A road to change in Georgia. Photo: The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation
Giving birth is expensive – in Georgia it cost about an average monthly income. Many women can’t afford that, thus risking their own and their child lives by giving birth unattended. A woman’s organization succeeded now in getting the birth fee abolished in their region.
In Southwest Georgia, in the remote region of Samtskhe-Javakheti, traditional gender stereotypes and ideas about women’s role in society are prevalent. One of the huge problems women in the region are facing is the lack of access to health care and health education. If there are healthcare facilities, women usually can’t afford their fees, thus many women suffer from diseases that are curable or preventable.
The situation gets especially difficult for pregnant women. There is no education on birth, newborn care or the post-partum period with all its challenges. To give birth in the area’s only obstetric clinic until recently cost about 600 Georgia Lari, which equals the average monthly income in Georgia.
The Georgian Democrat Women’s Organization work in the field of women’s sexual health and women’s rights, women’s participation in local politics and it provides also support for women who were subjected to domestic violence.
The women of DWO have after a decade of hard work and lobbying succeeded in reaching an important goal: it is now completely free of charge to deliver at the hospital. This is not only a huge success for the persistent women who brought this about and for those who from now on will get medical help if necessary while giving birth, but also a wonderful example of how it pays off not to give up. Change is possible!
Late October, a new government was approved by the newly elected Georgian parliament. Many analysts call this a historical election – for the first time ever Georgia experienced a peaceful transition of power. And three of the key positions within the government went to women.
The incumbent President Michal Saalashvili congratulated the newly elected Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili to his victory. The elections were preceded by a dynamical campaign period, mostly concentrated around these two men’s personalities. When it comes to women’s participation, however, from the moment of registration of party lists and candidates for majoritarian elections, it was clear that there would be no breakthrough in terms of gender balance. Yet, there have been some positive developments.
In relative terms, it sounds great – the share of women MPs has risen with 60 percent in the Georgian parliament. But they still are only 10,8 percent, compared to the previous 6,6 percent, the lowest rate in Europe. The number of women in the newly elected cabinet is unchanged – three women out of 20. The good news is though that the women occupy key positions within the government, Maia Panjikidze as a head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Tea Tsulukiani of the Ministry of Justice and Khatuna Gogoladze of the Ministry of Environment.
Financial incentive no effect
Elena Ruseckaja from the Georgian women’s rights organization Women’s Information Center is happy about the increase of women in parliament, but says that she and her colleagues analyze the results, to draw lessons for the future. For instance had the recent amendments, providing parties with financial incentive to have no less than 20 percent of women on party lists, no effect.
Elena Ruseckaja, Women's Information Center. Photo: Julia Lapitskii/The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation.
– This opportunity was only used by two parties: the Christian Democrats and the New Party and they were not even elected to the parliament. Thus, the efforts of the international community and women’s organizations in this direction have not played a role.
What did play a role, according to Elena Rusetskaja, was direct interaction with the parties and support for women candidates.
– Women’s groups had meetings and discussions with the parties, and the majority of women that were elected to the parliament are known to us. Many of them have their background in civil society, such as Manana Kobakhidze, deputy speaker of the new parliament and the former chairman of the organization Article 42 of the Constitution (Georgian citizenship: fundamental rights and freedoms).
First democratic transfer of power
For the first time in the history of independent Georgia, the transfer of power took place in a democratic way, and several political branches are now represented in the parliament:
– We see it as a positive development, that we now have a multi-party parliament, which opens up for constructive cooperation. We will monitor how they are living up to their obligations and follow the implementation of the Gender Equality Law, the Law on Domestic Violence, the National Action Plan for the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security. We hope to be able to advocate for changes in the Labor Code, because now it has loopholes that makes it possible to discriminate against women in the workplace. In addition, we very much hope that a Gender Advisory Board of the parliament will play a major role in achieving equality at all levels of the government. The gender thinking should permeate all state institutions, says Elena Ruseckaja.
Hope for resolution of frozen conflicts
There is also hope for a peaceful resolution of the frozen 20-year old conflicts concerning Abkhazia and the South Ossetia/Tskhinvali region. This issue has disappeared from the political discussions during the last few years, but now parties actively put these questions on the agenda.
– Parties that are new to the political arena are striving for the resumption of economic and cultural relations with the Abkhaz and South Ossetian population. Guram Odisharia, an IDP (internally displaced person), was appointed Minister of Culture and Monument Protection. We believe there will be people in the government who have close ties with Abkhazia. The Geneva talks will certainly be changing format, but we hope that the 40 percent women participants in the Georgian delegation will not be reduced.
On October 1st parliamentary elections will be held in Georgia. Currently there are only 6.6 percent women representatives in the Georgian parliament, the lowest number in all of Europe.
− To achieve long-term stability in Georgia, it is crucial to include more women in the decision-making processes, says Alla Gamakharia from the women and peace organization Cultural-Humanitarian Fund Sukhumi, based in Kutaisi.
Between 2006 and 2011 Georgia fell from place 59 to place 120 in The Global Gender Gap Index concerning women’s political participation. To reverse this negative trend, the Georgian government in December 2011 adopted a law amendment stating that the stately support to political parties will be increased if they have at least 20 percent women candidates on their party lists.
But this seems to have had little impact on the biggest rivals in the upcoming election. President Saakashvili’s party, United National Movement has 10.9 percent women among its candidates and billionaire Bidzina Ivanisjvilis party, The Georgian Dream (Kartuli Otsneba), has 16.5 percent.
Patriarchal norms and nepotism
The Georgian society is characterized by both patriarchal norms and nepotism. This drastically reduces the possibility of getting into politics without having an influential family behind you, especially if you’re a women. Discrimination against women is widespread and embedded in social structures, which limits the opportunities for women to pursue careers and participate in politics. Issues of gender equality and women’s rights are not high on the political agenda.
For Alla Gamakharia there is a clear relationship between the low percentage of women in parliament and other problem’s in Georgian society.
− A low representation of women leads to marginalization of issues concerning women’s situation in the country, which leads to inequality, human rights violations and social imbalances, says Alla Gamakharia.
International discussions important
Within the framework of the EU’s Eastern Partnership – which includes the EU and its six Eastern neighbors Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine and Belarus – Georgia has committed itself to respecting the EU’s common values, including democracy and human rights. A commitment that, according to Lika Naidaraia from the Georgian women and peace organization Women’s Political Resource Centre, WPRC, could be crucial for future development in Georgia. She underlines the importance of the EU and the international community highlighting gender equality in political decision-making, when meeting with representatives of the Georgian government.
A memorial evening held in Gori to commemorate the anniversary of the 2008 August war. Photo: Goga Aptsiauri/RFE-RL
In the beginning of August, a memorial evening was held in Gori, a city in eastern Georgia, to commemorate the anniversary of the 2008 August war that broke out between Georgia on one side, and Russia and the breakaway state of South Ossetia on the other side. This armed confrontation is a continuation of a 20 year old ethnic conflict that erupted in the South Caucasus region after the Soviet Union’s collapse, and has been considered a “frozen conflict” ever since the ceasefire in 1992. As in previous years, internally displaced persons (IDPs) as well as family members of fallen soldiers gathered together, appealing to their political leaders for the restoration of peace in the region.
According to the organizer of the event, Manana Mebuke, leader of the movement Women for Peace and Safety, a similar event also took place in Tskhinvali, arranged by the Association of Women of South Ossetia for Democracy and Human Rights.
Members of the “Women for Peace and Safety” movement commemorated all war victims, regardless of their ethnicity. They marched through the streets of Gori, holding candles and flowers. Arriving at the fallen soldier memorial, they observed a moment of silence and laid down flowers.
This event is only one out of several campaigns that “Women for Peace and Safety” arrange simultaneously with their partners in Ossetia. As a sign of peace they light candles in the windows of their homes on the International Day of Peace on September 21 and demonstrate on the International Women’s Day on March 8.
One of the women present at the commemoration was Nazzi Beruashvili who has been a forced migrant for four years now, living in an IDP settlement in Karaleti, in Georgia. She often asks herself what she could have done to prevent the war. In 2008 Nazzi joined the peace movement, and today she is negotiating for peace with South Ossetian women. According to her, reconciliation will surely happen one day:
- The aim of Women for Peace and Safety has always been the establishment of peace, trust, mutual friendship and understanding. All of us – the Ossetians and Georgians – should strive for peace and a happy future on Earth.
At the office of the "Wives of Invalids and Lost Warriors" Union. Photo: Julia Lapitskii/ The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation
At the heart of the Women for Peace and Safety stands the “Union Wives of Invalids and Lost Warriors”, that has been working with citizen diplomacy for two decades now, the starting point being a conference entitled “Peaceful Caucasus – Peaceful World”. The conference was the first meeting ever for war veterans fighting each other during the first armed confrontation, as well as for women affected by the conflict. For the first time they had an opportunity to share their experiences and together identify ways to achieve peace.
Some years later, the main focus of the peace organization shifted to working with women – those who bear the main burden of the conflict. Men went to war, while the children and elderly remained at home, and families were lacking the most basic necessities – bread, electricity and heating. Many women became widows, and the husbands of others came back from the war with disablities.
In the 2000’s the “Wives of Invalids and Lost Warriors” union organized numerous meetings and conferences, both with Abkhaz and Ossetian organizations.
Women’s peacebuilding school
In August 2008, with the outbreak of a new war in South Ossetia, all the peacekeeping efforts of the organization were destroyed. Not only did the war lead to a new wave of violence and hatred, but it also imposed insurmountable physical boundaries. The activists at the union, however, never gave up; rather they continued meeting women IDP’s who had left their homes in South Ossetia, and talking to them about the importance of dialogue.
Mimosa Mamatsashvili, one of the members of the union, describes these seminars:
- We usually start with the basics: human rights, women’s rights, what a conflict is – how it develops and spreads, and its consequences. We talk about conflict resolution and look at various international treaties, resolutions, and other mediation tools. We talk about tolerance and discuss the basics of communication.
Women attending the seminars often start off in an aggressive mood: everyone of them has their own story of loss, how they were forced to flee, leaving everything behind and settle in small rooms in abandoned guest houses and school buildings. Without work and without means for living, women managed to pull through with their families. Many of them suffered from the conflict twice – once in the beginning of the 90’s and then again in 2008. Mimosa Mamatsashvili, who herself left her home and her life in Tskhinvali, continues:
- Women start changing their attitudes right before our eyes – the original aggression is transformed into understanding. We have an exercise called “the dialogue”, where we divide the participants into three groups; one “Georgian”, one “Ossetian” and one “observers” group. The different groups then have to enter into dialogues with members from the other groups. And the participants start selecting their words, in order not to offend the others, speaking in a way that would not ignite a conflict, but rather focusing on what they have in common. At the end of the course the participants often remark: “Yes, it turns out that we can still agree.”
In total, 1000 women have attended the training courses organized by the union, a significant contribution in building up trust among the conflicting nations.
- One thousand women, means one thousand families, and each family consists of at least four members. And they in turn pass on the longing for peace to their children, says Mimosa Mamatsashvili.
Team building activities for the participants of the feminist summer school. Photo: Julia Lapitskii/The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation
In the midst of the hot summer, young women from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey came together for a week in Kobuleti, Georgia, to take part in a feminist summer school. The region has for many years been dominated by the wounds of several frozen conflicts, and for many of the participants, meeting women from the other side was a new, and very emotional, experience.
Lika Nadaraia from the Women's Political Resource Center in Georgia. Photo: Julia Lapitskii/The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation
The idea to organize a feminist summer school came to Lika Nadaraia, from the Women’s Political Resource Center in Tbilisi, after seeing it first in the Balkans. When the school was arranged for the first time five years ago, participants were only Georgian women from various women’s organisations, as well as activists and politicians. A few years later, in 2010, it became a regional school – including all the countries of the South Caucasus region, joined this year also by participants from Turkey.
- I’ve seen a lot of women’s meetings on peacekeeping, and I realized that as long as women continue to represent patriarchal values and keep supporting dominant structures, nothing can be achieved. Women can unite and have an impact, only if they have a common philosophy when they start criticizing militarism, nationalism, that often dominate in the patriarchal context – says Lika Nadaraia, feminist summer school organizer.
A turning point
For Elene Natenadze, a student of psychology at the Tbilisi State University and an employee at the Caucasus Institute for Peace, Democracy and Development, this is the second summer school, and it has became, in some ways, a turning point in her life:
- I used to think that there was something wrong in the way men were treating me, but I could not understand what was the problem and why it happened. After the first school I realized that they simply have no right to behave in that way.
Nare Hovhannisyan, one of the participants from the Women’s Resource Center Armenia, is confident that the school will help her take on a more active role in her organization.
- I have been thinking a lot these days about what is most important to me. I am now a volunteer, and I participate in all the organisation’s activities, but most importantly, I realized that I should have a goal. I have to pass on the knowledge I obtained here. It is not enough to just participate in what the organization is undertaking, I have to find my own mission.
Important to meet
For Elene and Nare, as well as for the rest of the young women taking part in the school, it was very important to meet new people, which otherwise is virtually impossible to do in a region torn by conflicts and divided by insurmountable borders. A fact that also was confirmed by Leyla Jahangirova from the Azerbaijani organization Yuva Humanitarian Center:
- It was a chance for me to meet young women from other countries in the region. I told the Armenian participants myself yesterday: I was born in Karabakh; the war happened in front of my eyes; I lost my home; loved ones. Years have passed and now we are here together. It does not matter, because I understand that this is not a war that they started, they are just citizens of a country that is at war with a country I live in. But this does not change our relationship.
Common feminist platform
These connections and these meetings are in fact the aim of the school, according to the school organizer Lika Nadaraia – it is not just about the transfer of knowledge, but it also important to establish contacts between organisations with a clear feminist position and with a clear vision that will eventually lead to the creation of a common regional platform, but through a living structure, which will not become too bureaucratic.
- They are happy to go beyond their national realities and realize how similar they are. Why is this described as an Armenian culture, for example? They say we do not want to change our culture, but it is in fact one and the same culture, one where women has always occupied the same place.
27th of December 2011 the Parliament of Georgia approved a National Plan of Action for 2012-2015, for the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1325. The vote was preceded by a long and intense process, which involved governmental offices, international organizations and non governmental organizations (NGO:s). Now, six months later, is it possible to see any results?
Discussions on the possibility of adopting a National Action Plan, NAP, began in 2002, but at that time it didn’t reach beyond just talks. But when Georgia in 2010 adopted the Law on Gender Equality, and later established the Council for Equality, the issue surfaced again. A working group including government officials, civil society and international organizations was formed.
Miranda Gvantseladze works at the Cultural-Humanitarian Fund Sukhumi, one of the organizations represented in the working group:
- It was very important that non-governmental organizations were involved in developing the NAP. We are familiar with the situation at local level and we also have the experience and capacity to use in developing this kind of documents. And since the document was in our hands, we can say that our voice has been heard, she says.
The Georgian National Action Plan includes a number of priority areas:
- Increase the number of women in conflict prevention, conflict resolution and conflict management
- Protection of women’s rights and the guarantee of mental, economic, social and political security
- Elimination of all forms of violence against women
- Addressing the special needs of women in conflict and post-conflict situations
To be able to monitor the outcome, the NAP also includes a number of measurements. They focus on education, like seminars and workshops, as well as on the analysis of the situation, i e the accumulation of data, research and sharing of available statistics on the floor. And the first results are already here.
- There have been trainings held for the officials at the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Interior. The Ministry of Education haven’t had any trainings held yet but they have developed a plan of activities, says Eka Kemularia from the Georgian Parliament’s Committee on Human Rights and Civil Integration.
- The Minister of Defense plans to issue a special order for the implementation of the NAP at the ministerial level. That will include more women working at the ministry, more women involved in decision-making and training for the ministry’s staff in gender issues with regard to women and security, says George Amanatidze, Head of the International Law Division at the Ministry of Defence.
40 percent women delegates
And these are not just empty words – Georgian women have actually gotten more chances to make inputs in the area of conflict resolution. For example, in the 19th round of the Geneva talks on the stabilization work in South Caucasus, four out of ten of the participants in the Georgian delegation were women.
Hopes for international funding
Despite the obvious progress in implementing the NAP, there still remains, according to Eka Kemularia, the painful question of funding. And here the Georgian government’s hopes are to the international community.
- We hope that donors will not have the attitude that now, when the NAP has been adopted, they will stop or reduce their assistance. Yes, getting a plan through is not always easy, but it is easier than to execute it. If the international community won’t support us, first, the plan could unfortunately fail, and secondly, we have to some extent become an example for other countries, so if we are not successful, it would not be a very good example .
NGOs need support from the state
Miranda Gvantseladze agrees that the support from international organizations is important, but at the same time she finds it sad that the Georgian state doesn’t support the non-governmental sector.
- It’s a big problem for us. We have good ideas, good projects, but it’s difficult for us to get funding. Unfortunately, in our country the non-governmental organizations do not get state assistance yet, she says.