Feminism. Assemblage Point

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On March 8, 2013 participants of the conference joined a Feminist Demonstration "Stop Hiding Inequality behind Traditions", organized by Ofenziva.
With the support of the South Caucasus Regional Office of the Heinrich Boell Foundation three activists from Georgia and Armenia: Eka Aghdgomelashvili from Women’s Initiatives Supporting Group, Georgia; Nino Gamisonia from Independent Feminist Group and Partisan Girls, Georgia; and Elvira Meliksetyan from Women’s Resource Center of Armenia participated in the International Conference - “Feminism. Assemblage Point” organized on 5-7 March, 2013 in Kiev by feminist organization Ofenziva supported by the Heinrich Boell Foundation Ukraine Office.
 Ofenziva, a feminist initiative in Kiev, organized a series of activities for March 8, 2013 in Kiev.

Among others, one of those activities was an International Conference “Feminism. Assemblage Point”, where activists and researchers from Eastern Europe were invited to participate.

Taking the opportunity of coming earlier for a day and joining the local activists I found myself in Kiev at the early morning of the 3th of April – the first day of a 2-day series of film screenings "Cinemancipation".
The films featured in this program highlight the problems of women in everyday life – from childhood to senility, explore different experiences of womanhood and sexuality, and analyze the reality of gender inequality and social hierarchies.  3 films were screened at the first day followed by discussions reflecting on the questions raised in the films. Atmosphere was great: everyone was welcomed to share their ideas regardless of their viewpoints, discussion was friendly and interesting, and everyone was willing to give feedback on the issues raised in the films. I generally like being active in the discussions and this one was not an exception.
On March 5th the International Conference “Feminism. Assemblage Point” has started. It was already the third conference – a series of evening discussions intended to bring together feminist activists and researchers from around Eastern Europe and to create a space for communication among radical, anarcho-feminist and queer-feminist groups of the region. The conference goal was to consolidate production of feminist knowledge, politics and practices. Its specific task was to radicalize women’s narrative and create public space for struggle against current manifestations of gender inequality. Participants were supposed to explore the relationship between LGBT groups and feminism, violence against women, and the emancipation of queer-sexuality – all those topics that are not part of public discourse, usually suppressed and rarely discussed in academic sphere or in the media. Discussions during the conference were directly connected to the experience of the feminist movements, activism and politics.  All the issues were examined through “practical optics”.

The topic of the first day of the discussions was – "Is LGBT emancipation possible without feminism? Is feminism possible without LBT politics?" Speakers were: Eka Agdagomelashvili from Women’s Initiatives Supporting Group, Tbilisi;  Olya Burko from Gender Route, Minsk; and Elvira Meliksetyan  from Women's Resource Center Armenia. The participants talked about the reality in their countries, shared examples about challenges and achievements in their work.  As the discussion showed, the cooperation between LGBT groups and feminism in post-socialist countries is not always productive if ever possible.

For instance, in Armenia some organizations working with and for women don’t identify themselves as feminist organizations and mostly refuse to be connected with NGO-s or initiatives working with and for LGBT community. And also, some institutions working on LGBT issues think that they are not supposed to cooperate with feminist institutions as they have nothing in common.  But fortunately, there are still some NGOs cooperating and supporting one another in Armenia. Described situations by speakers in their respective countries (Belarus, Georgia) sounded similar to Armenian context.
During my presentation on Armenia I showed the film depicting the Diversity March of May 17, 2012 in Yerevan. The film is a good example of lack of solidarity among the institutions working on the issue as well as the homophobic approach of society on the idea of diversity in Armenia.

The second day of the conference was dedicated to the topic – “Emancipation of Queer Sexuality: From Private Practice to Political Act”. Main speakers were: Tanya Shchurko, Gender Route, Minsk; Rebecca Leitlein and Courntey Kellner, Radical Queer Affinity Collective, Budapest.

Speakers presented situation in their countries as well as provided information on the workshops they usually hold for breaking stereotypes and discrimination of the expression of sexuality.  Afterwards participants from Budapest, Rebecca Leitlein and Courntey Kellner offered to hold a private workshop on sexuality – “Collective Intimacy”. As a participant of the workshop, I was very impressed:  to have such workshops in societies like ours is essential to break the silence appearing when touching the topic of sexuality, its expression and the notion of pleasure.

Topic of the last conference day was – “The Discourse of Gender Violence: Victimization or Emancipation of Women?” Activists: Nino Gamisonia from Partisan Girls, Independent Feminist Group, Georgia; Elvira Meliksetyan  from Women's Resource Center, Armenia; Marina Vinnik from Moscow Feminist Group, Russia; and Irina Solomatina from Gender Route, Belarus delivered speeches and shared information about situation in their respective countries.

The participants talked about their reality, brought examples on their failures and achievements in this issue.  As for Armenian context, women in this country are mostly victimized by the traditions and mentality of the society.  Women are brought up as future mothers, women who should be modest, shy, moral, pure, virgin, hospitable, and generous.  The only decision makers are men; women should respect and obey their husbands’ decisions.  The career for women is the secondary issue when the most important is the motherhood. There are cases when husbands don’t allow wives to work at all, but stay home and take care of their families. Shouting at woman is often a normal way of communication; beating her is a way of bringing her up; economic violence is connected with the inability of women to be independent and work, thus the domination of men in the economic life of the family. Sexual violence is not even a topic of discussion in Armenia: it is unacceptable for Armenian wife to refuse to have a sexual intercourse with a husband.  In order to better describe the situation in Armenia, during my presentation I have screened the film on situation of domestic and sexual violence in my country.

On March 8, 2013 participants of the conference joined a Feminist Demonstration "Stop Hiding Inequality behind Traditions", organized by Ofenziva. There were activists from different initiatives participating in the rally. We walked playing on the instruments, dancing and crying out different feminist expressions through the main streets of Kiev. There were about hundred people among us. We stopped in different squares and shared speeches related to the day and our activism. The march was well organized full of energy, resistance, and colors.
It was a week of inspiration, new ideas, new feelings, and new friends.
It was a week of solidarity, cooperation and creation.
It was a week of the beginning of a new community: new community of feminists.
I am very grateful to everybody who had their input in my participation in these activities.

Special thanks to Heinrich Boell Foundation and Ofenziva initiative.

Elvira Meliksetyan
Women’s Resource Center of Armenia

Feminism. Assemblage Point. Conference report by Nino Gamisonia (in Georgian)