|The Pankisi Women's Stories Project||
The women of the Pankisi Gorge, mostly Muslim, and mostly Kist, Chechen refugees (some naturalized), and IDP's have been pioneers of social change for many years.. Together they saw a need for women to have a voice on the Council of Elders, an all male judicial council that negotiates disputes and governs the affairs of the residents of Pankisi according to Muslim family law. So in 2011 under the umbrella of Kakheti Regional Development Foundation (KRDF), and with much discussion and negotiation with the community at large and the Council of Elders in particular, 15 esteemed women representing the villages of Pankisi Gorge were elected to the Pankisi Women's Council and established as a voice for the rights and affairs of women that came before the Council of Elders.
Since that time, the Women's Council has been extremely effective in monitoring claims of domestic violence, standing up for human rights, especially the rights of women and children, and giving the women of Pankisi a strong and respected voice in mediating issues of property rights, child custody rights and standing up against violence against women and children.
The establishment of such a Women's Council as a voice for women's rights, with hard fought for collaboration with and support of the Council of Elders, flies in the face of community convention and is unprecedented. The Women's Council's success as social justice advocates and community peace builders is a model for other minority communities trying to protect the rights of women and enter the 21st century of gender equality and human rights as they seek acceptance and assimilation into the Georgian community at large.
This year the Women's Council is focusing on the importance of education and beginning to work in collaboration with the Council of Elders to review, update, and if necessary rewrite the Muslim Family Codes/ Laws by which the Muslim families of Pankisi are governed and by which disputes are settled. The Women's Council wants to update those points of law which are obsolete (e.g.: using cows as the currency to negotiate a “bride price”) and most particularly make sure that Muslim Family Law dispenses justice to men and women equally and protects current human rights and the rights of women and children. They also want to make sure the codes take a stand against violence against women and children and protect the rights of women to own property and gain rightful custody of their children.
Dozen's of women in Pankisi who do not serve directly on the Women's Council, but who do the support work for the Council and the educational and vocational programs at the Duisi Center, and who care deeply about the rights of women and children, make up the working, support, and social body known as the Pankisi Women's Club.
Some are employed by KRDF and run the KRDF field office in Duisi. Some are teachers and artists and musicians and computer specialists and teach the after-school classes offered at the Community Center. Some are mothers and housewives and cooks and farmers and shopkeeps and professionals.
They come together to work on projects; to learn English and leadership skills; to support the Women's Council and the work of KRDF, single mothers, children, the elder and disabled, and each other; to share a cup of tea and the valley's gossip or the world's news or a laugh; and to tell their stories. Any day of the week you will find members of the Women's Club busy at work at the Duisi Community Center in the center of town.