CONFERENCE: Considering Gender in Conflict Affected Populations: The Republic of Georgia

Global Herald
Tuesday, November 9, 2010 - 19:00
Western Asia
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
General Women, Peace and Security
Human Rights
Initiative Type: 
Conferences & Meetings

“Considering Gender in Conflict Affected Populations: The Republic of Georgia” as presented by Professor Edgren Schori to Adelphi University on Thursday, November 11th, 2010, at 3pm in Adelphi's Alumni House, 154 Cambridge Avenue, Garden City, NY and sponsored by the International Initiatives Committee (IIC).

An IDP is someone who is forced to flee her or his home, due to conflict, generalized violence and human rights violations but who, unlike a refugee, remains within the country's borders. About two-thirds of the world's forcibly uprooted people are displaced within their own country.

UNHCR (the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) is playing an increasingly important role in assisting IDPs. There were 27.1 million IDPs around the world at the end of 2009, one million more than the year before.
The biggest new displacement in 2008 came in the Philippines, where 600,000 people fled fighting between the government and armed groups in the south. The countries with the largest number of IDPs in 2008 were Sudan, Colombia and Iraq, but there were also large-scale displacements of 200,000 people or more in 5 other countries: Democratic Republic of the Congo, Pakistan, Somalia, Sri Lanka and India.

Africa was the most affected continent, with 11.6 million IDPs in 19 countries (2008). Women usually make up for a majority of an IDP population.

I have worked in Georgia twice. It is a beautiful country with a Black Sea coast and shared borders with Russia, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Turkey. It was regarded as Soviet's pantry, with reference to all the “goodies” produced in Georgia: wine, tea, tropical fruits and a very tasty cuisine. It also used to be a popular destination for affluent Soviet citizens for recreation at the seaside and at health farms and ski resorts the mountains.

The first time I was deployed in Georgia was in November 2008, only a couple of months after the military conflict between Georgia and Russia. A large number of the IDPs had still no news from family members in the conflict zone; many had been assaulted and injured, and knew their properties had been burnt down in South Ossetia, and they felt they had no safe place to live, and knew nothing about the future.

“We have no hope, the future is dangerous”, said a man I interviewed last year (2009). A woman said: “We have many hardships; poverty, fear, trauma and few visions for the future”.

The international community was there to support, but had little to offer with respect to the psychological damages caused by the conflict. My role was to support the non-governmental organizations and UN humanitarian actors to make sure they worked systematically with a gender perspective: to attend to the different experiences and needs of women and men, girls and boys.

After one training session with a number of Georgian men, who had been hired by the Norwegian Refugee Council, one of the participants made the following comment:

My job is to distribute firewood and other non-food items to IDPs. I am told not to distribute firewood to men, only to female heads of households, as it is taken for granted that men can get firewood themselves from the forest.

Now I realize that those who made this decision are not applying a gender lens. A gender perspective is to analyze also on a personal level, which individual needs what, and not just to assume certain skills are tied to the sex.

I came back to Georgia last year (2009), primarily to study the needs of a selected part of the IDP population. This time, 6 months after my first visit to the country, the IDP population from the so called third wave, had decreased to about 30,000 people, a majority of women.

IDPs in Georgia stay in new settlements, collective centers or in private accommodations. Settlements are newly constructed houses, built in large numbers, and of bad quality and often in neighborhoods fairly isolated from surrounding communities.

Women in a settlement I visited told me that rats were daily visitors in her house and that they frequently have found snakes on the kitchen-table in the morning. They feared their kids might get hurt. They were also very concerned about the lack of outdoor shade spaces, and said they rarely let the kids play outside. Mould and leaking roofs were also conditions of concern.

The majority of the IDPs originate from Abkhazia, a formerly autonomous region within Georgia that declared independency in 1992. Since then, it has been an intermittent conflict between Abkhazia and Georgia, and the first wave of Georgians fled Abkhazia in 1992-93. The second wave fled in 1998.

A third wave of IDPs, about 130 000 people (2008), came from the region of South Ossetia, which also claimed independence in the early 1990′s. The Rose Revolution in Georgia 2003 was led by Mikhail Saakashvili, who is the current President since 2004, and thus ultimately is responsible for the wellbeing of the IDPs.

Some 30 000 IDPs from the third wave remains with the IDP status in different parts of Georgia. It is estimated that 6 per cent of Georgia's 4.3 million population is displaced (Geostat 2010).

There is a gender policy framework of Georgia (and therefore also for the UN) which includes:

  • CEDAW (1979) 1994
  • State Concept of Gender 2006
  • NAP – Gender Equality 2007-2009 (in an assessment report 2009 it is established that none of the planned actions had been implemented
  • UNSC Res. 1325 2000 (Women, Peace and Security; demanding women's participation in peace negotiation, the protection of women and girls in conflict, and prevention of conflicts)
  • UNSC Res. 1820 2008 Women, Peace and Security; condemning sexual violence as a weapon of war and demanding end of impunity for the perpetrators)

In Georgia the topic of sexual and gender-based violence is taboo. It has therefore been very difficult to collect data from the Georgian population on this topic. However, participatory assessments and NGO reports indicate that such violence is rife in all parts of society, including among IDPs. Ongoing research is aiming at shedding light on these very severe violations of human rights and criminal acts.

I collected Data for the needs assessment in May and June 2009, less than a year after the third wave of IDPs were displaced from South Ossetia. I travelled to 4 regions which were selected in consultations with UNIFEM and FAO. Besides IDPs in New settlements and collective centers I also interviewed Georgians in the host communities, which were affected by the conflict. All in all I carried through interviews in 15 locations. In total 350 respondents are included in the assessment – 271 women and 79 men.

After the data collection and in the process of analyzing the interviews I identified 8 themes to report: water, agriculture, services, gender roles, food, housing, waste management and social conditions.

Some of the conclusions I draw from the assessment are, firstly, that most of the viewpoints which were discussed under each of the themes, were shared by all conflict affected populations. It can be assumed that poverty is an underlying factor.
Secondly, women and men have different needs, based on different experiences, including experiences before and during the conflict. We found that women, who earlier had lived in traditional communities with a patriarchal structure, had been forced to transform the gender role during the displacement. As head of household, temporally or permanently, they have performed duties and responsibilities which they would not traditionally do.

Thirdly, and possibly the most important conclusion, is that gender is manifested in forced migration. Women clearly demonstrated coping strategies to displacement, whereas most men had not developed any coping strategies. Most men were in the phase of becoming an IDP and women had moved forward and lived as IDPs. This was most clearly expressed in the answer to the question: What is your primarily need? Most men responded: “Go back” and most women: “Resources for family survival”.

Fourthly, there is a huge need for capacity building and resources to protect the local environment. As no facilities are provided for garbage, this is thrown either into close by fields or in the river if it is available.

Fifthly, capacity building of Human Rights and, in the sixth place, Gender Equality are badly needed in order to provide tools for sustainable communities.

Institute for Policy Studies (2008) Rapid Needs Assessment of Internally Displaced Women as a Result of August 2008 Events in Georgia. Tbilisi

Kabachnik, Peter, Regulska, Joanna & Mitychneck, Beth (2010) Where and When is Home? The Double Displacement of Georgian IDPs from Abkhazia.