Women into Action (WiA) – Cyprus… A call for a Movement
By Heidi Trautmann
Women sit in a circle, women of all ages and different nationalities. 18 women in the lecture room in the old Ledra Palace Hotel in the buffer zone on the day of October 10, 2009. They come from all parts of Cyprus, women who live and work here and have an interest in Cyprus.
It is the third meeting of the movement WiA short for Women into Action. It is a new movement in so far as it calls all women of Cyprus to come and debate AND act. “We don’t want to hold meetings for the sake of it. We want to trigger an avalanche, we want to create ripples to bring women from non-action into action, we have been mute and immobile long enough,” says one of the initiators Aydın Mehmet Ali.
“Women into action does not mean going on to the streets and shout about what is wrong with our world- although if women want to do it they may do so - we mean bringing women together to open up and listen to each other, talk about what worries them and we want to trigger the thinking process about urgent themes like nationalism, racism, gender issues, sex slavery and exploitation, but also themes such as improvement of education for adults and children, mixed marriages, drug abuse, involvement in processes. Where do we as women stand? A question we will all have to ask ourselves first before we start to dig deeper. We want to listen to people who have witnessed injustice and try to do something about it by direct statements and action. But we also want to initiate projects, workshops, activities and meetings of all kinds with the intention of offering help to women to help themselves.”
This is the vision of a group of women who have been involved in other similar fields of women’s activities but felt the need to go further, to go beyond the boundaries, to knit a dense net of solidarity among women to give them the security that they are not alone. “We want to break up the conservative thinking in boxes, lay open problems and have a multi-faceted approach, at times even across traditional political, trade union, group or other alliances.” All women are invited to join in either by being present at the monthly meetings and contribute ideas or by joining the E-Group (internet group) to contribute or be informed.”
The WiA movement cannot be understood as a group with a rigid structure, there is no head or core group laying down rules. Lines of action are discussed together and the most effective means selected; women volunteer according to their abilities and interests.
Sub-groups are being developed on certain themes which have been identified by the women and whoever feels the wish to contribute may do so. The sub-groups will determine how they work and what support they may need. There may be technical things to be handled, leaflets to be printed, films made, contacts to be made, events to organize. Women will talk to each other and spread the word and can thus help each other in a small framework of their own.
Women interested in contributing or taking part in the exchange of ideas and projects may first contact tina adamidou firstname.lastname@example.org who will then put you into the E-Group where you can follow up all information and projects.
I had asked Tina Adamidou for her comment and her ideas:
What is exciting and different about this movement is that it it inclusive of all women living in Cyprus, the 'bicommunal' angle which was so popular in the past needs to be readdressed and people have to realise that there are women living in Cyprus who are neither Turkish or Greek Cypriot. This opens up welcome dialogue between women regarding their own different perspectives. Complacency regarding action has prompted the initiation of this women's movement, problems that unite women in Cyprus, from the political situation to health issues of migrant domestic workers.
One point which also highlights the difference between this movement and the rigid structure of an Association is that women are in charge of their own groups in their own towns and villages, take for example the meeting we had in Limnitis, we met with the women of the village and listened to what they had to say, what their concerns and needs were with the opening of the checkpoint between Limnitis and Pyrgos. We were there to share our experiences, contacts and put their own ideas into some kind of order so that they can begin putting their plans into action. Since that first meeting, the women of Limnitis have met the women of Pyrgos and shared their ideas. This is what we want to see, I compare this woman's movement to the sea, each group, each action adds a new wave on this sea.
Women sharing ideas, concerns, fed up with just talk, women who want to take action, that is what this Woman's Movement is all about. It would be ideal to say that there are no problems in Cyprus but there are so many, we find we are having to prioritize. Listening to women talking of enforced prostitution, of always having to listen to the menfolk in the family, of hearing the injustice of migrant domestic workers not being able to have a simple Pap test yearly because their insurance does not warrant it, rape, domestic violence, the list is endless. Action needs to be taken, and that is why it is important that we as the women of Cyprus join together to try and fight these injustices.
Abstracts of the three first meetings:
September 05 at the Merrit Crystal Cove Hotel in Alsancak/Kyrenia
We noted that this was an informal meeting open to all women in Cyprus in order to discuss the way forward in helping to create a women’s movement in Cyprus.
The chair, Tina Adamidou, reiterated that this was not a meeting organized by Hands Across the Divide (HAD). Some of the founding members of HAD organized this informal meeting to invite the views of all women in Cyprus. It was envisaged that this would be the first of a series of meetings involving women from both the north and south of Cyprus and it was hoped that sub groups would be formed to take forward actions from the meetings.
Key issues for women living in Cyprus. The group was asked to explore the key issues and not to focus on ones most commonly accepted or be narrow on the topics they raised. Suggested key themes to explore were:
What are the issues for women in Cyprus; all women not “bicommunal”?
How to begin to address them?
What are the barriers for participation inside and outside organisational structures?
How do you build an effective women's movement during such times of fragmentation?
The following issues of concerns were identified:
Gender priority- comments from the group
priority given to male gender
There was a need for women to be more supportive of each other and allow themselves to be more active in women’s issues. Questioned why there was not a European women’s task force to enable women in Cyprus to speak and stand up for themselves.
2. Domestic violence - comments from the group
women are afraid to speak out
building a refuge
not seen by women as a priority issue
This was felt to be a significant issue by the group including verbal abuse suffered by women in Cyprus which could be equally damaging to self esteem but was not often highlighted as an issue. The group discussed the general acceptance of both these issues by women in Cyprus and the need for women to be enlightened to transcend the acceptance of this abuse.
3. Role models - comments from the group
activist women are stereotyped as unfeminine
there is an improvement in the north with younger educated women
women accept the issues as normal and do not see them as a problem
very few women challenge – they act the accepted gender traditional roles
impossible to change in this meeting, more a long term goal
stereotyping of women
patriarchal social system
progressive women’s movement exists in Turkey
there was never a ‘women’s movement’ in Cyprus
women’s achievements are undermined
The group thought there was a lack of positive role models, women who were able to articulate the issues to a wider international audience. Although it was acknowledged that a younger generation of educated women were coming forward at this time. The group agreed that there had never been a strong recognised women’s movement in Cyprus compared to other countries. This was felt to have been affected by the past and ongoing nationalism in both parts of Cyprus, which made it difficult for women to have an individual voice. In the current climate it is easier for women to conform to their accepted roles than stand up and seek an equal status. Therefore, recommended that there should be more emphasis on making women aware of their unequal role instead of dictating to them to stand up for themselves.
4. Exploitation of Women - This subject was relevant to Cyprus where examples of the following were discussed.
subservient women – treated unequally by both men and women
sexual harassment of women – they are seen as lower class
stereotypes of women
degradation of women
slavery of women
racism against women
exploitation of women in the domestic labour trade
women that take us back years
sexual assault of women not being taken seriously
Sri Lankan women associated with domestic ‘slave’ labour
domestic workers dealing with sexual harassment
Cypriot women treat them as lower class
Some overall approaches - Comments from the group
we need to find what the problems are
decision making roles for women; “lack of women”
why women choose easier options – they do not want to get involved in problems
not certain if priority is domestic violence at this time
discrimination against women in family which reflects the condition of society
Communication was a key element to finding solutions, understanding how decision are made and the lack of women in decision making roles which can also hinder this process. Finding solutions as a family as discussed. Recognised that it was difficult for women in Cyprus to take direct action highlighted by the fact that there has not been a past women’s movement which further indicates the difficulties in being proactive or associating with an existing movement.
The group recognised that they discussed a number of issues which could be grouped together under the agreed themes. There were also actions agreed under each theme.
1. Gender & Education – This was a key area as it was vital in changing awareness of women’s roles.
2. Gender equalities – Discussed creating a gender equalities education programme
which could be offered to schools. This would involve delivering equalities workshops. Agreed that this action is developed and worked on by Aydin Mehmet Ali, Tina Adamidou, Cigdem Durust.
3. Participation – Agreed that for the next meeting each participant as an action brings one person to the meeting. Discussed raising awareness through art e.g. using pictures from the media on what equalities mean or putting out the question of what equalities means and asking people to respond. Agreed that Cigdem take this action forward.
4. Women’s movement – recognised that there was no independent women’s movement in Cyprus
5. Nationalism - general issues around this were discussed with the acknowledgement that nationalism is not the main problem between women but sitting down jointly as women.
6. Racism/Prejudice – spoke about women’s roles in challenging extremism and racism and the need to be aware of radicalisation in order to combat it early on.
7. Lack of direct action – suggested that there was still a need for women in Cyprus from the north and south to meet and get to know each other to combat stereotypes and prejudice.
Agreed that there were challenging issues to overcome. There was a consensus that the meeting had been worthwhile and positive. There was a need for the group to think, until the next meeting, about whether they need an organisation to put forward their ideas to or if they were content with the informal open status of the meetings.
September 26 in Limnitis …(abstract)
Limnitis Meeting: there was a short report on the meeting at Limnitis on September 26, 2009. Women had invited members of the group to attend; 8 women went. The attendance from the village was small. They may be inexperienced in organizing meetings as well as dynamics in the village. We met a woman who lives in the village and is an experienced activist from London. She is keen to help organize future meetings and activities. The position of women in the village as well activities around the opening of the Limnitis borders, collaboration between the women of Limnitis and Kato Pyrgos were amongst issues discussed. The benefits and the concerns of the opening of the borders and what the women wanted to see created the framework for the discussion. Some ideas for activities on the day of the opening were put forward. It was agreed that the Limnitis women will contact the K. Pyrgos women and women from the group will attend if need be.
October 10 in Ledra Palace Hotel in Nicosia (abstract)
Special guest from KISA, the voice of migrants in Cyprus, was invited to speak about the recent police raids and attacks in south Nicosia. Anthoulla gave a detailed and informative talk on the issues facing migrant workers and some of the issues for women, e.g. health insurance. She spoke about the details of the police raids and recent attacks and the discussion was sparked about what type of activities can be organized to contribute to these inhuman acts. Aydin Mehmet Ali was specifically asking the following questions:
What action/initiatives are there in this area we may be able to contribute to?
Are there citizen's petitions to the Ministry of Health? Are there human rights lawyers petitioning Ministry for action?
Is there consistent media publicity/exposure?
Is there a demand to set up a women's health advocacy service in the general hospital which includes a translation and interpreting unit?
It was agreed to inform members of the group if there are specific actions that need to be taken in support of migrant women.
Definition of WiA’s aim
It was emphasized that WiA is a group of women active in Cyprus regardless of their location, race, ethnicity and religion.
The purpose of the meeting was discussions in which many women participated and
they seemed very eager to discuss and share more on various ideas and thoughts. Women’s movement in Cyprus is something which every single woman agreed and the
motto was “Let’s do something that concern women in Cyprus.” The idea is not to
allocate a time in people’s schedule just to get together, have coffee/tea parties
and appear in the newspapers, but to put all the thinking into action.
November 7 : again at Merit Crystal Cove Hotel Alsancak/Kyrenia
There will be a regular abstract information service on my website excluding the exchange of information among the E-Group.