Breaking through stereotypes

Reflections from the National Conference on Gender Equality in Local Self Governance by Mariam Kobakhidze, UNDP intern

May 28, 2018

Photo: Daro Sulakauri/UNDP

“I am looking at young women, like you, with hope,” tells me Tamar Kheinishvili, a Chair of the municipal council in a town of Akhmeta, when we sit together in the crammed conference hall where Georgia’s 1st National Conference on Gender Equality in Local Self-Governance is taking place.

“I have few such girls in my team and I tell them – your generation is the one which will eventually break through this glass ceiling”

I can guess why Tamar prefers talking of the future rather than the present. Stepping into a conference room you suddenly see what gender numbers and statistics look like in reality – among 64 mayors attending the event there is only one woman. The multitude of black suits filling up the conference hall is scarcely dotted with bright tops and dresses of women who hold merely 13% of seats in all municipal councils across the country.

Georgia has made a huge leap in the last few decades, transforming into a progressing democracy and fast developing economy. Attitudes, though, change slowly. In our conservative society, with deeply rooted ideas on division of roles between men and women, it’s hard to break through stereotypes when it comes to decision-making – as in family, as in politics. 

Tamar Kheinishvili. Photo: Daro Sulakauri/UNDP

Tamar says that although the shift in perceptions on gender equality is noticeable, there are number of obstacles that prevent women from being active in politics and social life, especially in rural parts of the country:

“I have been breaking these artificial rules and divisions my whole life, and I saw them changing. For instance, when I was young, it was considered inappropriate for a woman to drive a car. Today, nearly half of drivers in Georgia are women. Still, having a woman supervisor is a real challenge for some of my male colleagues at the municipal council.”

Georgian society generally agrees that things need to be changed. Current representation of women in the national Parliament doesn’t exceed 15% and more than half of respondents to the 2018 public opinion survey, released by the National Democratic Institute (NDI), agreed that it was too few. 55% of respondents to the same survey believed that increasing the participation of women in parliament would have a positive effect on Georgia.

Anivard Mosoyan. Photo: Daro Sulakauri/UNDP

Another remarkable character catches my eye as I look around the crowded hall. Anivard Mosoyan, the only female mayor in the whole country, is the living example of breaking barriers against the odds. Growing up in the Samtskhe-Javakheti region of Georgia, known for its high rate of early marriages and limited career opportunities for women, it must have been tremendously complicated to have gotten where she is now. Anivard says, that, although things do move forward in her region, the lack of services, as well as both personal and professional support systems, still gets in the way of women who attempt at achieving success in the workplace.   

“There are very little services and support for working women, in rural areas especially. Honestly, if I was offered this opportunity when my children were young, I don’t think I’d have been able to accept it and merge governing my town with being a mother and a wife,”, Anivard admits.

Future holds a promise for speedy changes that are expected to restore gender balance in Georgia’s local self-governance and offer women more opportunities for entering public office. With the ongoing local self-governance reform and 2016 amendments to the Gender Equality Law, more gender equality councils will be opened in municipalities and designated civil servants will be appointed to address the gender equality matters.

Until then, we will rely on strong, outstanding personalities like Anivard and Tamar to keep empowering Georgian women and paving the way for us, the younger generation.