & Security - "Understanding the impact of armed conflict on women and girls, effective institutional arrangements to guarantee their protection and full participation in the peace process can significantly contribute to the maintenance and promotion of international peace and security". It is a step in the right direction but is it too late for the women of Georgia and for the women of Central Asia?
A great deal of persuasion will need to be done by our women representatives at the European Parliament level to shape "the fate of nations" and "the fate of women" in the new Europe.
(Courtesy: Women's Feature Service)
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