Georgian Women’s Path to Leadership

The Women Empowerment Network (WEN) is a project that unites 17 young ladies and 17 successful mentors promoting gender equality and women leadership in Georgia. It was initiated and organized by the NGO Center for Progress and is implemented with the support of the Dutch Embassy in Georgia. GEORGIA TODAY had the chance to interview Maia Kveladze, Director of the network, and Diana Khomeriki, a young lady participating in the project and working at the Georgian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

What is the situation of women in Georgia?

Equality in the access to opportunities for women and men is still an issue worldwide, and Georgia is no different in this regard. On the one hand, we know many examples of strong women from Georgian history as well today, but we can still say that Georgia is quite a masculine society and it can be very hard for a woman to achieve positions with decision-making power. Every member of society must have the same opportunities to participate. It is especially hard for recently graduated students to find good working positions if they have no contact with people already working in their field.

Things are already changing in Georgia and some young ladies can go abroad to study and come back with new ideas. A lot of things have been done at the legislative level to ensure equality between men and women, but in practice, the reality is quite different. It is a problem that comes from socially constructed ideas. There is no restriction on women entering politics, theoretically, at the level of legislation, but in practice, women working in parliament are not in the top positions where decisions are made. Another example is the difference between the wages of men and women, which is still extremely high. The issue is especially present in the regions, where populations tend to be more traditional.

We need to understand that gender equality is not an idea coming from the West: it is inherent to Georgian history and Georgian culture.

How would you describe this network? What are the goals of such a project?

The project was initiated less than a year ago and we have two main goals. The first is to establish a network between female leaders and young ambitious girls, and the second is to facilitate policy change related to gender issues. We realized that we already have a lot of successful Georgian women and that students who are just finishing their studies could benefit from their experience. We decided that they could meet with mentors several times and write policy documents. There is no other idea behind our project: it is just a network in which people support each other. We are a team of around five people working on the coordination of these exchanges.

Our project includes 17 young ladies with very different profiles who are promising in their own fields. The other part of the group is made up of 17 already successful women who are mentors of each of the 17 girls. Some of them are entrepreneurs, journalists, theater directors, or are working for the government, such as Anna Dolidze, Doctor of law and Non-Judge member of the High Council of Justice, Tina Khidasheli who was the Minister of Defense of Georgia in 2015-2016 and Eka Mazmiasvili, Doctor of Arts Management and Director of the Marjanishvili Theater.

We organize several personal meetings between the girls and their mentors. One of the aspects is to go to the mentors’ office to see their everyday work. They share their own experience and explain how they achieved what they did.

Each of the 17 young participants have to write a policy paper with concrete propositions. For example, Diana suggested the creation of quotas in politics to enable women to break ceilings. It is quite a radical proposition but we believe it is a necessary and temporary measure. Once women enter politics, other women will have the opportunity to do the same. Sometimes, you have to force the situation before it changes naturally. We gave the proposition to parliament and we are waiting for an answer.

We also had meetings with important institutions such as the NATO Office in Georgia, the Gender Equality Council of the Georgia Parliament and the National Democratic Institute in Georgia.

We are training the girls to give them the skills necessary to become leaders. They have trainings in academic writing and leadership. For example, we had a two-day training on leadership in Bakuriani with the former Minister of Defense in Georgia. We also had a training held by the photographer of the former president.

What challenges are you encountering?

The selection of the girls was tough. We had more than a hundred applications and we took only 17 girls. It is also hard to manage the exchanges between the girls and the mentors because they are very busy, though for that reason our project is very flexible.

We need women to believe in themselves and believe that they are great leaders. Most of the women do not believe that they are qualified or strong enough and as such lack confidence. For example, Eka Mazmiasvili never realized that she was the only female director of theater in Georgia. Women are very humble, they want to achieve a lot and do not always realize how much they have already achieved. It is all about the attitude.

What is your main achievement and what are your FUTURE AMBITIONS FOR THE PROJECT?

Our girls are already gathering with the mentors without our coordination, so we’ve already managed to create a sustainable network.

The project is also becoming very popular and we are facing a lot of demand from girls who want to get involved in it, which is very positive. No other sustainable projects of this kind exist in Georgia. We would like to grow bigger and supervise more girls.

In future, we would like to export our project to the regions and support girls there. For now, participants are mainly from Tbilisi. Also, we will have new mentors sharing new experiences next year.

Their Facebook page:

The interview has been edited for more clarity.

By Gabrielle Colchen

Photo Source: WEN

13 May 2019 18:02