Natalia Shabunz – Turkmenistan

Added January 14, 2008: linked with CANGO.net.

She is one of the 1000 women proposed fort the Nobel Peace Price 2005.

She says: “I believe in the values of democratic change and human rights.”

Natalia Shabunz – Turkmenistan

She works for ‘Civil Dignity’, and for ‘Counterpart Consortium’.

Natalia Shabunz lives and works under Turkmenistan’s authoritarian regime as a well-known educator, writer, and public- and human rights-activist. She started her work in Turkmenistan when civil society activism first began to take shape in the nation, but maintains that even today the democratic culture of the Turkmen population needs to be strengthened even more. Fighting some very difficult conditions, Natalia has often been persecuted by local authorities for her work in education and public activity.Natalia Shabunz was born in 1951, in Simpheropol, Crimea, and studied at the Art Institute in St. Petersburg, Russia. Since 1976 she has been living in Turkmenistan, where, from 1979 till 1993 she worked at an art museum. Since 1993 she has been active in the public sector and the civil society movement in Turkmenistan. From 1993 to 1998 she worked in a public school of economics, and in a youth center called Dialog as a trainer. Since 1999 she has been a trainer for the Counterpart Consortium, and is also leader of the youth-centered non-governmental organization (NGO) Civil Dignity.

As a writer, she has published textbooks and popular works that are famous throughout Central Asian and Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) countries. In both realms she is dedicated to concepts of civil society, democracy and human rights. Her books, which discuss new approaches to interethnic conflict resolution and development of democracy, include “Alphabet of Civil Education,” “Laws that Bring Us Together,” “Several Steps to Win,” “Animals’ Rights in the World of People,” and “How to Live Together,” and are used in regional, Central Asian and Russian NGOs and education centers alike. Her textbooks on civil and human rights are used not only in Turkmenistan, but in Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Armenia and Russia. Her writing has helped challenge and alter national and international understanding of the political and human rights situation in Turkmenistan, and the general world outlook for people living under authoritarian regimes, and her books form part of a new democratic culture in people’s understanding of the Turkmen situation.

As an educator, Natalia conducts seminars, training workshops and practical initiatives. She has held 300 training programs and seminars, for 6000 participants across the country and abroad. Thanks to her, over 6000 NGO leaders, journalists, and women have gotten access to new information, knowledge and know-how in navigating the troubled landscape of women’s and human rights for their nation. She has also participated in both regional and international conferences and round tables on education, human rights and NGO development, and has reported extensively on her experiences, sharing her knowledge with colleagues from all over the world.

Natalia wants to alert and attract the world community to the problems of Turkmen women and children. Using different channels of communication such as the Internet, she is able to spread information about human rights violations in Turkmenistan, and despite the danger this work brings with it, she continues: “Nobody supports us – everybody is afraid.”

One exception however is the Counterpart Consortium organization in Turkmenistan. Natalia worked at Counterpart as a trainer and has through the years been active in the struggle to support all NGOs in Turkmenistan – where they are categorically suppressed (and many closed down) by local and national authorities. Because of and according to strict authoritarian Turkmen legislation, only government-registered or “Kvazi” NGOs were considered legal, and the law (adopted in October 2003) decreed all other public associations in operation as criminal. Natalia has helped many NGOs and their leaders to do their jobs in this difficult political situation.

Fighting the difficult conditions of the country’s authoritarian regime, Natalia herself has often been persecuted by local authorities for her work in education and public activity. She tells of being “always under the watchful eye of Turkmen security services. They look for me everywhere.” When she opened a human rights school for Turkmen children at her home, authorities tried to close it down, and one day even descended on her home, conducting a search right in the middle of a lesson with the children: “I do not understand why they did it,” Natalia said, “we are not criminals.” She has been arrested several times, has often been barred from flying within and out of the country, and is often “advised” by the authorities to stop her activities. But even in these difficult conditions Natalia continues her job, and often tries to actually explain her position to the police officers.

She continues to work in the civil sector, despite all obstacles and danger, and believes unconditionally in the values of democratic change and human rights. Apart from teachers and NGO leaders, her main focus remains centered around youth and women, through whom she has had undeniable influence on Turkmenistan’s civil society initiatives, and the people’s struggle for rights. (Read this on this page of 1000peacewomen).

links:

CIA Factbook Turkmenistan;

Central Asian Page of Human Rights Watch;

Turkmenistan Page of Human Rights Watch;

HRNI Human Rights Network International.

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