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!