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Meeting across conflict borders with young activists from The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation's partner organisations in Kosovo, Serbia, Israel and Palestine, in Israel/Palestine 2011. Photo: The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation/Stina Magnusson Buur.
Meeting across conflict borders with young activists from The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation's partner organisations in Kosovo, Serbia, Israel and Palestine, in Israel/Palestine 2011. Photo: The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation/Stina Magnusson Buur.

Create safe meeting places

A key factor in becoming an active member of society is to be able to meet with others and to share ideas and experiences. However, in many conflict-affected societies, women have no access to the public sphere and their freedom of movement is restricted.

Women are often not free to decide over basic elements of their lives, such as what clothes to wear, which friends to have or when to go out. It is impossible for them to visit coffee shops, town squares or other places where people usually interact. They need alternative meeting places to have a chance to break free from their isolation.

A meeting place can be a market, a neighbour’s house or at the water pump – somewhere where the community accepts that women meet and talk to each other. Women’s organisations also create spaces where women can feel safe and share their thoughts with others. This can be at the organisation’s office or in a discussion group – the important thing is that it is a place that women can go to without risking their safety.

The power to make changes

At these meeting places, women are able to educate themselves, build their confidence and grow as individuals. For some women, gaining the strength to claim the right to their own body or the right to make decisions concerning their household can be most important. Other women start action groups for safe school transport or for universal access to health care. Some decide to become active in a women’s organisation or venture into politics.

When women stand together, they become more powerful and they can put pressure on society to meet their needs as well, not just those of men. In that sense meeting places and women’s organisations are crucial for the development of democracy.

For a meeting place to serve its purpose, the participants must feel safe to express whatever is on their mind. Therefore, women’s organisations work hard to build trust among the women in their communities. Often information about a meeting place is spread through word of mouth. Those who have had good experiences invite a friend or a neighbour.

Meetings across conflicts

Besides running women’s centres, The Kvinna to Kvinna Foundation’s partner organisations arrange meetings with women from opposite sides of conflicts. The women get to describe their personal experiences of the war and hear accounts from the other side. Such sharing of narratives forms part of the process of reducing fear and hatred, and helps to counter the inevitable demonisation of the enemy. To meet and talk to the other side is crucial in the struggle for peace.

Both during and after an armed conflict, it can be difficult for women’s organisations from opposite sides to meet in their respective countries. Meetings across conflicts are often regarded with suspicion by the rest of society and are sometimes seen as a threat to those in power. If this is the case, Kvinna till Kvinna can provide women with support and resources to enable them to meet in a neutral place. For example, we have arranged meetings in Jordan for women from Israel and Palestine, and for women from countries in the South Caucasus there have been meetings in Istanbul.

Updated in: 2013-04-25