Eastern European Matinee: Media, Gender Realities & Democracy in Conflict

Mundus Journalism in Hamburg hosted a discussion on the role of media in social change and democratisation process in Eastern Europe in September. Here are some highlights from the discussion.

2018.11.19 | Sabeen Jamil

Picture Credit: WILPF

Journalists and women were in the heart of the process that brought the non-violent democratic revolution, commonly known as ‘Velvet Revolution’, in Armenia this year. How did Armenians revolutionise the politics in their country while keeping the policy of peace? In a discussion session that was jointly organised by Mundus Journalism and Women International League for Peace & Freedom (WILPF) in cooperation with filia die frauenstiftung and Hamburg Women's Library Denkträume, students learnt about the peaceful protests in Armenia and the struggle of women and media in the democratisation process in Eastern Europe & Central Asia.

The discussion was preceded by the Civic Solidarity Working Group meeting of Women and Gender Realities in the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe(OSCE) Region, where Mundusians were given the opportunity to observe the proceedings of the meeting and become familiar with the workings of the group. 

Role of Women and Media in Democratisation

Women rights activists from Ukraine, Germany, Georgia, Armenia, Italy, Germany, Switzerland and Austria met at the Hamburg Women's Library Denkträume and shared heartwarming stories of women activism and struggle during the conflict in parts of Eastern Europe and Central Asia. The discussion was multilingual and was translated from Russian into English and German by Mundus alumna Adilya Zaripova and Civic Solidarity member Anna Osipova. The discussion was organised with an aim to share views on what democracy means today and what role media and women play in the democratisation processes. 

Gulnara Shahinian, director of Democracy Today from Armenia, shared about the continuous struggle of women in the democratisation process in her country. Gulnara is the human rights activist and politician whose NGO was in the heart of the 2018 Armenian revolution that facilitated the process of democratisation in Armenia. 

Looking back in the Armenian history of protest movements and democratic revolutions, Gulnara remembered the contributions that the women in small villages and cities made in the democratisation process of the country and how those struggles and contributions helped the progression of women rights activism in Armenian politics. Speaking of those struggles, Gulnara remembered her own struggles in politics where it was an ‘uneven fight’ on her part with the male politicians in power and with budget cuts too. 

Adding to the discussion, Tolekan Ismailowa, the human rights defender from Kyrgyzstan who is the director of Bir Duino Kyrgyzstan, shared about the political struggle of women during the Tulip Revolution in Kyrgyzstan, which led to the fall of the alleged corrupt and authoritarian presidency in the country. 

Social worker and Mundus Journalism Student Coordinator Sabine Hoffkamp brought to the discussion the remarkable contributions of the women rights activists in Western Europe like the activist and pacifist Lida Gustava Heymann who was one of the founders of WILPF in 1915. This German activist, together with her partner Anita Augspurg, played a significant role in the women rights movement in Germany that Sabine talked about. 

In her closing remarks at the end of the discussion, Heidi Meinzolt, European Representative WILPF, noted that the accounts of women’s struggle in Eastern Europe remain underrepresented and the European Matinee aimed to highlight those stories and struggle of women activism from the past and present.

Women and Gender Realities in the OSCE Region

The Working Group on Women and Gender Realities works on the inclusion of women in politics and decision making in societies where violent extremism and populism are linked to exclusive politics including in the OSCE Region. 

In the meeting, Activists from NGOs that are working on women rights issues in Eastern Europe and Central Asia shared insight about the condition of women rights issues in their countries and the institutional, social and legal challenges that activists face during their work. An activist from Azerbaijan shared that women rights and women equality are, for example, negatively perceived by people as European values that are destructive for local values. Such perceptions, they said, result in structures and laws that restrict progression activities related to women and women rights activists in the country. 

Participants noted that additional challenges in their respective countries were posed by migration, trafficking & gender crimes during the conflict.