Women as guardians of Human Security in the Arctic?

11 September, talking about Human Security. Is that by coincidence or a slight hint at the terrible events in New York in 2001? It was not quite a usual group of people for a scholarly conference who had gathered in Helsinki in the Foreign Affairs Institute to explore security beyond armies, military and sovereignty questions. I was told that there will be people from governments, embassies and the like.

Yuranebe Khada, Nenets guardian of a hearth on the Yamal Pensinula. She is the source of human security for the people who live on Gazprom’s largest terrestrial gas deposit (Foto Stammler)

When preparing the talk, I realised that the main argument that I thought was lacking from the point of view of an anthropologist on human security in the Arctic, is that humans feel secure there if they have a sense of home, of belonging, and of emotional-spiritual warmth and stability at their place. This fundamental condition of  human security is quite well epitomised by the symbol of the hearth, the fireplace in the middle of a nomadic tent, tended physically by the housewife, and spiritually guarded by the myad pukhutse, which is the Nenets word for the spirit that guards the tent and the hearth in it. Now notice: both of these figures, the housewife and the the guardian spirit are female. This means that the main guarantors of human security as a general condition in the Arctic are women! In all the male politician talk, or military talk, or industrialisation talk, or adventure talk, or reindeer herding talk – this fundamental condition about gender is not enough emphasized. This was my argument in the talk in Helsinki to these ambassadors. Of course, as everything, this is not new. The volume edited in 2010 by Thomas Hylland Eriksen emphasized already that we need to consider more immaterial notions of human security

After the talk I was a bit surprised to have seen, among others,  the ambassadors of countries that might have a bit different view on gender in the audience: Iran and Morocco 🙂 . To be honest, I was a bit surprised myself seeing myself talking like this about gender – considering that I am not at all a specialist in this field, and have never published on it. But it’s never too late…

At least there was no open outbreak of opposition in the audience, rather slight shaking of heads when they were listening to that argument.

If you are interested, you can listen to talks on that seminar here in the podcast, and comments are welcome of course!

One thought on “Women as guardians of Human Security in the Arctic?

  1. Stephan Dudeck

    Great message! But I would remove the question mark! And of course I would not assume that perceptions of the representatives of Iran or Marocco of the importance of women to care for the domestic sphere were so different from the Nenets. Different might be their ideas about the participation of women in modernisation processes going on among the Nenets and the role of women in the political and public life in their communities. I was reminded of what Golovnev wrote 10 years ago about the role of women in Yaptik-Sale and about women as temporary military captains among the Nenets in his article “Indigenous Leadership in Northwestern Siberia” (1997) . And of course Barbara Bodenhorn’s seminal article “‘I’m Not the Great Hunter, My Wife Is’: Iñupiat and anthropological models of gender” published already 1990. The only article I know dealing explicitly with human security and indigenous women unfortunately deals only with the particular risks affecting indigenous women, not with their proactive role to provide security: V. Sweet “Extracting More Than Resources: Human Security and Arctic Indigenous Women”. Seattle University Law Review 37(4), 2014, 1157–1178.

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