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RESISTING GBV IN THE NAME OF CULTURE & RELIGION IN EASTERN EUROPE AND CENTRAL ASIA

 

INTRODUCTION AND BACKGROUND

Around the world, fundamentalist actors are increasingly using culture and religion to justify acts of abduction, assault, femicides, and other violent crimes against women and girls. Threatened by the power of women’s voices, fundamentalists are also mobilizing to roll back hard-won protections for women’s rights, and are pushing for the introduction of new policies that devalue women’s lives and deepen inequality. Spurred by the growing influence of fundamentalism, women human rights defenders and groups are organizing to challenge their harmful claims, protect the rights of women and girls in law and society, and create alternative dialogues based in gender equality. As conservative and fundamentalist actors work aggressively to reverse advances in women’s rights, they are creating a culture of impunity in which violence against women and girls is rising rapidly. Using religion or culture as justification, conservative groups are promoting regressive laws and traditional practices that diminish the status of women and shield perpetrators from punishment. Minority groups, such as ethnic and religious minorities as well as LBTQ communities are key targets. As conservatives and nationalists increase in influence, states become more authoritative and militarism rises in scope and strength, threatening and attacking those who oppose discriminatory practices, intentionally shutting down possibilities to speak out in dissent.

These trends have been observed by feminist in every region of the world, including in Eastern Europe and Central Asia (EECA) where prevailing social norms in the form of cultural acceptance of GBV, especially in the family but also in society as a whole, remains very high. Patriarchal attitudes and stereotypes of the perceived role of women in society are common across the region, and such attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors are entrenched in deeply rooted social norms. Furthermore, a re-emerging conservatism regarding stereotyped gender norms and roles of women and men has been observed in the EECA region and has contributed to the reinforcement of strict gender roles. The socialization of strict masculine and feminine gender identities contribute to the reinforcement of men’s entitlement to engage in aggressive behavior and act as the power holder and predominant decision-maker. Strict gender roles correspond to impunity of perpetrators and discourage survivors from reporting violence. These norms also make it more difficult for women to leave violent situations.

Traditional, religious, and fundamentalist forces sometimes entwine themselves with the platform of nationalists in the EECA region. Women’s bodies are celebrated as the vessel for new soldiers for the national cause; women’s homes become the training ground for dutiful members of the nation. To do their part for their nation, women must simply fulfill their sacred roles as mothers. One particular variant of the resurgence in traditionalism is found in countries that are also experiencing the reemergence of a powerful, state-aligned religion (Catholic Church in Poland, Croatia, and Slovakia; Orthodox Church in Serbia, Romania, Georgia, Russia; Islam in the North Caucasus, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan). In these countries and elsewhere, so-called religious values are used to strategically promote the country’s own particular brand of nationalism. In power struggles that have emerged in these states, politicians who never professed a religious faith in the past are suddenly arguing that, in the name of religion and state, women should return to the family.

Moreover, an increase in violence against young girls in the name of culture and religion has also been observed in EECA. These harmful practices include early and forced marriage, honor killing and bride-kidnapping, interruption of education, well as other forms of violence such as female genital mutilation. The violent patriarchal gender roles and harmful practices that girls are subjected to have a long-term impact in their lives and affect all of their rights. Attempts to prevent girls from continuing their education and forcing them into early marriages often happen because of cultural and religious norms that justify practices that subjugate women and girls through violence. They also occur because extremist ideologies often consider the right to education as a transformative right that challenges the status quo and social transformation is seen as a threat.

Another facet of impunity and social acceptance of GBV in the EECA region is manifested in the responses to such violence as: (1) survivors are blamed when they report violence; (2) mediation –often further endangering the survivor –is promoted; (3) state officials and institutions are not held accountable for their failure to prevent GBV, nor to protect its victims and survivors; and (4) survivors are sometimes arrested when they report violence.

 

WHY A CONVENING RESISTING GBV IN THE NAME OF CULTURE & RELIGION IN EASTERN EUROPE AND CENTRAL ASIA?

The rapid and strengthened mobilization against women human rights in the name of culture and religion, and the subsequent justification of the violations of their rights and bodies, can only be resisted and defeated by the coming together of women human rights groups and activists in a more powerful, determined, and strategic manner.  Amidst the increasing attacks against our bodies and rights, it is becoming growingly difficult to strategize for long-term social transformation. Yet, there is a lot to learn from each other in the region about how women human rights defenders and feminist organizations help to counter and prevent fundamentalist ideologies and violence in the name of culture and religion? Faced with the reality of the growing violence in their lives and in their communities, women are taking a stand. They are actively raising consciousness, educating their communities about equality, and protecting those whose rights are under attack in the name of culture and violence. They are mobilizing across communities to challenge the authority of fundamentalists.

It is for these reasons that the Forum of Women NGOs in Kyrgyzstan and Global Fund for Women are organizing this convening in order to create a space where women human rights groups and activists from the region can come together to:

  1. learn from one another about the different root causes and manifestations of cultural and religious violence in their countries, and region and what each is doing to resist the violence and
  2. reflect together on which strategies have worked where, how, and why in order to better
  3. strategize collectively so that our resistance to violence in the name of culture and religion is more powerful, sustainable, and strategic.  

The overall goal of this Convening is to support each other as feminist activists in the EECA region to be better equipped to resist GBV in the name of culture and religion and to explore how to be of best support to one another in our collective fight for social transformation and the respect of all women human rights.

During the convening, we will reflect together around the following questions:

  • What are the main illustrations of cultural and religious violence against women and girls in EECA?
  • What are key feminist strategies to counter and prevent fundamentalist ideologies and violence in the name of culture and religion?
  • How can we practice better solidarity towards one another?
  • Which are our key collective priorities as feminists in the EECA region resisting violence in the name of culture and religion?
  • What are our needs as a movement in order to strengthen ourselves and ensure our sustainability?

Gender equality is potentially the single most powerful counter to fundamentalist movements that are justifying violence against women and girls in the name of culture and religion. Let us join hands, hearts, and minds to increase the strength, resilience and effectiveness of our communities of women human rights activists united together against a status quo that is violently denying our human rights.