Although Gender inequality is the oldest kind of inequality, humankind still cannot find a solution to the problem. The reason lies in its complexity and variation between countries and cultures. Women participation in the decision making process and in governance is commonly perceived not only as an indicator of high level of equality, but also as a strong tool to further strengthen it.
Despite the efforts to empower women, Georgia still remains a country with significantly low female representation in politics and high level of violence against women. This paper explores specifics of Georgian experience of the matter to elaborate further on the discussion about women’s political engagement.
The first part of the paper approaches the topic from the historical perspective. It discusses the examples of women being powerful and influential to emphasize the importance of the precedence, and suggests an alternative image in response to the opinion that opposes gender equality on cultural and historical basis. The text goes on exploring gender equality in the light of the works of Georgian intellectuals who have built modern Georgian identity and argues that gender equality is part of narrative.
The second half of the work focuses on Georgian women’s participation in politics. It describes possible influence women could have on political processes in Georgia, if they were more involved. The paper investigates the main reasons behind women’s absence in decision making
processes and the barriers women face when they start a political career. It ends with recommendations based on the findings of the research.
How can historical analyses promote the idea of gender equality in Georgia?
Significant part of people in Georgia perceiving themselves as conservatives and loyal to Georgian traditions, often justify their negative attitude towards the idea of gender equality with the statement that “Gender equality is against Georgian traditions and mindset”. In this case it can be assumed that the society faces the issue of proper analyze of their own History, because the History of Georgia, which is the reason for national pride for majority of Georgians, in opposite – demonstrates a lot of examples when the women have been significant integral active of the main processes and actually those people are proud of them. In the other words, in Georgian reality we face the paradox – same people who are proud of famous Georgian women from history for serving in patriarchal societies non-traditional roles, at the same time are skeptical about the idea of women empowerment.
The question then is the following – when we talk about promotion of gender equality what can be the reason for drawing more attention to historical analyses? How can historical analyses be helpful in promoting gender equality in Georgian context? The answer to this question is the following – the most skeptical part of the society about the idea of gender equality in Georgia are exactly those who perceive themselves as conservatives respecting the traditions and history. Respectively, traditions and history for those people are one of the most significant sources with high levels of credibility which significantly impacts their mindset. Thus, if there will be more efforts to help those people in analyzing the part of their own history which demonstrates the important social role of women in Georgia during different times, there is more chance that it will become one of the drivers for them to accept the essence of gender equality. In the other words, there is a higher probability that conservative people with nationalist sentiments will listen to the lessons of their own history, rather than to anything else.
Role of women in Georgia – historical overview
The question then is – What does the History of Georgia demonstrate about the role of the women? The analysis of this topic can be divided in three main dimensions. First – analyze precedents when Georgian women have played a significant and sometimes even decisive role in developments of historical processes during ancient times and middle ages. Such facts can be perceived as the factors inspiring and promoting the idea of accepting women’s important role in different fields both during those times and more importantly in future. Second – development of thoughts on gender in the ideology of the most respected thinkers from XIX-
XX centuries such as Ilia Chavchavadze, Niko Nikoladze, Vazha-Pshavela, which could be impacted by both international development of Enlightenment way of thinking and inspirational examples from history of Georgia. Third – the achievements of gender equality during the times of the first republic of Georgia – 1918-1921.
Ancient times and middle Ages
Starting with overall evaluation of women’s important role in the history of Georgia, it can be assumed that regardless of the presence of mainstream patriarchal mindset like in the rest of the world during ancient and middle ages, there have been cases in Georgia when women had the main role in particular developments. Firstly, the declaration of Christianity as a state religion in Georgia (which during historical developments played a huge role in defining Georgian National Identity) is mostly related to women – namely such development was followed by preaching of Christianity in Georgia by Saint Nino. Significant role in this process had the queen of Georgia – Nana as well, who – alongside with the king played an important role in declaring Christianity as a state religion (Chkhikvishvili, 2012). Another highlight associated with women in history of Georgia is the “Golden Age”, which is related to King Tamar in late XII and early XIII centuries (In Georgian language there is no gender and “King” does not necessarily mean that the person is male and as in case of Tamar is used for female as well). Tamar is not the only woman remembered from her reign, during her times and settling down the rebellion (which actually was demanding giving up of legislative function from the king and transfer of it to legislative body called “Karavi”) of powerful authorities was also managed through important and successful negotiations carried out by two ladies – Kravai Jakeli and Khvashak Tsokali, who on behalf of the king managed to prevent confrontation with rebels and demonstrated the finest skills of diplomacy (Chkhikvishvili, 2012). Tamar was not the only female King in the history of the country and her daughter Rusudan also reigned for a while, but was not as successful as her ancestors. Another important women in political processes from history of Georgia is Queen Ketevan, who is mainly famous for being a martyr sacrificing her life as a demonstration of refusing change of religion, indeed it is a demonstration of great strength and loyalty, this is not the only value of her and it can be said that as a political figure she had a great significance as well, for instance she was in charge of anti-Persian rebellion and also during the rule of Persian Empire over some of Georgian kingdoms and principalities she also contributed to persuading Shah Abbas to let the son of her – Teimuraz become the king of Kakheti (One of Georgian Kingdoms) (Aludauri, 2012). Besides that, it’s worth mentioning that she was ruling Kakheti herself during the early years of King Teimuraz as well. From the history of Georgia there are the examples of warrior women as well, such as the warriors fighting against Pompeus in the army of Artag in the 1st Century BC and famous warrior Maia Tskneteli from the XVIII century (NPLG, MAIA TSKNETELI). To sum up, we can state that despite the fact that it is too early during those
times to speak about gender equality as a phenomenon in the mindset of masses, we can still see Georgian women as leaders, kings, which provides:
- Successful examples proving that women always have been capable to lead
- Inspiration for future generations
- Assumptions that while demonstrating pro-equality points main ideologists of Georgia in XIX-XX centuries took into consideration the historical experience
- Basis for proper analysis of history to help Georgian community, namely the more
conservative part of it in realizing that gender equality and the important role of women in social and political life is not something forcibly propagandized by the West, but something which was also an integral part of the history of Georgia.
Women issue among Georgian intellectuals in 19th century
Georgian national identity was forged in the 19th century, while being a colony of Russian Empire. Since the 1860s a new generation of young Georgian intellectuals had started to communicate western ideas and values, to which they got exposed as a result of them studying in the Russian and in some cases, European universities. This intellectual movement was generally referred as “Tergdaleulebi”, literally meaning people who drank water from the river Tergi (the river which served as the border between south Caucasus and Russia). These intellectuals established influential newspapers, journals, organizations and civil associations. Georgian national narrative was being created through their writings.
Gender equality was one of important topics for the intellectuals of these era. They wrote many articles about it and they promoted the ideas of equal rights and equal opportunities for different sexes. In 19th century, as nowadays, Georgia was considered to be a traditional society. What is surprising then is how receptive Georgian intellectual movement was towards the idea of gender equality. Instead of opposing this idea, there was uniformity in its support from “Tergdaleulis” and generations after them. Of course this is not to say that Georgian society in general was tolerant toward this idea, but at least, it can be safely assumed that Georgian intellectuals, predominantly males, supported this cause as far as they could, so that women could have access to education, employment and civil activism. It also needs to be mentioned, that as it was already demonstrated in this paper Georgian culture was generally acquainted with the idea of strong women. They are seen not just in historical narrative, but also in literature. The most important poem for each Georgian – “Vepkhistkaosani” (“The knight in the Panther’s Skin”) includes important women characters, who are described as wise and powerful, assuming the roles generally ascribed to men, like being rulers and decision-makers. The intellectuals of 19th century defined the issue of gender equality in modern terminology and proposed the empowerment of women through education.
As it was already mentioned, Georgian national identity was partly forged due to the writings and articles of these same authors, as a result of this it should be expected that Georgian
national narrative must be tolerant toward gender equality, the fact that this is not entirely true can be ascribed to different reasons, among them 70 years of being under soviet rule and break away from the narratives of civic nationalism of 19th century in 1990s national movement.
This part of the paper will discuss the articles about the issue of women of 4 intellectuals of late 19th early 20th centuries. This will demonstrate how this topic was discussed in this era and how it became a part of national narrative.
The first writer and publisher who will be discussed is Ilia Chavchavadze. He was a leader of “Tergdaleuli” movements, who was the most influential person in the second half of 19th century. He was an editor of one of the most important newspapers “Iveria”, where most of his articles were published. Ilia chavchavadze in his writings emphasized that a person should be self-sufficient and not dependent on anybody else.
Speaking on gender equality, he elaborates on the same point. But first of all, he explains that being a good woman first and foremost means being a good human being, a good person, therefore everybody who thinks, that the role of women is for them just to be “mother, wife and sister”, is wrong. Stating this, he goes against traditionally perceived roles for different sexes. He explicitly says that “a person has many more duties toward his community and homeland, than just being a good mother, or a good father. These duties are of utmost importance and need to be fulfilled by both, men and women. This is possible only by being a good person. He/she who isn’t a good person, can’t be a good mother or a good father or good at anything at all” (Chavchavadze, About the issue of women, 1957). What is important here is a shift of the paradigm. Ilia chavchavadze states that a person must be described how good he is as a human being, not as a woman or man. In another article on the same point he remarks that it would be unfair to reduce women from being humans to just being women, which has a meaning of being a good “mother, wife and sister” and says that the issue of women rights must be labeled as an issue of human rights.
After stating this, he elaborates on how good it is, that women decided to establish their own school for women education. As it was said before, he was a champion of the idea of individualism and self-reliance. Therefore, he is more than happy that women united in association and started to take care for themselves. He points out that it’s a correct way, that women show how remarkable and hard-working they can be and he believes and hopes, in spite of initial difficulties this struggle of women will have a positive effect on society (Chavchavadze, About the issue of women, 1957).
From a modern point of view, another article of Ilia Chavchavadze named “woman teacher” is even more interesting. Here he addresses the issue of equal pay and gender discrimination. The article discusses the teachers who teach in the villages. The author emphasizes that women who try hard and spare resources to become teachers are not always granted the workplace and even if they are, they get less salary than men. Ilia Chavchavadze thinks that this is an unfair practice which needs to be ended and even more, he believes that women teachers must be encouraged to engage and once again, he is satisfied that women themselves organize to better prepare themselves to deal with obstacles. In this article he even admits that “it turned out women to be more effective in these kinds of things (dealing with gender inequality), than us – men” (Chavchavadze, Woman Teacher, 1955).
Another author who will be discussed is Niko Nikoladze. He was another prominent member of “Tergdaleuli” generation. Niko Nikoladze travelled throughout Europe during his youth and he was very well acquainted with contemporary western ideas and movements. His defense of women is even more fierce than that of Ilia Chavchavadze.
Niko Nikoladze wrote his major article about this topic as a critique of one major unscientific, biased and discriminatory theory, that women use deduction as their tool of reason, while men use induction. Following this logic, different authors in contemporary Europe assumed that women were as a rule more sensible, less rational and more emotional. Niko Nikoladze refutes this theory by stating that although it may seem that women generally tend to be as described above, it doesn’t mean that this is a rule of nature. In addition to him doubting scientific methodology used by the author he criticized, he also held the opinion that if women had the same access to education as men, then the result could have been absolutely different (Nikoladze, Buckle and women issue, 1864).
In his another essay on the same topic, Niko Nikoladze argues that while fighting for gender equality, women should not lose their femininity. He says, the form of this movement is being changed, women do not dress like men anymore to prove anything, but the feminist movements are led by womanly-looking women, who surprise everybody with their knowledge and dedication (Nikoladze, Current issue of women rights defense). This can be assumed to be Niko Nikoladze’s defense of women not losing their femininity in their fight for equal treatment and rights.
The third person who will be introduced is Sergey Meskhi. He was an editor of another influential newspaper, named “Droeba”. He was also of the same generation as Niko Nikoladze and Ilia Chavchavadze and just as those two, he also defended gender equality in his articles. His method for this was a series of essays describing how women in different western countries have successfully achieved success in their fight for equal rights. He explores examples of the USA, Britain, France, Germany and Spain. He elaborates how women had been perceived before in these countries and how they were able to improve their position. Through these examples he encourages women to better organize themselves, by creating associations and getting access to education. He emphasizes the importance of women fighting for each right and for the access to each vocation. Sergey Meskhi believes that the Women in the USA feel themselves freest, while they are least dependent on men. He also says that maybe this is the
cause of the wealth and high education of the US, which was so much envied by Europeans (Meskhi, 1962).
Here it needs to be said that while the situation of women can be harsh in the west even today, Georgian intellectuals tried to create an exemplary model by talking and sometimes maybe exaggerating about western societies. They created an image that would have been an example for Georgian future.
Sergey Meskhi also challenges all the conservative views about women. He says, that it would be foolish to think that women exist only for their beauty, in order to please men and that it’s proved by thousands of examples, that women can be as effective as men in many vocations. It’s also important to note that Sergey Meskhi opposes those women who do not see a problem about their position in society and encourages them to fight on (Meskhi, 1962).
It must also be mentioned that Sergey Meskhi mentioned not just the importance of educational and civil rights for women, but also the importance of their economic well-being. He wrote that all these three are important and need to be fulfilled so that women were truly independent (Meskhi, 1962).
The fourth intellectual, who will be discussed here is Vazha-Pshavela. He may be one of the most important illustrations of the acceptance of the idea of gender equality from Georgian intellectuals. Vazha-Pshavela was an author of the next generation. It’s told, that when Ilia Chavchavadze first read poem of Vazha-Pshavela, he could not hide his excitement and said: “it is time for us, old ones to put our pens down and free the way for Vazha-Pshavela”. He is thought to be one of the greatest minds of that era, although he did not live in the city, but in a small mountainous village, where traditions were held in high value and he did not get a decent education, still his ideas and ideals are genuinely modern and western. The image of Vazha-Pshavela is that of a man from traditional society, with traditional values, he is often referred to as a symbol of Georgian conservatism. A closer examination of Vazha-Pshavela’s writings show that this is not correct and in reality, he was a champion of individualism among Georgian intellectuals.
Mix of modern ideas with his traditional way of life is very well exposed in his position about gender equality. Although he proposes that the most important aspect of women life is and should be their family and bringing up of their children, he also explicitly states, that for this task women must be very well educated and must be able to share the best values with their children and within the society in general (Vazha-Pshavela, About women, 1914). Even more, in another article, he emphasizes that women must be granted the same rights as men and they should be free to pursue political or other careers. This opinion is held by Vazha-Pshavela, because he believes politics and social life would only benefit from more feminine treats (Vazha-Pshavela, Everyday letter to the friend). Therefore, as other Georgian intellectuals, he
believes that this fight for gender equality needs to be won, without women losing their femininity and without them becoming more masculine.
After discussing these 4 intellectuals and their position on the topic of gender equality, it is clear that women rights was part of the process of Georgian nationality-making. All these four authors, who were very influential in 19th-20th centuries (before soviet occupation) fully supported equal rights of women, even though they very often disagreed on number of different issues (because of one of these disagreements, Niko Nikoladze and Ilia Chavchavadze almost killed each other in duel). Therefore, it can be stated that the support for equal rights was uniform in Georgian intellectual elite. They thought that women needed to be granted full access to education and then they would have been successful in their righteous cause. In addition to this, these intellectuals raised problems such as the economic situation of women, the problem of equal treatment and equal pay. It’s also worth noting that they did not think women should become more masculine, but supported the idea that they needed to be granted equality and preserve their femininity. Even more, icons of Georgian conservative population Ilia Chavchavadze and Vazha-Pshavela, both supported gender equality.
It also needs to be mentioned, that the first feminist movements started in Georgia in this same era and as it was already illustrated, they had full support of male intellectuals. In the 19th-20th century Georgian national narrative included gender equality and this is a very well-illustrated by the presence of women in Georgian political life during a brief period of independence in 1918- 1921.
Women during the First Republic of Georgia
The promotion of gender equality ideas by famous thinkers from XIX-XX centuries can be discussed separately while discussing their publicist works and will be provided in another part of this research. Apart from that, from the history of Georgia a significant interval related to gender equality topic is the period of the First Republic in 1918-1921, when developments emerged leading to empowerment of women, promotion of their political and social role in its modern way of understanding.
The First Republic of Georgia in the short-time period of 1918-1921 managed to create an important legacy. This was related to gender equality concerns as well. For instance, Georgia was one of the first countries giving women the right to vote, particularly since 22th of November, 1918 Georgian women have been capable of voting. Georgian women were also capable of being voted / elected and by 1919 in the Legislative Body of Georgia there were 5 women delegates out of a total number of 130 – all of them members of the Social-Democrat ruling party of Georgia (GHN News, 2019). The independence document of the First Republic is signed by women as well. It is worth mentioning that Georgia was also the first country, where the Muslim woman was elected as a deputy, which, at the same time was a representative of ethnical minority – ethnically Azerbaijani Pharikhan Sophyeva from
Georgia’s village of Karajala, which was mainly inhabited by ethnically Azerbaijanis, in 1918 was chosen as an independent deputy (Eurasia.Net; The world’s first democratically elected Muslim woman was from Georgia; 2018). The members of the legislative body of the first republic besides their status as legislatives have pretty interesting stories too. For example, Eleonora Ter-Pharsegova Makhviladze was pretty active even during the times of Russian empire and for being so active that as a result in fact she left institutions of Tsar in Sukhumi without any power, she was arrested 3 times, during 3 years of independence she was a member of parliament, while after Soviet occupation she was actively involved in anti-Soviet movements (Heinrich Böll Foundation, Eleonora Ter-Pharsegova Makhviladze, 2014). Another female member of the Constituent Assembly of Georgia – Ana Sologhashvili, who was also actively involved in anti-Soviet movement was even executed in 1937 (NLPG, Ana Sologhashvili). Another woman from Constituent Assembly – Minadora Orjonikidze was also working in the Red Cross and carried on fighting against Russian occupation after 1921, her family members were victims of massive repressions, while she was exiled several times (Heinrich Böll Foundation, Ana Sologhashvili, 2014). Apart from legislators there were other female civil activists as well – for instance Kato Mikeladze, editor of journal “The Voice of Georgian Woman” being published in 1917-1918 and Ekaterine Gabashvili, who was actively promoting the idea if women’s rights and encouraged women to be educated and successful, establishing schools for them and etc. (GDI, Voice of Georgian Woman) (Heinrich Böll Foundation, Ekaterine Tarkhnishvili-Gabashvili, 2014).
To sum up, despite the fact that women from early XX for the society are not as famous in Georgia as their ancestors discussed beforehand, we can state that both of them create the basis for argument, that history of the country consists of a lot of examples, when women played a significant role and in particular developments. However paradoxical it may sound, returning to historic ideas can be seriously beneficial in regard to this issue. Proper analyses of history can help Georgians, especially conservative part of it in accepting the idea of empowering women as far as history and traditions for those people is the source with one of the highest value of credibility.
Women and current political environment
In modern day Georgia gender inequality is an important problem. More than half of Georgia’s population consists of women. Still, they are left out of the decision-making process. In a representative democracy, there is a need for leadership that can voice the concerns of different groups.
“Women’s representation in public life and leadership is an important topic within Sustainable Development Goal 5 related to gender equality” (Levtov & Rakshit, 2020). Nowadays women’s representation in politics is not as high as anyone would imagine it would be by now. Based on different research reports there are several reasons outlined. According to one study problems lie in 5 categories: electoral system, political parties, the government, civil society
and stereotypes (Dolidze, 2017). This research concentrates on political parties and public perceptions/stereotypes. On the one hand, constraints connected to women’s participation is stipulated by intraparty processes, stereotypes, anxieties and on the other hand, by anxieties outside the political party (Urchukhishvili, 2017). The following analysis also highlights that the problem requires to alter the understanding of politics as well as self-perception of women, which prevents many of them from fully engaging in political affairs.
Firstly, it is known that managing a party and recruiting new members is easier when the party is well-organized, well-structured. After all, centralization is one of the biggest barriers for development. As for Georgian political parties, they lack structure, notably at lower levels, “and a comprehensive database of members updated on a regular basis” (Dolidze, 2017). Besides, “data analysis indicates that party processes are directed from Tbilisi and are of a centralized nature and has an elitist nature” (Urchukhishvili, 2017). With regard to this study, parties have elitist nature which can be depicted in recruitment and advancement processes. Above-mentioned database is crucial for better communication inside the party that therefore improves intra party democracy. “Having an active database of members, especially female members is very important for local self-government elections when parties nominate more candidates and gender balance needs to be ensured” (Dolidze, 2017). Without a proper management system, problems of open competition, integration, inclusion and alienation are derived. One research report underlines that due to centralization “men in the regions try to reinforce their privileges by means of intraparty conformism and through male connections while “ignoring the regional women” (Urchukhishvili, 2017).
In terms of widespread stereotypes, a view about politics “as a dirty job” still exists. According to a research report “male respondents tended to underline the “dirty” side of politics, they believe that women can choose not to be promoted or be rather active in politics due to this reason” (Urchukhishvili, 2017). However, a big part of society considers politics as an inappropriate domain for women to pursue. “The qualitative research findings demonstrate that politicians are often criticized and obscene words are used against them. That is why politics is considered to be a rough business and thus inappropriate for women” (ACT, 2013). Some consider this radical stand on the nature of politics to be a far-fetched myth and blame social institutions, the media for perpetuating it due to its active reporting of “physical confrontation”, which is not an unusual event in Georgian parliament. Thus, all “this is done deliberately, in order to discourage peaceful, competent and skilled women from engaging in politics” (Urchukhishvili, 2017). In addition, it creates anxieties around women – with families and friends regarding possible “danger of physical confrontation in politics, insofar as women are weak” (Urchukhishvili, 2017).
Apart from the mentioned, this perception can also be derived from Georgia’s recent history and a rough political struggle for power. Georgia’s recent experience as an independent state, when the political struggle of power has been embroiled with violence and hatred, built the
negative image of politics and a politician. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Georgian state was born out of political turmoil and instability with ethnic conflicts and civil war. This legacy lasts until today. Unlike democratic societies, where one needs to project his or her authority through competence to make people voluntarily obey him/her, in Georgia legitimacy based on competence was absent. The source of authority could not be non-existing institutions or previous Soviet leadership. Accordingly, different parties were inclined to exploit traditions or to see violence as a guarantor of power. Thus, a low culture of politics which was unfavorable to groups like women and was hardly compatible with gender equality. The positive image of women leaders, not unusual to the Georgian national narrative, has not been enough to influence political struggle, often associated with the use of force and characterized by distrust and antagonism.
With this in mind, it is no wonder that many Georgian women see politics as a dirty occupation that is to be avoided. Although the stigma about politics as a dirty game exists and prevents women from entering the political stage worldwide, to the Georgian women facing obstacles because of a political career means a lot more to leave behind. A woman who gets engaged in these affairs can be publicly disdained. In a ruthless election campaign, the competitive behavior of a woman is perceived much negatively. As one Georgian woman politician remarked, “Society punishes women more than men for such things. It’s an additional pressure” (Bacchi, 2020). The experiences show that women, even the members of the legislative body, can be vulnerable to sexual harassment. Targeting female politicians is not uncommon for Georgian politics and is often employed to destroy their public reputation. The lack of support from women and men equally leads to the conclusion that there is a wide- spread ignorance about women’s sexual life.
The misperception of their abilities by women is yet another important determining factor. Many women prefer to be recruited rather than to be a leader who will represent certain groups. It is well illustrated by statistics. Georgia ranks 18th among 193 states in terms of the number of women in the cabinet of ministers while it is 144th out of 193 states when it comes to women in parliament (UN Women, 2020). The UNDP study on self-perception showed that most women share beliefs and stereotypes on women. The participants of study noted themselves that for involvement in business or politics high self-esteem and confidence in one’s abilities are very important. In overcoming barriers, great importance has been attached to a woman’s assertive nature and diligence.
The research also proved that women in Georgia are more satisfied with what they have, even if their ambitions are not realized (UNDP in Georgia, 2013). Another study also shows that Georgian women in politics are more modest when it comes to promotion, they think they need to work more to assume the position. The research confirms that most of the work in the party is done by females (Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association, 2017). Therefore, it can be concluded that women’s self-perception, developed by many social and economic elements, hinder them from seeking advancement as leaders.
It is also remarkable that surveyees thought that these qualities should be paired with the solid support of the family (UNDP Georgia, 2013). In Georgia one of the most influential barriers is negative attitudes of family members, relatives and even neighbors with the traditional perception that family should be the main priority for a woman, not work. In the case of family, it mainly concerns the husband. Research report mentions that “after marriage, husbands hamper their wives’ activities outside the family because they prefer them to be busy with domestic chores.” (ACT, 2013) In addition, “Women identify their responsibilities in the household as the main constraint to greater political participation” (Levtov & Rakshit, 2020). Luckily, public perception about women’s participation (especially about leadership positions) in politics gradually changed: “According to 2013 data, 61 percent of respondents believed men were better political leaders than women. This proportion reduced to 49 percent of all respondents in 2019. This change has mainly occurred due to a shift in the beliefs of women respondents. In 2013, 56 percent of women and 69 percent of men believed men were better political leaders than women. In 2019, this belief was held by 37 percent of women and 62 percent of men” (Levtov & Rakshit, 2020).
Choosing politics as a vocation serves the goal to exercise the power for itself or as a means in achieving the end that can be either selfish or oriented on changing something for the common good. Even women with the moral imperative to influence the status quo to change the situation for the better still seek for alternative ways to “dirty politics” to advocate their public interests. Looking for this alternative, they escape under the cover of civil society. It allows influencing political power on some level but not exercising power. The female advocates still remain detached from the decision-making process and do not possess efficient tools to tackle the challenge.
Positive impact of women’s political participation
The equal representation of women in politics can contribute to democratization and a wide range of development objectives. First, women’s advancement in high positions is part of the moral principle of human rights. It serves the goal of protection of women’s rights and guarantees that women and men are treated equally and enjoy the same privileges and opportunities.
Second, the more women are elected to decision-making positions, the better is policymaking that reflects the interests of women, children, family and other marginalized groups (Craig, Wiseman, Wittmer, 2010). Violence against women is a widespread problem in Georgia; 12% of Georgian women reported experiencing physical and/or sexual violence from a partner while 27% has undergone some kind of harassment from an intimate partner or non-partner (UN Women, 2017). The study illustrates that not only the fundamental human rights of women are violated but also the discrimination against women deprives the country from social capital and undermines our efforts of development (UN Women, 2017). Women’s active
participation in politics can increase the responsiveness to these problems and the number of measures that are directly related to solving them.
Third, it can be a positive signal for the other underrepresented groups such as ethnic or religious minorities to become more active in politics. In terms of attaining tangible democratic objectives in a culturally and ethnically diverse Georgia, participation of minorities is crucial. The participation level of ethnic minorities in Georgia in regards to voting and representation in government is significantly low (Open Society Georgia foundation, 2019). Women, who are well acquainted with the concerns of the marginalized groups, are more prone to cross ethnic, religious or language boundaries and ensure civil dialogue and cooperation among diverse factions. Besides, women are famous for advocating strongly for stabilization, peace-building and reconstruction. It can become a part of national strategy on peace and reconciliation with ethnic groups in Georgian protracted conflicts.
Furthermore, women’s participation can enhance the perception of legitimacy in society which suffers a great deal because of the current political instability and polarization. The qualities such as honesty, integrity and modesty that are often taken advantage of in a masculine environment, can equally be beneficial for increasing trust in politics and Georgian politicians. Women need to be empowered to overcome many of today’s challenges in the political arena.
The recent election has shown that women do not gain massive support in elections which is essential to achieve gender equality soon. Georgia’s little progress is due to improved legislation and government programs but it does not mean that women are better represented at a level of high politics. Taking everything into account, a Gender quota is often recommended as an effective measure to increase the number of women in politics by international organizations.
However, implementing this legislative reform faces many challenges that pose a threat of growing discontent as well as of empowering opposition. Thus, quota should not be seen as a universal solution. If implemented, it should be incorporated into a large-scale, coordinated strategy which has a clear vision and concrete delivery points. In this process, state and cultural values should not be seen as an obstacle that reflect patriarchal thinking. As it was already illustrated Georgian historical narrative is compatible with an idea of gender equality.
Considering all, the better participation of women in the current political establishment seems to be inseparable from Georgia’s democratization process. Although the legislative aspect has a positive direction, in terms of increased actual engagement, the progress of legislations proves to be insufficient. Changing the structure of power through the increased number of women in politics may create a misleading image of the former being a logical end of promoting women. The opposite should also be considered.
Tackling the problem requires complex approaches that should incorporate the improvement of the Georgian political environment. It can be attained through cutting hate speech, substituting populist demagogue with ideological debates and promoting understanding in the political arena. Mere implementation of institutional mechanisms with the gender perspective may fail to invite the best of the women minds into politics as it is going to be seen as a dirty game that leaves no room for competent leaders. It is also important to redirect focus on encouraging women to engage in civil society towards government positions. It may stay unnoticed but the former should not remain as a safe harbor for anti-politics and anti-politician since it can only exacerbate women’s detachment from decision-making.
Before offering recommendations it is important to remark some of the motivating factors for women to engage in politics. Primarily it is linked to a desire to solve existing problems, particularly at local levels. Aside from that women’s fighting spirit has significant influence on their way to politics and decision-making. Nonetheless if there’s not support from family members, motivation has a tendency of slight reduction (ACT, 2013). Therefore, below we offer a list of recommendations.
- Design a large-scale educational campaign that is oriented on women’s empowerment;
- Put sexual education into school curriculum;
- Promote the idea of gender equality as being part of Georgian national narrative
- The campaign should necessarily cover teachers and girls on early professional development, who need leadership competencies such as enhanced confidence and the intellectual capacity to oppose and reshape false beliefs about women;
- Promote women success stories to create more comprehensive and diverse environment;
- Political parties should upgrade recruitment and advancement systems;
- Political parties should improve and regularly update existing database for members;
- Support women’s leadership development programs
Authors: Guram Jajanidze, Mariam Ghibradze, Rati Kobakhidze, Tamar Tkemaladze, VerikoShengelia
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