1 Dec 2010
Let’s start listening to the women
Where are the women in the Nagorno Karabakh peace talks? Has anybody ever asked or wondered about this question? All we hear is – Nagorno Karabakh peace negotiations are in a dead-lock. They are not moving forward.
Before dismissing this writing and disregarding these questions altogether, allow me to elaborate. Men have been the primary actors “sitting at the table” in the peace talks and thus far, we have not seen any progress in moving forward. Has anyone ever thought about engaging the women in the process?
The UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security was passed in 2000 and was significant for a number of reasons, namely, for determining rape as a war crime. The Resolution was also important because it called for women not only to be considered as “victims” but also to be involved in the public sphere and allowed to participate in the peace talks.
Traditionally, women have been involved in the “private sphere” or at the informal level by organizing peace movements throughout the world. The Liberian women’s peace movement was a phenomenal example of women’s agency and empowerment. In fact, many of them were illiterate and after the peace movement was over, they took on another initiative – learning how to read.
A memorable moment for me during the period of my life when I lived and worked in Armenia was a trip to Tchambarak and a visit to a school in a small village very close to the border with Azerbaijan. It was obvious this village had been witness to and on the frontline during the war, as some of the buildings showed bullet holes and the roads were full of craters. I spoke to a few female teachers at one school that day and our conversation led to politics, Nagorno Karabakh and peace. One teacher emotionally explained that the local population was not interested in war anymore. They had lost too many sons and husbands and are not even willing to consider it as an option to moving forward. Besides, she proceeded to point out, we have lived as neighbors with Azeris in this village and we are more than capable of living with them in peace now.
A reader in the Caucasus might completely dismiss my arguments by now and say, here is a typical Western feminist or American women pointing out that women should be involved and she has no idea about the situation in the South Caucasus. My response to all those who are cynical is that women do have agency and are empowered individuals especially in the Caucasus. Take a look at the street corners to see who is outside playing chess or nardi on a daily basis. Who are they? Men. Who are the people squatting in the streets and chewing sunflower seeds, talking about politics and how this country is so messed up and has no future and not doing anything about it? Men. Who are the people running the schools and teaching children to read, write and do mathematics? Women. Who are the people who are running home after teaching or working all day to cook and prepare dinner and then hear complaints that the meal prepared was not tasty? Women. Who are the people that are constantly talking about the importance of not having another war in the region because they are tired of the loss of human life? Women.
Perhaps we need to start listening to the women? Moreover, if we really want to make significant progress, we need to start involving them in the peace talks. Women would play a vital role in helping the peace talks move out of deadlock as they would bring their unique lived experiences and perspectives.