Honoring Women’s Day in Georgia


Future Feminist celebrating Women's Day in Tbilisi

I live in a country that honors everything feminine.  Men speak about their mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters as saints and angels.  I haven’t had to open a door for myself in two months; I assure you that chivalry is alive and well.  On International Women’s Day, ladies were gifted with flowers, compliments, and gratitude in the streets, and some of my female friends even received Women’s Day bonuses at work.

I also live in a country where I was solicited as a prostitute within my first week (granted, I was standing alone on a street corner, but I wasn’t even wearing heels, dude).  Where women comprise 6% of Parliament and 11% of local government.  Where 92% of surveyed women in the rural region of Kakheti reported that they’d been victims of domestic violence in their lifetimes.1  I live in a country where gender roles are tacitly understood, and departures from these norms are not welcomed.

There are no easy explanations for the polarity.  You can chalk it up to Georgia being a traditional, patriarchal society.  You can write all the men off as sexists.  But that would be an unfair oversimplification, and we’d be overlooking so much of the progress that has occurred here in the past decades.

Compared with some of their conservative neighbors, Georgians are proud to be a more progressive country in the region.  In recent years, the government of Georgia has implemented campaigns raising awareness against domestic violence, and ensured “a more proactive implementation of the gender equality commitments laid out by CEDAW, Beijing Platform of Action, Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Violence against Women (DEVAW), International Conference on Population Development (ICPD) Programme of Action.”2

Based on discussions with Georgian friends, my first impression is that they fear a western feminist agenda will eliminate the delicate femininity that they hold so dear, as well as their own identities as gentlemen.  Conversations about gender inequality need to be approached with careful attention to facts, to data, and to the mutual benefits that increased opportunity for women will provide people of any gender.  The goal is not to nullify femininity or masculinity, but rather to dissolve the cultural barriers that quietly prevent women from achieving their full potential as citizens and leaders.

I celebrated the 8th of March with the Women’s Fund in Georgia.  They debuted a documentary (aptly titled “Untold Herstories”) which told the stories of three relatively unknown feminists in the history of Georgia: Barbara Jorjadze, Ekaterine Gabashvili and Kato Mikeladze.  The evening included discussions by the film’s authors and actors and the Independent Group of Feminists on “Georgian Feminism Today,” henna tattoos, wine, and one of the most memorable cakes I’ve ever eaten.

"We can do it!"

“We can do it!”

Art Gallery Tbilisi

Nana Women's Fund Georgia

Little one

Watching Untold Herstories

Photo credit to Women's Fund in Georgia

Photo credit to Women’s Fund in Georgia

WomensDayParty

Henna

Henna

1 2010 study conducted by the Anti-Violence Network of Georgia

2 UN Joint Programme to Enhance Gender Equality in Georgia, 2011

21 comments

  1. It’s not as if it’s surprising, but this is so well written, Megan. It’s interesting, and so crucial, to learn of different perspectives, but I really hope that by the time my daughters are adults the rate of progress toward gender equality has sped up dramatically. Not just for their sake, but for the world’s. Thanks for this!

    • Thanks so much Sid, I am glad to hear you found this post interesting. Your daughters are lucky girls!

      The gender divide here is something I’m still struggling with day by day, professionally and personally. But there is always a solution. And this one is definitely worth working for.

  2. I appreciate the way your post acknowledges the validity of non-Western concerns over wholesale importation of Western values as a solution to non-Western problems. As much as I admire the UN’s efforts (and those of other international interest groups), there is a need for greater cultural sensitivity in addressing these issues. I think of it in terms of that first car: I paid for it, so it means more to me than one my parents bought for me. When a culture is allowed to create its own way forward in its own culturally idiosyncratic way, it will ultimately provide a more lasting solution than any prefabricated extrinsic Band-Aid ever could. It does take longer, admittedly, and it’s a thorny process, but in the end the results are worth waiting for. But then, that’s why I prefer micro- to macro-finance, too…

    • Thanks anglophile. I do agree that cultural sensitivity is necessary, and parachuting into any country, guns blazing and ready to save the ignorant masses, is a strategy doomed to failure. But I am not quite post-modern enough to accept that any behavior or philosophy is permissible just because it’s “culture.” Bride kidnappings were common “culture” here until a couple decades ago. So the challenge is communicating with people in the right way, learning about their needs and beliefs, and hopefully providing protection and empowerment to vulnerable people who never thought they deserved it in the first place.

  3. Fantastic cake! It sounds like International Women’s Day was a great opportunity to discuss some real and relevant issues in Georgia. I also like that you make it clear “the goal is not to nullify femininity or masculinity”. It’s easy to get tripped up over that concept, even for people from countries where feminism isn’t so new or radical anymore.

    • Yes, that cake was so impressive! And you’re right, the loss of femininity and masculinity is definitely the predominant argument I hear “against” feminism. You’d think that the fact that I wear make-up, high heels, and highlights in my hair would convince them that feminists can love femininity too, but apparently not!

  4. Interesting and thought-provoking commentary! Issues and practices come into sharper focus when we live in another country and we have to view our own assumptions and habits against those that predominate in the other country.
    You talk about violence and inequality in a ccountry “Where 92% of surveyed women in the rural region of Kakheti reported that they’d been victims of domestic violence in their lifetimes.” This is not such a high figure for many countries, yet it seems appalling to us. It is a way men keep women under control. Yet the flip side of that is the chivalry and attention from men, which we don’t see much of in the U.S. (not that I’d want to go back to waiting outside the car for my date to open the door).
    I think you’ve put your finger on the delicate balancing act that needs to come with some synthesis between gender equality and respect for inherent gender differences. “The goal is not to nullify femininity or masculinity, but rather to dissolve the cultural barriers that quietly prevent women from achieving their full potential as citizens and leaders.”
    AMEN!
    I may link this blog (with your permission) on my blog relating to women’s issues.

    • Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Joanne. The 92% figure still baffles me. On a day to day basis, I’m so overwhelmed by the kindness and hospitality of people in this country (male and female), it’s hard for me to comprehend that violence can exist here on that sort of scale. It just doesn’t compute.

      And absolutely, feel free to link to this post on your blog!

  5. This is an absolutely fabulous post, Meg. I genuinely didn’t know anything about the roles men and women play in Georgia. I feel like I’ve learned so much. ❤

      • Wow, you are lucky!!! That is how I feel about blogging. It is work yet I don’t get paid. I feel like the rewards however have been better than any paid job I’ve ever done. Can’t wait to learn more about your work there Meghan and I’m so glad you found something so rewarding!!! 🙂

  6. I’ve missed your posts, and am so glad to see you ’round these parts again!

    First of all, fabulous photos. That cake is incredible, and I’m totally jealous. Second of all, great information. You’re absolutely right – to label these men as “sexists” doesn’t tell the entire story. That 92% figure is upsetting and shocking, but I’m glad that there’s a dialogue, however tentative it may be.

    • It’s good to be back, Loni.

      The 92% is shocking and very sad… as is the fact that 34% of women in Georgia believe that it’s alright for a husband to hit his wife in certain circumstances. There has been some dialogue, but it’s been mostly pushed from external western organizations and governments. The grassroots women’s rights movement in Georgia is still very small and does not receive the support they need from the public (in fact, sometimes they receive abuse instead, particularly if they are viewed as supporting anything LGBT-related). But I remain hopeful. 🙂

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