Mountain women share experiences

The conference discussed the plight of mountain women in developing countries.

Swiss women have been sharing their experiences at an international conference devoted to the life of women in mountainous areas.

This content was published on June 1, 2002 - 10:31

The International Conference on the Role of Women in the Mountains, which took place this week in the French town of Chambéry, provided a forum for 35 women from 12 countries to exchange information and opinions.

Participants - who included mountain dwellers, politicians and members of non-governmental organisations - discussed problems faced by mountain women, especially in developing countries of South America and Asia.

Switzerland's delegate at the conference was Joanna Koch, who represents the charity Associated Country Women of the World at the United Nations. She said Switzerland could serve as an example for other governments when it comes to the treatment of women living in mountainous regions.

"Governments from all over the world could actually learn from Swiss women as they have a better place in society compared with other countries," Koch told swissinfo. "Switzerland could teach some governments lessons in good policy-making towards mountain women."

Common problems

But Koch acknowledged that life could also be difficult for Swiss women living in mountain communities.

"The problems in the mountain regions remain the same everywhere, however, they may not be so severe in Switzerland. The degradation of the soil, the disappearance of mountain fields, the rise in tourism and the lack of women's access to policy-making decisions also exist here," she said.

Koch added that many female farmers in Switzerland are not recognised as such. "Women who are farmers in their own right are very often regarded as just being a farmer's wife, and that's very different," she said.

Keeping traditions

Representatives of the European Mountain Forum said many development projects in developing countries had ignored the culture and the indigenous knowledge base of mountain people until recently. They said that most schemes had focused on modernisation at the expense of traditional values.

Koch said traditional values were also at risk in Switzerland. She stressed the only way to keep traditions alive was to revitalise mountainous areas and make them more attractive to young people.

"In some parts of Switzerland mountainous regions are being re-populated," Koch said. "However, the fact that schools have been closed down has broken up many families and forced them to send their children to urban areas."

"Unless governments take measures to revitalise country areas they will continue to lose traditional values," she said.

Hard to work

The coordinator of the European Mountain Forum, Françoise Mees, said many Swiss women living in mountain communities found it hard to go out to work.

"In Switzerland, for example, there are some valleys where there are not enough kindergartens, which would help Swiss women to find a job and contribute to the economy," Mees told swissinfo.

The international gathering was launched as part of the United Nations Year of Mountains and was jointly organised by the Swiss-based European Mountain Forum and the city of Chambéry.

It serves as a preparatory meeting for the Celebrating Mountain Women gathering, which takes place in Bhutan in October.

by Billi Bierling

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