Public life in South Ossetia is all about women
Bridges of peace, Editorial Choice

Public life in South Ossetia is all about women

Zarina Sanakoeva is a freelance journalist and a civic activist from South Ossetia. She mainly writes for online portal Echo Kavkaza. As an independent journalist, she cooperates with other regional partners as well. Zarina also studies the theory of conflict and takes part in educational projects. Women Connecting  for Peace is launching a series of interviews with women who live in the environment of unresolved and prolonged conflicts, but are nevertheless trying to change their lives for the better.

– What are the specifics of working in a conflict zone, where a journalist has to take into consideration many factors and at the same remain a professional and follow the principles that the job requires?

– First of all, I do not think I have any special skills. I would say that I don’t, but others do. Currently, only state-owned media and Sputnik (Russian state-owned media) are operating in South Ossetia. That means that Sputnik and official state-own media have editorial offices in South Ossetia. So it is not hard to guess what specifics it imposes. It does not mean that someone is hampering the establishment of independent media outlets or someone is putting pressures or impeding their activities. No. The reason is very simple – it is a small economic market, and no one wants to finance and support the media business. They usually appear before or during the elections, but as a rule, they fail to keep afloat and finally disappear. No need to mention that there is an excessive censorship in state-owned media.

As for my work, it is, I would say, semi-legal. Freelancer journalists are not accredited by state agencies and do not have the right to work in South Ossetia. We are not invited or allowed to formal events, even to informal ones, where no accreditation is needed. For example, we are not allowed to attend the IPRM (Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism) meetings in Ergneti. We do not have an official accreditation. This is how we work…

– What challenges do you face as a female journalist?

– I would say that there is not much difference. Our society is quite liberal in this regard. Of course, not everything is smooth in terms of women’s rights, but this does not affect my work. I would like to think that I am doing my job professionally – what I write do not cause groundless accusations. No one has ever approached me with complaints. The respondents, whom I interviewed, mostly received all criticism for giving comments or interviews to Echo Kavkaza. It happens all the time. Sometimes the interference is not explicit, but rather covert.

– Have you ever had a feeling that you could be compromised?

– No, absolutely not. In times of extreme tensions and danger, every person thinks about the family, how to protect them from any harm. Fortunately, it has never happened to me. No, I have never had any concerns in this regard.

– The precedent of Alla Dzhioeva created the impression that the level of women’s involvement in various processes in South Ossetia is quite high. Is that right?

– Well, first of all, I would like to say that the situation concerning women is deteriorating. I think it is relatively better here than in other Muslim republics or states in the Caucasus. In 1990-ies men took guns in their hands and this situation lasted for 20 years. It affected not just one generation, but more. Those, who were very young when the war broke out, grew old with guns in their hands. My generation knew nothing but war. All other areas of life: housekeeping, socializing, earning money were on the shoulders of women in 90-ies. And, this, I would say, made women stronger.

In addition to this, there is a quite specific approach to raising the children. The girls must be hardworking and good students, while boys do not have to study at all. They are tolerated in advance, because boys have to sit in the trenches. Of course, it’s great if a boy is a good student, but even in my school, it was shameful for boys to study well. This led to the very obvious consequences. The girls of my generation are more educated than boys, as a result of which public life is all about women.

The year of 2008, of course, was a huge shock, after which the transition to peaceful life began. Probably, we, like any other society, were not ready for peaceful life. Same things happen everywhere, we are not unique. And again, for whom was it the most difficult? Of course, for men. They were not ready for it, but slowly began to adjust and I am happy to see that this process is ongoing. In the meantime, the years have passed.

I think the victory of Alla Dzhioeva in the elections was the outcome of this process. It was in 2011, just couple of years after the war. If you ask me: did it play any role that she was a woman? I would say, no. The result would be the same, if there was a man in her place. It was a vote of protest. She herself said that people voted not just for her but against Eduard Kokoity.

But, in order to come into politics and run for office, or just be successful in any field, a woman must be much more advanced and smarter than a man. I think the situation is getting worse in this regard. It seems like the men no longer want to give in. If earlier they could concede in some areas of life, and not even to concede, they simply had no time…

– What is the proportion of women to men in politics today?

– There are 34 members of parliament, out of which three are women. They are Dzhioeva Elena, Valieva Rosa and Besaeva Zita. The government has three female ministers: education, finance, and culture. This is a small number.

The last elections we had were parliamentary elections. They were conducted under a mixed election system, which includes party lists and majoritarian representatives. There were a lot of candidates, about 130, with a small number of women. I do not know the exact number, for some reason no one keeps such statistics, but it was about 2-3%. What does it say to us? I think that women simply are not strong enough economically to devote their time to public and political life. And political life, as a rule, means not making money, but requires investment. And women cannot afford this, because they also have to carry on their shoulders the daily routine of the house, which is not always well-equipped. This takes a huge effort, time and energy.

– What do you do as a peace builder?

– My peace building activity first of all is my work as a journalist. I participated in many trainings and workshops on objective reporting and on avoiding hate speech. I want to believe that I am impartial. The existence of such sources of information is very important. In my work, just being a professional is enough to be a peacemaker. The first step to conflict is a lack of objective information. If the objective information is available, the conflict is less likely to happen.

Let’s say I’m writing on some specific topic. If the same thing is covered by one of our state media outlets, exactly the same thing, the readers are more likely to believe me, rather than pro-government source, because it is an official position. It is alright, that the government has its own position. When a journalist is seen as an “enemy of the people”, as me … even if I am an “enemy of the people”, it is also important that I can convey information, that Georgian or foreign journalists can contact me and double check some information. It is important that they hear from me what really happens here. I think this is what I do in peacemaking. I am just doing my job as a journalist. If you do your work impartially, professionally and honestly, then you are a peace builder. It cannot work out differently.

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About the project

The goal of the project is to form a group of women professionals and journalists who will be able to prepare balanced, high-quality materials on women’s issues, gender equality, the implementation of UNSCR 1325 and other issues related to these topics, thereby setting an example for the wider journalistic community.