Prejudices and threats against Women Human Rights Defenders hamper Peacebuilding efforts in Armenia
Kvinna till Kvinna’s partner organisation Women’s Resource Center, based in Armenia, has been forced to cancel or postpone several of their activities during the last few months, primarily those that involve youth. The postponed activities also include several EPNK training activities for young women in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh. Previously, working on women’s rights and gender equality was a nonthreatening way to introduce the concept of peacebuilding to new participants and their families. Now the word ‘gender’ has come to have a derogatory connotation similar to the word ‘peacebuilding’, which is severely hampering the local partner’s ability to continue their activities in Armenia.
Trainers coming to communities to hold activities related to gender issues for young girls are often mistrusted, threatened and asked to leave. It has become increasingly difficult to get permission from families to let their daughters participate in joint cross-border activities that relate to gender, such as those that fall under EPNK-2. Staff members from both Women’s Resource Center and Democracy Today have been personally targeted and threatened. Slander, misconceptions and prejudices are not only present among traditionalists and extremists but also exist among local civil society actors.
This shift in perception of gender is related to a governmental law adopted in June 2013 by the National Assembly in Armenia. The “Law on Equal Rights and Equal Opportunities for Men and Women”, which passed with a significant majority vote, defines the concept of “gender” as “acquired and socially prescribed behavior of people of different sex, social status of relations between a man and a woman, which is expressed in all spheres of public life.” As a reaction to the new law, extremist groups started spreading misleading information, associating “gender equality” with homosexuality propaganda and pedophilia. During the autumn of 2013, these groups have been inciting violent attacks against human rights activists who work against gender-based violence, gender inequality, and gender discrimination. They have employed a variety of media, including TV and social media sites like Facebook to do this.
The smear campaign against Armenian human rights defenders has affected women’s groups such as the Women’s Resource Centre, which has been labelled as “traitors of the nation” and has been the victim of concrete threats on several websites that have called, for example, for attacks to “Blow up the Women’s Resource Center”, and ”Burn the women’s human rights defenders” for raising gender issues and challenging gender stereotypes in the society. While attacks on civil society often unite civil society activists and organisations against the attackers, the campaign against the word gender has instead limited the space specifically for female human rights activists and peacebuilders, leaving them isolated and without support.
Kvinna till Kvinna supports women’s organisations in conflict regions and believes that a sustainable peace cannot be reached without including both men and women in peace processes. Inclusion of local women’s organisations and women peacebuilders is an integral part of ensuring a democratic process and a peaceful future. Within EPNK Kvinna till Kvinna’s Armenian partners Democracy Today and Women’s Resource Center work to promote women’s activism and peacebuilding and hold trainings in order to empower women to take peacebuilding initiatives and strengthen their potential for dialogue in their societies.
So far under EPNK-2, more than 200 young women have received training and many of them have become trainers themselves, and Armenian and Azerbaijani women have initiated their own peacebuilding projects and have been advocating for women’s activism, peacebuilding, conflict resolution and adherence to international frameworks for women’s participation (UN Security Resolution 1325). The need to postpone activities is hampering their peacebuilding efforts in the region and the delivery and impact of their activities under EPNK-2.
Kvinna till Kvinna is currently working with these organisations to consider how best to continue with their activities in the current climate. Creating a better environment for peace and common understanding does not only mean understanding between people in conflict conflict-affected areas, but also among women and men in order to reach a truly sustainable peace.