Conflicts raise concerns for women around globe

NEW YORK — Rusudan Kalichava knows firsthand that significant mineral resources can be a mixed blessing for a country.

The oil reserves in her native Republic of Georgia, which became independent in 1991, have become entangled in conflicts and separatist movements that displaced more than 250,000 citizens in the early 1990s, with additional displacements in 2008, she said.

“The geopolitical location is an advantage and a disadvantage at the same time for my country,” Kalichava added.

What happened in Georgia is one example of how “violence, economics and war” can impact women, a topic explored in a March 5 panel discussion at the Church Center for the United Nations. Organized by United Methodist Women, the panel was a side event to the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women.

Tatiana Dwyer — a UMW staff member and co-moderator, with Mavic Cabrera-Balleza, Global Network of Women Peacebuilders — of the panel, noted that, on a global level, women suffer in similar ways in conflict situations, regardless of specific circumstances.

While the information shared by the panel’s speakers came from three different countries in three different regions of the world, she said, “the story is the same.”

Kalichava, part of a UMW delegation to CSW-57, is the executive director and co-founder of Association ATINATI, a grassroots organization based in Zugdidi, a Western Georgia town near the border with Abkhazia, a breakaway region supported by Russia.

Her organization has worked with both the United Methodist Committee on Relief and UNHCR, the U.N. Refugee Agency, to assist displaced women and children. From 1999 to 2003, she said, more than 5,000 children received services through a youth house funded through UMCOR, which began humanitarian operations in Georgia in 1993.

Women ‘have lost dignity’ in DRC

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, two decades of conflict have had a horrific impact on women and children who, said the Rev. Betty Kazadi Musau, a UMW delegate, are the majority of an estimated 5 million citizens killed during that period.

Other women and girls, particularly in eastern Congo, have been raped, tortured and used as sex slaves. “It is hard for me to say as a DRC woman (but) we have lost our dignity,” Musau, secretary of the United Methodist Central Congo Conference, told the audience. “Our bodies have become a battleground for the rebel groups.

“We wonder if the women of the world will stand in solidarity with us. The stigma is heavy on us. We seem to have lost our future.”

Still, the Democratic Republic of Congo is working hard on the prevention of violence against women and girls, Musau said, and she considers a Feb. 24 peace accord signed by 11 African nations to be “a sign of hope and renewal of commitment.”

Impact of militarization in Honduras

Militarization is one way to control a country’s natural resources, noted Nelly Del Cid, a UMW delegate and program coordinator of Weaver of Dreams, a grassroots organization in Honduras. “In times of economic crises like the ones we are in now, there are many weapons circulating around the world,” she said.

Since a 2009 coup in Honduras, “the country has entered into an arms race,” Del Cid declared. “Honduras has declared itself bankrupt but nevertheless, they keep purchasing weapons.”

The country’s militarization has had ill effects on its population. “We’re being displaced from our land and our territories and a culture of violence and death is deepening,” she said.

Betty Reardon of the International Institute on Peace Education pointed out that human security is based on a sense of well-being — having food and shelter, living in dignity and being protected from avoidable harm.

A militarized system of security has nothing to do with “the way we live our lives as dignified human beings,” she said.

*Linda Bloom is a United Methodist News Service multimedia reporter based in New York. Follow her at http://twitter.com/umcscribe. Contact her at (646) 369-3759 ornewsdesk@umcom.org.

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