A coin in your pocket will be your shield

Women entrepreneurs in Georgia push for an equal and violence-free society

November 22, 2021

Photo/Design: Nino Zedginidze, Sopo Meskhishvili/UNDP

Employment and independent income remain the main factors that potentially protect women from the risk of gender-based violence that shadows the Georgian society – one in seven women in Georgia reports being a victim of domestic violence.

Photo/Design: Nino Zedginidze, Sopo Meskhishvili/UNDP

Naku Gamkrelidze was nicknamed “Mowgli” for her love of adventures and passion for hiking in the mountains of her native Guria in western Georgia. This untamed urge to explore the unknown gained her a lot of esteem among her community as she discovered and marked many new trails in the wilderness. On the other hand, her adventurous lifestyle raised a few eyebrows in the society where many still believe that wandering alone in the mountains is not an occupation fit for a woman.

This would not stop “Mowgli” from pushing her goals and turning her passion into a business, as she firmly believes that true freedom means to have your own cash in your pocket. “I have always strived for personal independence and believed that a woman should have her own paid job. I see now how much economic empowerment is changing attitudes towards women,” says Naku.

A few years ago, she started a tourism company, inviting visitors to join her on the trails through lush hills and valleys of Guria. Recently, she became one of twenty-four women entrepreneurs who won a grant contest announced by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to support the development of businesses run by women. The grant programme, financed by the governments of Austria, Sweden and Switzerland, allowed Naku to buy special winter equipment and expand her tours onto all seasons of the year.

But being self-sustainable and independent is not an easy walk – a staggering 85 percent of women and 58 percent of men in Georgia agree that women have to overcome more obstacles than men do in their careers. While 59 percent of men and 38 percent of women believe that women should take care of their families rather than pursue professional careers, still a lot needs to be done to shatter gender stereotypes that lead to discrimination. (Source: Men, Women, and Gender Relations in Georgia: Public Perceptions and Attitudes. 2020)

Meanwhile, employment and independent income remain the main factors that potentially protect women from the risk of gender-based violence that shadows the society – one in seven women in Georgia reports being a victim of domestic violence. These alarming numbers are expected to grow as the COVID-19 pandemic not only deepened existing economic and social discrimination against women and girls, but also increased their risk of gender-based violence. (Source: Rapid Gender Assessment of COVID-19 Situation in Georgia. 2021)

Photo/Design: Nino Zedginidze, Sopo Meskhishvili/UNDP

Maia Surmanidze who owns a rose plantation in Khulo municipality of the mountainous Ajara region also received funds from the UNDP grant programme. Apart from running her own business, she volunteers at the local centre for women who experience domestic violence and helps them to overcome the crisis.  She has no doubt that the economic empowerment of women is a key to preventing domestic violence. “Financial independence gives women self-esteem and courage and that’s what they need the most, ” says Maia.

Photo/Design: Nino Zedginidze, Sopo Meskhishvili/UNDP

“Women who experienced violence live in fear. Lots of them put up with the situation because simply they have nowhere to go and nothing to live on,” says Nato Mamagulishvili from Argokhi in Akhmeta municipality who produces rare pumpkin oil from her own grown gourds. She encourages other women from the neighbourhood to join her promising enterprise – on the European market cold-pressed, unrefined pumpkin oil reaches US$40 per one litre.

As one of the grantees of the programme supporting women entrepreneurs, she received a special press to ensure the highest quality of her product. She runs her business only by herself and hopes that others would follow her example. „I want to say to every woman – don’t stop, break the barriers and believe that you are strong!”, she exclaims.

Nata’s bright orange pumpkins piling in her yard recall the colour of the United Nations’ annual campaign against gender-based violence run each November under a slogan “Orange the world”. As a bright and optimistic colour, orange represents hope and a future free from violence against women and girls and a coin in their pockets seems the guaranty of this future.