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Violence against the most vulnerable: The need to work with men too

On Sunday 15 October, Hyestart will be speaking after the screening of the film They during the Lugano Human Rights Film Festival on the theme of gender, sexuality and nationalism. Our intervention concerns the South Caucasus region, where certain standards in force concerning not only the citizen, but the human person as a whole stigmatize certain practices, attributes or modes of conduct.

The political discourse of these countries therefore constantly highlights the "particularism" of feminist or LGBT claims, for which "specific" rights would be sought. It is to forget that a false "universal" does not include them.

The complex work of various associations, including ours, consists in supporting identity claims while avoiding, as much as we can, what Wendy Brown calls the "wounded devotion", a set of conditions and behaviors from which certain minority groups are more attached to the exclusion that underlies their identity than to a possible emancipation of their present status. It is a question of leaving the community of "stigma" to work on the reversal of the stigma.

Focusing on sexual minorities and at the same time feminist struggle is less a question of intersectionality, a kind of universal instrument that I would tend to distrust, than a desire to analyze the various modes of subordination and exclusion. A simultaneous reflection on several levels: violence against women, heterosexual normativity, human rights discourse as a tool of supremacy, psycho-social implications of the economic collapse of these countries, etc.

To return to the subject of this intervention, to speak of a gender nationalism refers to the works of George Mosse, which describe how nationalism is linked to a virile stereotype. In these countries of the South Caucasus, feminist and LGBT movements are seen as "traitor to their homeland", a danger to the nation. This work linking sexuality and nationalism has been little developed except by some authors like Benedict Anderson or Joane Nagel. The least that can be said is that the Caucasian states are far from using "pinkwashing" to hide an obvious gendered and sexual nationalism.

It is interesting to study how LGBT associations, collectives or some activists use and appropriate global discourse and material resources, while putting in place strategies of resistance to national and international power relations.

In the current discourse, homosexual men share the characteristics attributed to women: effeminacy, weak reliability, subject to treachery, lack of robustness, etc. There is a symbolic connection between the images of gender, sex and sexuality and the image of the nation.

In both Armenia and Georgia, the national symbol or the symbol of the city of Tbilisi is a woman. "Mother Armenia" in one case and "Kartlis Deda" in the other, materialized by giant statues between twenty and fifty meters in height. It is the fertility of women that is exalted in this representation of "mothers", but in the new nationalist discourse and in a social reality of great violence against women and even of gendercide concerning selective abortions, it is the danger of an uncontrolled female sexuality that could discredit the nation that is put forward.

In this scenario of a nation-family, the mother, the woman is understood to be the guardian of traditions and "reproduces" the nation. In a context of conflict like that of Armenia with Azerbaijan, "feminization" is a danger and this only reinforces gender stereotypes. This conflict, which in its different phases has led to many social disruptions in the Armenian world, is a field of analysis of gender and gender relations.

In this context of ritualization of manhood, men are urged to "kill" all that could be feminine in them. There cannot be an (ethnic) feminized self. This conflict not only locates the enemy on the other side of the border, but also identifies it within the own group. Those who do not adhere will soon be called "homosexual". There is therefore a strong symbolization of the concept of gender and sex. From the notion of masculinity and femininity, we see a distinction between the One and the Others. The latter are seen as a danger, which is lawful to violate as a national duty. In this context, the raids on dozens of LGBT community members in Azerbaijan since the end of September should surprise no one.

Gender and sex are placed at the center of the promotion of national identities and become, with sexuality, a vector of inclusion or exclusion of citizenship.

It is therefore urgent to work also with men to escape from this violence against women or sexual minorities. A violence that is considered legitimate because it is little sanctioned and therefore reproducible.

The collapse of the post-Soviet male is essential here and its study should be developed. Poverty, migration, unemployment, the relationship to sexuality, health, etc. All these factors no longer make the post-Soviet male this hero of the socialist project. The stereotypes of a virilist masculinity have been put in place, such as violence or force, used not to be completely on the margins. Violence is an acceptable form of control and failure to do so results in the exclusion of the male community. It is of course not a culturalist, but a socio-economic approach, including the age class, the level of education, etc.

Other forms of recognition or affirmation must be accessible to men. Rethinking masculinities through modes of socialization seems to have become urgent in these countries. For this domestic violence or against the "deviants" to the system is not culturalist or part of a set of traditions. It is urgent to confront the codes, the systems of loyalty and this masculine sociability. Working with men should initially make them aware that they are part of the solution and not just the problem.

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