By Olga Demetriou, a member of GAT – Gender Advisory Team (email@example.com)
This article was first published on page 16 of The Cyprus Weekly (21 December).
Last Thursday, the Buffer Zone was host to a conference entitled ‘Women’s Peace’. Conference organisers GAT (which stands for ‘Gender Advisory Team’) argued that women’s perspectives of peace and thus their expectations from a peace agreement should be integrated into the agendas of conspicuously male Cypriot politicians. GAT, which consists of Cypriot academics and activists working in various areas of gender rights has been making that argument since 2009, when it was formed.
Since then, it has taken the point to negotiators and others involved in the peace process, in the form of recommendations of what a gender-sensitive peace agreement should entail. Much of this may still to most people sound too technical or narrowly-focused on ‘women’ (why 50% of the population should be considered ‘narrow focus’ is still perplexing to me, but that is another discussion). So what does it actually mean? GAT’s perspective on power-sharing is a good example.
‘Power-sharing’ is intuitively understood as the diachronic domain of men; ‘power’ tends to signal what women should not be interested in – and most ‘good’ women often aren’t. ‘Sharing’ of course carries a more ‘homely’ ring to it, but in the given hyphenated structure (‘power-sharing’), it tends both to be effaced by the power of the first term, and to act as a prop that lends ‘power’ an added ‘technical’ implication. The question of ‘power-sharing’ thus tends to be understood as a technical matter pertaining to numbers in the allocation of seats in government and state institutions and in the calibration of each citizen’s vote. Together, governance and power-sharing have resonated more with (male) politicians, who propose and reject schemes of assigning weight to votes, ministries, and state institutions.
GAT’s recommendations on governance and power-sharing take a different approach. From the inception of modern statehood in Cyprus, women’s representation in government has been minimal; and the structure of negotiations thus far threatens to perpetuate this situation into the future state. GAT’s key concern is to re-position the interpretation of ‘power-sharing’ within more pluralistic framings of democratic rights. And while women’s rights are central to this attempt, the rights of sexual and immigrant minorities, and of children, youth, and the elderly are also embraced.
In a context where ‘the Cyprus problem’ is presented as ‘urgent’ and everything else ‘secondary’, and because, despite its persistence over three generations now, ‘the Cyprus problem’ is likely to be outlived by the problem of gender inequality, women, along with other social groups, have a stake in the phrasing of the Constitution, the government’s organogram, the design of the courts, the make-up of the police, and so on. The recommendations put forth by GAT are a mere reminder that ‘sharing’ must not be about ethnic ratios solely, but about gender ones as well. And that it needs to be framed in the aim not of a compromise against some ideal of autonomy, but of obligation, cohesion, cooperation, and inclusion.
The four sets of recommendations (on governance, citizenship, property, and economy) reflect this logic and call for no less than an overhaul to the thinking that has guided negotiations thus far. It is GAT’s vision that the mainstreaming of gender in the peace negotiations, and the implementation of an agreement, as well as in efforts outside the formal frame of negotiations, will contribute to a different understanding of the problems that have plagued the island over the decades. These have not only been problems of ethnicised politics and foreign interventions but also of a social and patriarchal order. ‘Cyprus’ from this perspective might slowly begin to look like a different place, a place other than conflict, war and trauma, a place where the future can be imagined productively and built solidly.
This is what a feminist (in a non-exclusive sense vis-à-vis men) ‘sharing’ of ‘power’ should be about.
GAT’s report and recommendations are available online.