Other pages about JB Intercultural Consulting
Training "Women for Peace" Groups in southern Kyrgyzstan
For three years, I consulted with groups from rural southern Kyrgzstan who have organized to ease ethnic tensions in their local areas. It has been an honor to work with these committed women. They don't let grass grow under their feet!
Our training sessions were held in the 3000+ year old town of Osh, which is at the eastern end of the Ferghana Valley along the Silk Road. (Colleague Spee Braun on Suliman Mountain overlooking Osh.)25 women attended from 4 locations on our third meeting. The sponsoring Kyrgyzstani organization, Foundation for Tolerance International (FTI) had, as usual, organized everything seamlessly. (Photo: FTI's Raya Kadyrova and Anara Eginalieva with other group members.) The groups had been going full tilt since we last worked with their leaders at the University of Delaware in January 2001. They'd some lively new women members and had tackled exciting projects. One group monitored the local border crossing situation and actually got a few of the more abusive guards fired and crossing rules regularized. Another had a meeting after Sept 11 about terrorism that attracted 400 attenders from their mountainous rural region. Other groups are getting women the legal information they need about domestic violence, and all the groups are sources of good information for communities that have no TV, no radio, no newspapers, no libraries, no internet.
This time, against high odds, they'd managed to get a woman from Uzbekistan and 2 women from Tadjikistan to be allowed to cross the border to attend the workshops.
These closely-related groups have been cruelly separated by new and arbitrary national boundaries after the USSR was dismantled. Weak economies have caused serious disrepair of infrastructure and an increase in drug smuggling and fundamentalist Islam among unemployed young men. As a result, dormant ethnic differences in the region have heated up. (See ISAR's excellent one-page overview of the Ferghana Valley situation.)
The women have found themselves dealing with officials at all levels, and gave full attention to my sessions on negotiation skills and about gender and age dynamics in conflict. We spent significant time discussing men and violence. Almost all warfare and most violence is perpetrated by men--what does that mean for women in their lives and in their organizing work? The deepest conversations came when we discussed men as *victims* as well as perpetrators in the culture of war. In the privacy of their homes, these women know how their husbands and sons suffer from their experiences with war and violence. It is critical to invite men to be allies, rather than have "peace" associated only with women.
There was political uproar in Kyrgyzstan the week we were there. Police had killed a number of peaceful demonstrators several weeks before, and in response 10,000 (!) people came to block the one and only mountain pass road between the Ferghana Valley and the capital city to the north. The prime minister and other key officials resigned. The crowd dissipated when rain came.... nonviolent tactics winning for the moment.
We spent late nights talking about what the women might do to help the current volatile situation. The recent installation of an American Air Force Base near the capital Bishkek may also increase the level of violence or repression in Kyrgyzstan. We were impressed once again with the intense intelligence and dedication of Raya, FTI's founder and president, as she grapples with these new events.
The final evening was a blow-out party, with toasts, skits, poems, songs, reams of gifts, and delicious dancing. Peacemaking work carried out in well-organized community, with compelling goals, external support, and a good dose of playfulness, is what keeps these strong women going.