In depth


Interview with Nekane Altzelai

Ex-MP in the Basque Parliament and member of Ahotsak, women for peace
Nekane Altzelai

Nekane Altzelai

How did Ahotsak come about? What were the factors that brought together women from such a broad political spectrum in the same place?
Like most parliaments, the arena of "serious politics" in the Basque Parliament was also occupied exclusively by men and they let us women deal with "politics of small things," or in other words, social policy. Despite this, social policy provided a solution to society's everyday problems. By assuming this responsibility, we tried to pass the laws, plans and any initiative presented to Parliament with the highest possible level of consensus, and it was even possible to pass some issues unanimously. As that was possible in social issues, and bearing in mind that a relationship of trust, and even a friendship, had built up between us, we decided to take advantage of this experience acquired in debates on social policy for the debate on the classification and conflict resolution in the Basque Country.

How did being only women facilitate the building of bridges that spanned the divisions between parties? What did it mean to you to be only women in Ahotsak?
It was easy to build bridges between us, because we already had the experience from other debates. Furthermore, none of us held major posts in the executives of the parties that we represented, and I do believe that was essential for women from different parties coming together in the Ahotsak project. It was an initiative that was still outstanding, but which was necessary, so that women could provide another point of view. For example, when the social movement Elkarri organised a peace conference, it was impossible for the representatives of the various political parties to sit down around a table. It was obvious that it would be impossible for them to meet publicly, but it was also impossible in private and behind closed doors. Nonetheless, a roundtable of women from various political parties was organised and took place. What is more, it was very successful, it filled the Euskalduna Conference Centre, and another hall had to be provided so that women who were unable to get in could follow it by video link. The event encouraged us and made us aware of the need for Ahotsak.

What do you think has been the main contribution by Ahotsak to the peace process in the Basque country?
The main contribution has consisted of being able to show that despite our differences, there is always something that unites us, but it is important to want to reach that common space, to want to learn about other different people, to try and put yourself in their place, and to accept that despite not agreeing with their ideas, they are right about some things, empathy. As a conclusion to the exercise, we wrote a founding document for Ahotsak. You might think that it is just a piece of paper. But it is the first document signed by women from various political parties, trade unions, feminist organisations and other social spheres. It is also a document with content that I invite you to read; in it, we define and specify the meaning of peace, we describe the process, while taking various points of view into account.

Do you think that women have been able to contribute anything specific to the peace process?
As well as the various documents for reflection and debate we have published, the most important thing is that we have shown that understanding is possible, which is something that seems impossible in the Basque Country.

If the peace process in the Basque country was re-established, do you think that mechanisms should be established to ensure the presence of women in the process?
I believe that another peace process will be established in the Basque Country and I believe it will be in the very near future. We are ready, when that time comes, because bridges, once they have been created, last forever and are always useful, as they are now. To clarify this answer, I can say that one of the initiatives that we were involved in was the attempt to create Ahotsak groups at a local level, in order to make women participate in the peace process, because we considered that feeling an active part makes it easier to become involved and feel identified with this peace process. To do so, we organised a series of conferences in various towns and the result is that in the majority of cases, women with various points of view came together at the conference, despite the fact that they had never talked to each other about the subject, despite living in the same towns and knowing each other. Nonetheless, these women have a great deal to contribute and need to be integrated into the process.

What subjects need to be on the agenda for negotiations in the Basque country? How can the gender dimension be added to this agenda?
The agenda would be the one suggested by the various political agents. But it would obviously have to include the Basque people's right to decide, territoriality, victims and prisoners.

Do you feel backed by the Security Council's Resolution 1325? How?
We always knew that as Ahotsak became more widely known, we would come in for criticism and that the most common one would be what was the point of a women's group in the peace process, as if it was a just a whim. In that respect, Resolution 1325 has been vital for us and we put that on record in our founding document. On more than one occasion since, we have recalled that in Resolution 1325, the UN calls for the active participation of women in peace processes.

What role could women have in a scenario after a peace agreement?
After the agreement, the important thing will be to consolidate it, means that the majority must adhere to it, so it is important that we feel represented by it. In that respect, exercises like the series of conferences in the towns, which we started in the previous process, will be necessary. We will need spaces in which those who are different can share with us what brings us together.