INTERNATIONAL Women’s Day has come and gone yet I cannot help but be reflective. A hundred years since the first international women’s day and yet I am still here wondering why do women still need a day? It has been a little over a year since I wrote ‘Where are the Women in the Peace Process?’ In which I expressed my concern for the lack of women represented in the formal peace negotiations while further still taking to task the international community and governments for the lack of accountability for United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 of 2000 and its successors.
Since then, I have had the privilege to observe the Cyprus narrative from diverse vantage points. I have stood on the side lines quietly observing at various conferences, roundtable dialogues, open as well as closed panel discussions and at social gatherings listening to experts; journalists, academics, diplomats alike talk shop on Cyprus and its political and economic future. I have sat at 4-hour long dinners listening to debates on how to solve the Cyprus Problem, applying peace theories and practices, the discourse that hydrocarbons will provide the key to a viable solution and will salvage the current economic crisis, and how finally, ‘if politician A and B’ would just do ‘X ‘then we could finally find a solution to this ongoing equation.
One out of ten of these narratives have ever included gender, let alone women. When I ask, where are the women in your dialogue in the macro landscape of the Cyprus problem, I often receive the same answer: “I have nothing against women in politics“, “there is a woman on this panel”, “that is not my field”, or my all-time favorite line, “I don’t do gender”.
While the term gender includes women and men in its discourse an adequate understanding of its impact in such formal discussions on Cyprus are largely and continually ignored. So where are the women exactly? Women’s organizations have taken on the responsibility of educating and advocating ‘us’ on the rights of both men and women from various vulnerable groups on the island.
Their discussions often involve self-made and carved out spaces that include issues that are seldom addressed or even debated in politics or the economy such as the gender pay gap, adequate and safe access to maternal care for all women on the island regardless of socio-economic status or the fact that the deeper we get into the economic crisis the rate of domestic abuse and violence continues to rise. The issue of the severity of human trafficking and exploitation of migrant workers, working legally in the south and then ‘illegally’ in the north rarely makes front page news.
The Cyprus Mail reported that one in five women in Cyprus over the age of 15 have been the victims of physical or sexual violence at the hands of a partner. In 2014, the NGO SPAVO (Association for the Prevention and Handling of Violence in the Family) reported 812 incidents of domestic violence against women, including over 300 new cases of abuse in the south alone. The cases of violence that is actually being reported is overwhelming while the cases of violence whether psychological, emotional or physical that go unreported remain unsettling.
Whether the Cyprus Problem is resolved and the island becomes a bi-communal federation or the situation stays as is, a conflict frozen in time with various actors repeating the same dialogue over and over again-I fear that the gender dynamics addressed here will continue to remain regardless of peace. Did we assume that if we fix the “macro” issues such as hydrocarbons and whose ship came into whose waters illegally, would then and only then the “micro” issues solve themselves?
International Women’s Day must happen if not to remember the women, and men willing to work in the micro, within the spaces that may not always attract media attention or high level UN officials but rather the hard and ‘dirty’ work of making gender issues matter.
Can we move beyond last season’s question of where are the women? to how can we better engage men and women in our communities to understand why gender in the Cyprus Problem even matters? I challenge my fellow journalists, academics, and other experts as well as friends with an invested interest in peace building to take the road less travelled, get over what could be front page news and delve into the darker side of the realities that resisting gender brings to this island.