Where yesterday meets tomorrow

Celebrating over a century of Georgian women's contribution to technology and science

February 10, 2020

Photo: Vladimir Valishvili/UNDP

Ever since the first women kicked open the door to an education and scientific career, more and more girls have been choosing the professions in science, technology, engineering and math. Recognizing that STEM is the very field to shape the future and open brand-new career opportunities, UNDP works to help women have an equal share in this booming job market.  

Nana Dikhaminjia is a Deputy Rector and Professor of Electronic and Computer Engineering at Ilia State University in Tbilisi, Georgia, as well as a visiting assistant research professor at the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department of the Missouri University of Science and Technology, USA. She actively volunteers in local educational programs and provides robotics classes for kids advocating for participation of women and girls in the fields of science and technology.

Photo: Vladimir Valishvili/UNDP

“It’s 2020 and we seem to agree that intellect has no gender, but technology is a sector still dominated by men, where women are often made to feel unwelcome. At the same time, studies suggest that 65 percent of children entering primary school today will have jobs that do not yet exist. More girls are attending school and graduating from universities than ever before, yet they are still significantly under-represented in the STEM field and appear to lose interest in those subjects as they reach adolescence. Debunking the myths that girls do not like science and technology can reverse that trend,” Nana Dikhaminjia stated at the “Tech for Equality” conference, organized by UNDP Georgia in 2019.

The thrill of being the first ever

Taken over a century ago, these unique photographs depict some of those Georgian women who courageously entered the realm of higher education and science, at that time considered to be exclusively men’s domain. It’s hard to imagine what an effort those women must have undertaken to challenge the attitudes rooted in societies and educational systems and make careers as researchers, creators, thinkers and game-changing innovators. But once this window of opportunity was open, they did not hold back to step in and have their say.

Barbare Kipiani (Photo: open source)

Born 1879, Barbare Kipiani holds a prominent place among women of skill and knowledge as an early Georgian female scholar. She entered the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Brussels in 1902 to become a successful scholar and editor of the journal "Revue Psychology" and a lecturer at the universities of Brussels, Paris and Geneva. She collected pieces of Georgian art scattered throughout Europe and, subsequently, founded the Georgian exhibition at the International Museum of Brussels in 1910. "This is the first time when Georgia has an opportunity to show Europe our achievements in science and technology. We ask you to help us by donating books, drawings, pictures and other items," – Barbare Kipiani wrote in her letter, urging her compatriots to contribute to the collection.

From the left: Barbare Bairamashvili, Nino Giorgobiani and Mariam Ugrelidze (Photo: The National Parliamentary Library of Georgia)

This rare picture portraits the first Georgian woman engineer, Barbare Bairamashvili (1888-1982), with her relative, Nino Giorgobiani, and a cousin, Mariam Ugrelidze (1885 – 1965), a pioneer of clinical medicine, one of the founders of the medical science in Georgia, the first woman in Georgia to obtain a PhD in medicine and an author of more than 70 scientific papers on pediatrics.  

Julia Młokosiewicz (Photo: open source)

Julia Młokosiewicz, born in 1872, was first Georgian female biologist and environmentalist. In 1912, together with her father Ludwik Młokosiewicz, a well-known Polish naturalist, Julia founded the first protected area in Georgia – the stunning Lagodekhi National Park, famous for its endemic species of flora and fauna. One of the unique plants was even first described by Julia and named Primula Iuliae after her. This nature-loving woman may have as well been the first environmental activist of her time. Back then, Georgia was part of the Russian Empire and only Julia’s bold address to the Imperial Academy of Science prevented the Lagodekhi forest from being sacrificed for the construction of a Russian military compound.

A century later: fast-forwarding, but still held back

Keeping in mind what our great-grandmothers have achieved, we need to focus on the challenges that rise ahead. The huge technology leap of the last two decades accelerated the process, yet in many cases the gap still prevails – in Georgia women make up only 12 percent of the employees in tech-related industries. Technologies can indeed open new ways to gender equality, but we need to make sure that a fair share of seats in this fast-moving vehicle to the future is occupied by educated, capable and empowered women and girls.