All around the world International Women´s Day, celebrated on 8th of March, is the opportunity not only to highlight achievements made in gender equality, but also to point out those issues which still remain. This year especially is important for reviewing the situation of gender equality, as it is 20 years since the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.
Without discussion, to be a woman in any country in the world is still not the same as being man: data in Gender equality report for the year 2014 clearly shows that not one country has fully closed the gender gap yet. This exactly is the goal of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. Produced after the Fourth World Conference on Women in September 1995, it became one of the most progressive blueprints ever for advancing women’s rights and creating a world where every woman and girl can exercise her freedoms and choices, and realize all her rights – such as to live free from violence, to go to school, to participate in decisions and to earn equal pay for equal work.
To be a woman in Georgia is not easy: just to mention some of the gender issues, domestic violence remains to be a serious problem and gender roles are still very strictly defined – for example the requirement to be a virgin till the wedding among other things. But what is to be an IDP (Internally Displaced Person) woman in Georgia?
What is the position of the women who have had to leave their homes because of conflicts? Which extra struggles are they going through and is there any improvement in their situation?
One of the areas the Beijing Declaration focuses on is the Women and armed conflict, urging governments, international and local NGOs to provide protection, assistance and training to refugee women, other displaced women in need of international protection. Women are those especially vulnerable among IDPs, next to the children, elderly and people with disabilities. They tend to have less access to assistance, and struggle to access adequate education, healthcare, training and livelihoods. They are more susceptible to sexual and gender-based violence, are more likely to face difficulties in exercising rights to housing, land and property, and are often excluded from decision-making processes.
The Beijing Declaration also mentions that women and children constitute some 80 % of the world´s millions of refugees and IDPs. This fact reminds us that it is highly important not to think of IDPs as a homogeneous group of people, but to explore the specific needs of women among IDPs (as well as other vulnerable groups) and to adjust the approach based on this.
There are around 270 thousand IDPs in Georgia, owing to the conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia in the 90s and then again in 2008. It is obvious, that many problems IDP women have to face are the same as all displaced people: obstacles to resettlement, unfavorable living conditions, high unemployment rates, and lack of awareness of IDP issues and rights, for example.
Only 31 % of the displaced working-age population are employed and around half of the respondents of a survey made in 2012 stated that they often do not have money even for food.
It is shocking, that after many years, the situation of many IDPs remains unsolved. The situation of IDPs living in collective centres (44% of total number of IDPs) especially is miserable, when very often these places don´t meet the requirements of decent living conditions.
There are several reasons why the situation of IDPs, both men and women, remains complicated – a lack of government ability or will to change the situation being one of them. For many years, IDP issues were put at the edge of attention, as Georgia was not only recovering from the civil war, but also dealing with the new independence after the breakup of Soviet Union. Issues of IDPs were basically highlighted after the August 2008 conflict, when Georgia received US$4.4 billion from international donors for recovery programmes, of which part was used to improve situation of IDPs.
An unpleasant truth lies in the fact that the Georgian welfare system lacks the ability to solve social situations in general, not only issues facing IDPs. Many elderly for example survive on a pension of just 150 GEL (approximately 63 EUR). From that point of view, troubles of IDPs are just one of the many other bitter problems government has to face.
Another reason why many displaced people still live in a situation of survival ratherthan control, could be connected to depression, posttraumatic stress disorder and stress-related health problems. Being traumatized by war, loss of property or family members, and then living in bad conditions seeing that government does not really care and the possibilities what to do are not wide – it is no wonder that many displaced people are not motivated to change the situation, or doesn´t find the opportunities to do that.
Yet again, women are those, who take the initiative more often than men, working tirelessly and relentlessly to provide desperately needed income and provisions for their families through petty street trade and other menial labor. Many men, meanwhile, have largely been unwilling to earn money by these menial labors, which could be connected with their feeling of shame that they fail in their role of breadwinner or their perception that those menial labors are not “good enough”.
Besides practical solutions of improving living conditions, resettlement, increasing chances to succeed on the labor market, creating job positions and improving welfare benefits for those unable of labor – another way to improve the IDP situation seems to be crucial: political empowerment.
Women, especially IDP women, are not included in local councils and have no access to decision making about the most crucial issues influencing their lives. There is a long way to go to achieve equal opportunities for IDPs with the rest of society and to make their starting conditions comparable. If the displaced people would be still excluded from local governments and deciding positions, they cannot reflects those topics important for them and they would stay still at the edge of the society, hidden from mainstream attention.
It is not easy to be in the position of a displaces person in Georgia, where even people not affected by conflicts often struggle to find job and feed their children. What is more, among these displaced people, who lacks the possibilities of fully integration into society, women are those more vulnerable, in the greater risk of violence, discrimination and ignorance, seemingly being put on the very edge of society. From this perspective, even just surviving a normal day for many IDP women is an act of real heroism.
Eva Michálková is volunteer and activist from the Czech Republic who last year graduated with a degree in International Social and Humanitarian Work. She is currently working as an international volunteer at the Women´s Information Centre in Tbilisi.