Subject: [fem-women2000 375] Central Asian Women Who Made the Difference
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Date: Tue, 13 Jun 2000 06:45:39 -0500
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 Date: Sat, 10 Jun 2000 17:26:08 +0200
 Subject: [B5NGONEWS] Central Asian Women Who Made the Difference

Global Women's Media Team/Electronic News Bulletin
distributed by Isis International-Manila

Central Asian Women Who Made the Difference

By Cholpon Akmatova *

New York, June 4, 2000: June 3 was a unique day in the history of the
United Nations: for the first time, NGOs were accorded a special session of
their own. Although they still continue to remain mere observers at the
official session, it is certainly a step forward, a definite
acknowledgement of the crucial role they play in development. For the 3,000
women representing 1,250 NGOs from all over the world participating in this
review of the progress made in the five years since the Beijing conference,
it is "no big deal"; what they are waiting for is the day they can organize
such a conference and "invite the UN and other governments to attend as

The usually somber, starched and suited UN building was alive with women in
colorful, bright national dresses. The sounds of laughter and happy voices
speaking many languages filled the conference halls and corridors;
conference hall three, where the NGO working session was held, has probably
never seen such a vibrant, warm, enthusiastic meeting. Loud cheers and
applause greeted the speakers as they reported on the progress  or
otherwise -- made in their regions.

Based on the information received from various parts of the world, an NGO
report has been prepared as an alternative to the official one. Central
Asia has been included under the Asia-Pacific region, representing 60% of
the world's women. The presentation made at the UN by this group was very
interesting and colorful. Using beautiful silk scarves  one black, to
symbolize the tears and suffering women have to bear today, and a
beautiful, multi-hued one to show the joy and promise of the future  they
conveyed the message that the women who weave this silk fabric should not
hide themselves behind it but use it instead as a banner to move forward
towards a more equal, better world.

At the end of the lively presentation, a chorus of women's voices
spontaneously chanted together: "United we stay in justice, peace and
harmony." It was a fitting and moving end to a very heartwarming, lively
sharing of common concerns.

The spokeswoman for Central Asia, Elmira Suleimenova of the Azerbaijan
Women and Development Center, said in an interview to this writer: "The
critical areas of concern in Central Asia remain poverty, unemployment,
under-representation in government and parliament and armed conflicts. I am
also concerned with the situation in Nagorny Karabakh where the conflict
has been on now for 12 years. Among the achievements have been the
development of the women's movement and women's organizations. We have also
been successful in integrating with the international women's movement."

However, compared to other regions, which had several representatives,
Suleimenova was the only one for Central Asia. The main reason for this is
a lack of funds but maybe lack of initiative too. As Elmira put it, "If
Central Asian NGOs are under-represented in actions like this or not taken
seriously by their governments, it is their own fault. We have lived under
the Soviet totalitarian regime for so long that it will take some time
before we start realizing our potential."



Three women icons

The non governmental organizations in Central Asia became active only five
or six years ago and hence their level of skills in advocacy and lobbying
is still very poor. In spite of this, three women from the region have been
included in the Roll of Honor of women from around the globe who
contributed to the development and advancement of women -- Nurgul Janaeva
of Kyrgyzstan, Elmira Suleimenova of Azerbaijan and Marfua Tokhtokhojaeva
of Uzbekistan.

These three women have been fighting for women's rights in their own
countries and internationally.  Janaeva and Suleimenova are members of the
Steering Committee of the Asia-Pacific Women's Watch, the largest network
of women's NGOs in the world, which developed the Asia-Pacific regional
report at UNGASS.

Janaeva is also the President of the Forum of Women NGOs of Kyrgyzstan
which is an umbrella organization of over 30 WNGOs. The Forum helps advance
women's organizations through networking and capacity development support.
They organize regular workshops and training sessions on various subjects
>from human rights to leadership development. Thanks to the Forum's efforts
Tajik women-refugees were able to set up their own NGO "Khairinisso". Some
would argue this kind of assistance is not practical and useful but such
assistance offers women the opportunity to learn about their human rights
and receive leadership training, which they would otherwise have no access
to. All this helps in empowering and advancing women.

Suleimenova is the President of the Azerbaijan Women and Development
Center, an organization involved in research, training and development for
women. In addition to its involvement in women's advocacy in the
international arena, this NGO is a member of 18 international
organizations. It helps women to secure  credit to set up businesses. In
this contest, the veteran activist proudly mentioned the case of a woman
whom they helped to set up a farm. She went on to win an international
award for women's initiatives in agriculture. AWDC also manages a
reproductive health project, which reaches out to 45,000 women in the
country, including those living in remote areas of Azerbaijian.

*Cholpon Akmatova is a member of the Global Women's Media Team (GWMT) for
the UN General Assembly Session to Review the Beijing Platform for
Action.  The team is  composed of NGO women and women journalists from
Asia-Pacific, Latin America, Africa and Eastern Europe. The GWMT is
coordinated by Isis International-Manila and generously supported by
UNIFEM-East and Southeast Asia, UNIFEM-South Asia, Canadian International
Development Agency-Southeast Asia Gender Equity Programme, UNDP-Latin
America and the Caribbean, UNDP-Mongolia, British High Commission in
Vanuatu, Foundation for Sustainable Society, Inc; National Centre for
Cooperation in Development (NCOS-Pilipinas), World Council of  Churches,
and WomenAction.

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