At some point, pretty much every foreigner writing a blog about Georgia has their post about gender roles or relationships in Georgia (here are some interesting ones: My friend Jared’s supra experiences,Fleur Flaneur’s examination of The Myth of the Strong Woman in Georgia, and tcjbritishvili’s relationships with Georgian women) and I’m now joining in. Rather than talk about my experiences as a woman in Georgia (clearly different since I’m a foreigner than if I was Georgian), I’m going to deal with the issue a bit differently and discuss women in politics here in Sakartvelo (perhaps I’ll regale you with comical tales of marriage proposals and housework sometime in the future). Gender relationships in Georgia are interesting, and can be difficult for foreigners to put a finger on because they aren’t simple to categorize. Georgia is at the same time a traditionally patriarchal society and the home of many powerful female public figures. There’s a saying that “A Georgian man is the head of the family, but a Georgian woman is the neck”. The Georgian man is regarded as the one in charge, but this doesn’t mean that Georgian women have no control over what happens in their families. Women in public/political life thus pose an interesting conundrum in Georgia.
I recently had a conversation with a well-informed friend about this topic, and, well, I stand corrected. I was under the impression that there were more women in the Georgian government than there are. I’m amazed that there are only 6% women in Parliament! I honestly thought there were more of them… But as so often happens with Foreign Policy magazine, they seem to have read my mind and published an article on women in Parliaments, particularly in the Former Soviet Union/Eurasia. The crux of the article is that it isn’t just important to have gender representation in Parliament, but representation of different points of view: political and ethnic minorities as well as gender. One important point regarding Georgia is that it isn’t just the current members of Parliament who make up Georgia’s powerful women. Georgia has had a female Head of State (something the US has not) in Nino Burjanadze (now an opposition politician, and not the only female one, either). Deputy Prime Minister and State Minister for Reintegration is the quite prominent Eka Tkeshelashvili, Vera Kobalia is the Minister of Economic Development (another prominent figure, frequently in the news), and Khatuna Kalmakhelidze is Minister of Corrections and Legal Assistance. (and let’s not forget that there is currently an opening for Minister of Interior). Many other, lower-level bureaucrats are also female, and the NGO staffers I’ve met (far from a representative sample, of course) are overwhelmingly female. Has Georgia figured out a way for women to “have it all”? No. Has America? Also, no. Things in Georgia need improvement, but in my opinion the situation for women in politics isn’t as dire as the terrifying 6% figure suggests.