Feminism in Georgia: Salome Tsopurashvili talks about activism

Jarkyn Shadymanova presents a narrative from her co-fellow Salome Tsopurashvili, highlighting the historical struggles of Georgian women and the new generation of feminists Salome is helping raise in her work as a gender studies academic

 Salome - edit

Salome and I are co-fellows of the WEF Programme in International Gender Studies, Lady Margaret Hall, University of Oxford. We met at the beginning of 2018 when our fellowship started. Salome is a feminist and activist from Georgia, while I am from Kyrgyzstan, with a gender studies and activist background. During this fellowship, we have been spending quality time talking about and discussing gender issues in our countries. We have had the privilege to share our personal and professional experiences of being feminists and activists.

As a part of this fellowship, we have been asked to interview each other regarding personal experiences in becoming and being feminists in the post-Soviet context and our main concerns about gender issues in our home countries. We have wanted to use this opportunity to reveal gender issues, and forms of feminism and activism in our countries through our own personal experiences. We have also tried to understand how our socio-economic, cultural and academic backgrounds have shaped us as feminists and activists in our cultural and national contexts. This interview is unique because both of us have experienced three time periods in our countries: the late Soviet period, the collapse of the Soviet Union and independence. The first stage showed similarities in both countries while, after the 1990s, each period took its own trajectory. As representatives of our countries, both of us have had the unique experience of being a feminist and activist in our cultural, socio-economic and religious contexts.

The main idea of conducting the interview is to share feminist experiences at the personal and national level. Kyrgyzstan and Georgia have both similarities and differences. Although they are dissimilar from a geographical, historical and cultural perspective, they were both part of the Soviet Union for over 70 years. The Sovietisation of our countries originally developed along different lines, but became more or less similar after the 1930s because of Soviet communist ideology and policy, and the command economy. Both countries suffered repression during a variety of periods: in the 1930s, the Second World War, the post-war period (which was difficult for everyone), the Cold War era, Khrushchev’s Downfall, the Brezhnev period and during Gorbachev’s perestroika and glasnost. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, both places achieved independence and sovereignty in their own way. This historical timeline has influenced our experiences of being women and feminist in our countries.

The main goal of our interviews has been to find out what political and cultural ideologies are practised in everyday life and the main trends in our societies that have influenced and shaped us to become feminists. Also, what are our main concerns about gender and what are our contributions to the community as feminist-activists? During the interviews, we will share our life stories, personal experiences and feelings about being women and feminist-activists in our countries. The interviews will cause us to open up our inner selves, making it very important to conduct them in a quiet and relaxing atmosphere.

Methodology

The concept of my interview with Salome has been developed through intensive communication and collaboration during the sessions, discussions about gender issues and our similarities and differences, as well as the sharing of personal experiences. This research approach shares some similarities with Jaschok and Jingjun’s (2000) collaborative research experience in the Chinese Muslim women’s religious culture research project, where research methodology and data analysis were developed through the collaboration of two strong and independent researchers. We are similar to them in that we have the same research interests and represent two different countries; we have also developed the research approach and interview during fieldwork. Our continuous communication has helped in developing the approach and interview questions, such as in understanding and revealing Salome’ insights as a feminist. This has been very useful in the process of developing personal-biographical questions. However, I felt some limitations when developing the interview, because as someone personally attached to Salome I knew that some topics would not be covered because they would be too sensitive and I would not get a full response to my questions. For example, I knew that Salome feels too insecure to elaborate on her personal life and future plans.

As a feminist woman from a post-Soviet country, I can understand Salome. She comes from a place where there is a huge gap in gender equality, the position of women is uncertain and you cannot be sure what will happen tomorrow. It is also hard to talk about your future as a feminist and activist in Georgia because the situation regarding women’s and LGBTQ rights is usually very turbulent. That is why there is sometimes pressure in relation to feminist activities from local communities. As Salome tells me during the interview, there have been tensions and examples of resistance in relation to feminist activities. These have come from the Church, traditionally minded people and, sometimes, even from other activists, like male-dominated leftist groups. When feminists organise strikes, there are always groups of people who are against these activities; these movements are usually organised by people from the first two examples above. In terms of activities in Academia, Salome has mentioned to me that gender studies is not considered a solid academic field and has an unclear future in Georgia. This situation influences our personal lives and careers because of doubt over future stability.

As a sociologist with extensive research experience, I always find that some people are more open to strangers because they are aware that what they share will be a part of the research. It will not go anywhere except towards the aims of the work and will not affect relationships because the researcher and interviewee will be meeting only for research purposes. However, in the case of an interview with someone to whom you are more attached personally, the ‘sharings’ will be between you and the person with whom you have shared. With acquaintances and friends, some respondents are not fully open because they will meet in the future and whatever has been shared could at some point influence relationships. However, I knew this particular interview with Salome would not be difficult in that sense because we have similar research interests and experiences.

As a researcher, I am interested in Salome’s path to gender studies and feminist activism. What objective and subjective issues influenced her to choose feminism? It is well known that society and existing reality influence who are we. This is why I have planned to ask questions exploring issues that were important for Salome in her journey to becoming a feminist-activist in Georgian society. I am interested in the issues of social change that, from Salome’s perspective, have been important for Georgian women.

I am both an ‘insider’ and ‘outsider’ in this research. I am an ‘insider’ in two senses: I identify myself as a researcher and activist in my own community, and my shared Soviet past with Salome brings us historical, ideological and economic similarities. As an ‘outsider’, I am barely familiar with Georgian religious and cultural changes after the collapse of the Soviet Union; also, Salome has experienced her own path to feminism. All questions in the interview have been developed intuitively on the basis of Salome’s responses, although I began with a general idea of the interview. There were two reasons for this approach. Firstly, I have decided it was to be more of a narrative than structured in-depth interview, organised via discussion and followed by questions and answers. Secondly, the questions were developed on the basis of my own experience of being a feminist in Kyrgyzstan. Comparison of our two countries’ post-Soviet similarities have also made space for understanding differences.

Preparing the ground and finding the right interview setting

It is decided that the organisational element of the interview will be very important. Salome and I meet three times to undertake the interview and each meeting influences the next in the sense of both the environment and the content of the questions. The first meeting is more educational than contextual. We try to feel the ground and understand the best way to organise the interview because when you know the inteviewee very well, this will influence to the process of interviewing. For example, it is easier to make contact with the person, and accommodate and uncover her thoughts. At the same time, when you personally know each other, the interviewee tends to think that you already know the issue because you have discussed it before. This is why our first meeting is more strategic in terms of feeling the ground, constructig the questions and organising the environment.

We decide that Salome will start the interview. We then spend two hours finding a good spot because we want to combine a photo session with the narrative part. Salome and I meet in a park because we have agreed to include visual materials and decided it will be easier to organise the photo session outside. We decide that Salome will start the interview because she will be doing a photoshoot and this will enable her to continue immediately with the interviewing part.

However, we discover difficulties with the interviewing element, as we find there are the usual distractions and external noises that can often occur in open and crowded spaces. We try to find a good spot for the interview but our attempt to find a quiet place in the park on a Saturday fails. This is why our first session is not successful.

The second interview is organised in a small and cosy college room. As Elwood and Martin (2000) suggest, holding interviews in an academic space empowers the interviewer, who is in his/her element, like a duck in water, but limits the participant by making him/her uncomfortable and overwhelmed. This may affect the participants’ responses, as they could be unsure of their answers and knowledge. However, in our case, both of us are from academia and belong in this environment.

Salome and I conduct our interviews, one straight after the other. These circumstances allow us to avoid the interviewer and participant power relationship in which the interviewer feels more privileged because of greater knowledge and experience. This is why the second interview works perfectly. I begin first and, after my interview session with Salome, she conducts her interview with me. My interview is quite formal, with introductory questions like: ‘Tell me about yourself and your family’, ‘What do you do?’ and ‘Tell me about your background and your work.’

The third time, we meet in the Commonwealth Housesmall cinema room, where both of us are living at the time of the interview, which is very convenient because we know the place very well and feel confortable. Along with this, the quiet and intimate atmosphere helps us open up and share our inner thoughts about gender issues in Georgia. I feel this third meeting has been more successful for discussing and analysing Salome’s standpoints as a Georgian woman and feminist-activist. The interview has more discussion and a conversational mood that allows Salome to be more open and relaxed. The questions have been developed on the basis of the curiosity and clarification approach.

The first meeting has been strategic in terms of feeling the ground, constructing the questions and organising the environment. The second meeting has been where I have asked interview questions. Then, during the third meeting, I have clarified the weak points and uncovered parts of the earlier interview. Organising three meetings has been very successful because each one has provided the basis for the next one and allowed us to avoid the drawbacks of the previous one.

Salome and her family

Salome is a 33-year-old feminist activist from Georgia. She has a strong gender studies background: she has just completed her PhD in Gender studies in Georgia and her MA degree was also in Gender Studies, from Central European University in Hungary. Beside her academic work, Salome works as a photographer and translator. However, all her side work has connections to gender issues in Georgia and she therefore considers herself very much a gender studies person.

Salome has a father and sister. Her sister is a professor of Philosophy. Her father was a geologist and has a degree in economics too. The collapse of Soviet Union had a big effect on Salome’s parents because they changed their professions and lifestyle. Her father changed profession from geologist to economist and her mother from engineer to managing the home. Her father’s second degree in economics was part of an adaptation strategy to hardship after the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s. During the process of transition to a market economy, specialists in economics were in demand due to a lack of this speciality during Soviet times. In the centralised state-planning economy, there was a preference for administrative clerks over economists. Salome’s father’s career change was part of a survival strategy for families and was seen in all the post-Soviet countries, including Kyrgyzstan.

Salome’s mother passed away eight years ago. Speaking of her work as an engineer, Salome says:

‘She worked all her life before the 1990s. But in the 1990s, with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the war, the institution where she worked was closed. And she became a housewife. I mean she did not have any other chance to work.’

Salome’s mother and sister have played a crucial role in her life, especially when she was on her way to becoming a strong feminist-activist. She describes them to me:

‘My mother always was so supportive to me. She was so soft. My sister is very supportive too; she is the strongest person I have known. I am very much close to my sister … It is not like we have secrets. My sister encourages and [motivates] me to do the stuff.’

Salome’s family always supported her in her educational pursuits, which was very important in her becoming a feminist and activist in Georgia (as I will explain later).

Salome’s sister is six years older than her and is a professor in philosophy. In Soviet times, education was considered the ultimate goal for every child and good marks and behaviour were always encouraged by parents and teachers. Salome tells me that her sister has always been a role model because she was older and had achievements in her education and profession.

Meanwhile, Salome’s cat is 14 years old, with a very special place in the family, and missed a lot here in Oxford.

Becoming and being a feminist

Salome’s history of becoming a feminist is very personal. She tells me that her mother’s experience somewhat influenced her feminist thoughts and ideas. Salome was young when she observed how patriarchal structures led to unfair treatment of women and daughters with regard to terms of inheritance and a daughter’s place in the household. Though still very young, Salome’s experience of this as a child started to shape her feminist position in Georgian society

This tendency in terms of inheritance exists in Kyrgyz society too and a patriarchal attitude towards daughters has become commonplace in both Salome’s society and mine. When men have power and an advantage over wives, daughters and women in patriarchal society, everyone accepts patriarchal attitudes as the norm.

This unfair treatment pushed the younger Salome to think about the place and condition of women in Georgian society and she started to question the existing rules and traditions of a patriarchal culture. Part of this involved discussion with her friends and classmates. She reflects on one such discussion:

‘I remember when I had this argument in a high school when I was a teenager: how women in Georgia are treated unfairly. I always had this example of my mother. Then one of my classmates said that her mother will treat her in other ways, like, of everyone being given an equal share or treated exactly the same way no matter what the excepted rules in society are. Because this classmate had a brother. Then, later, I learned from my other friend that she was treated in a similar unfair way by her parents. This is a major trend. Traditionally, in rural places it is well spread. But, actually, it depends on their background and their experiences. I do not want to say, for example, that in the capital city they are more progressive than in rural areas because it is not true. In the capital city, sometimes you see less progressive people than in a rural place.’

So we can see that Salome was a feminist before her MA programme in Gender Studies. During the Soviet Union, there was no gender studies programme because Soviet policy officially declared gender equality at the formal level. However, in reality, there was discrimination against women due to patriarchal societies throughout the Soviet republics.

Gender studies has been developed since the collapse of the Soviet Union because patriarchal inequality has become obvious. For example, in 1995, Kyrgyzstan participated in the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing. As a result, Kyrgyzstani officials signed the CEDAW protocol and official institutes have started to pay attention to gender issues in Kyrgyzstan. Also, following the end of the Soviet Union, gender studies was introduced by international organisations. Salome and I were part of such programmes. As she explains to me during our interview:

‘My undergraduate degree was in French language and literature. I was reading women writers, French women writers … [I] learned about “Ecriture Feminine”’, [where French women writers developed new types of writing that allowed women to express themselves in ways that challenged the existing male-based writing language]. I saw there was an application for gender studies. I was like “Wow, I do not know what gender studies is about but I would love to work on it with these writings.” So, actually, my initial interest was literature. And then there was call for scholarship where I could fit with my literature interests.’

Salome’s self-awareness as a feminist developed during her study in the Gender Studies Programme in Budapest:

‘I started to call myself a feminist after four months of my gender studies. The thing is that when I was there, actually, I realised that I had been feminist during all my life. I was not using this word. Then in Budapest I realised that [these] ideas I have had [all my] life [are] very much feminist.’

As a dedicated feminist researcher, Salome analyses her personal experiences through social structures, power relationships and empowerment, which all play a crucial role in everyday life. For example, when she was studying for her MA degree she faced difficulties in terms of the finance and distance from home.

In the 1990s, there were hardships all over the post-Soviet countries. Kyrgyzstan also faced economic difficulties but for Georgia it was worse because of their two wars, which affected people’s lives in many ways. During this time, Georgia experienced a famine. Salome remembers:

‘…At that point, my family in 2000 was wealthy enough to send me some amount of money per month. I [was able to] manage my life there. My stipend covered the tuition fee, accommodation and a little money for living, which was not enough [for that]. The class privilege is such a fragile thing. Because nothing is stable any more. It was an ultimate privilege in [the sense of] possibility. It is not that everyone can make it. Someone is making it, which is absolutely great, but others cannot’.

This acknowledgement from Salome clearly shows how existing realities and our environment influence us and sometimes limit our possibilities.

Feminism in Georgia

During my conversations with Salome, I find that Georgian society has deeply structured patriarchal norms. It is very similar to Kyrgyz society, with gender discrimination in the household, inheritances, early marriages and the expectation for women to perform emotional labour. Even while here in Oxford, Salome is still closely connected to day-to-day gender issues in Georgia. Recently, there was an attempt to accept a quota system in parliament but this failed. The quota system is a mechanism that establishes a fixed percentage for representation of a specific group, in this case women in parliament. This mechanism is used to increase the participation of women in decision-making process.

When reflecting on the quota idea, Salome tells me:

‘I was thinking: “You should demand the maximum to get something.” But the law did not pass. It was not expected that the law would pass, but if it would pass it would not be revolutionary [in terms of achieving a] quota. Because it is not half and half.

‘But one thing is frustrating me more is that feminist-identified women or empowered women, such as MPs or journalists, were against the quota. They described that “It is a discrimination as the derogatory preference.” You know this right wing which does not recognise systematic subordination and structural oppression. You know: “If you are really great you do not need this quota. If I want to be in parliament, I want to be there not because of my vagina. And men are not privileged for having a penis because [they were] born.” I think this is such a blind attitude towards privilege. You know when they use the example that “I was not born in the capital city. I arrived here from rural areas. I studied [like] hell in order to be there. I did not get [in because of a] regional quota. I am here because I deserved [it].” [And I’m], like, “Yes but it is so great. I mean, you are a genius. But you also need to think about these privileged things.”’

This unawareness of patriachal structures in society develops inquality and discrimitation in our societies. Salome continues to explain this blindness attitude in wider structural level:

‘You know the Obama case. He became the President of the USA but it does not mean there is not racism there, that everyone will have similar chance, [or that] if you are a great and super-talented black guy, you will become president … But it is not by default. Because there are so many challenges that not everyone can overcome. And this kind of blindness, of not seeing your privileges, is completely driving me crazy. You do not do this quota because of that. The most problematic thing is that women themselves, empowered women, do not see their privileges. Wherever you are born, there is always luck at some point. For example, to be there in that time. It is always a [matter of] luck and very much a circumstantial thing. Empowered women in Georgia from the right wing ignore their class privileges.’

The above quote very clearly illustrates Salome’s thoughts and worries about women’s current status and future in Georgian society.

As a former member of an independent feminist group, Salome participated actively in demonstrations to support women’s rights: reproductive and labour rights as well as the rights of the LGBT community. But she currently promotes feminism in academia through teaching in the Gender Studies Programme. Her opinions on being an activist and feminist during our interview are as follows:

‘I am teaching [in a gender studies programme]. I mean it already makes me an activist. So I was, like, “I do not have to worry if I cannot make it every time in the street marching and protesting”. If I want to join a protest in the street I can’t always make it because life can be complicated sometimes. I am, like, “I am doing this and that.” So I [have] validated my activity like my activism in academia.’

Salome’s perception of being a feminist in Georgian society is reflected elsewhere. According to her, an understanding of feminism is related to the woman’s standpoint:

‘Being a woman and ascertaining your standpoint as a woman is already a feminist start. Women always have many intersections because only being a woman does not define you but I think that is a [form of] feminism. Like, to position your opinion and your standpoint as a woman.’

Being a woman in Georgia

As a feminist with a theoretical background, Salome pays careful attention to the concept of privilege:

‘I would say that is not class but financial privilege. We tend to think of class as a stable thing but it is not stable at all. In post soviet societies, where economy is largely unstabilised, and irregulated, the class position changes quickly. There are always ups and downs and it is always circumstantial. I mean my family had that privilege to provide for me. It also depends on so many things. They just do not see all this. And they think you make it in every way: “If there had been great women geniuses, they could make it anyway.” No matter what! “They could become great painters. They could become Michelangelo.” When we were studying the women artists in history, like painters’ women’s history. There were women painters, but mostly those whose fathers or bothers were painters too. They were privileged to have access to do it… Also, these gatekeeper things. Who has access and how?!’

I entirely agree with Salome’s argument because the concept of privilege is also closely connected to access to resources.

In response to the question ‘How is it being a woman in Georgian society?’, as a feminist, Salome considers the matter from the perspective of gender studies: ‘How is it being a woman in a man’s world?’. Her response to me is as follows:

‘It is very difficult. I mean the difficulties [play] a part in a particular socio-economic situation which, of course, is more difficult. There are maybe other parts of the world where it is really difficult and also easier to compare to other parts of the world. You know there is always relativity but, apart from this, it is also very hard because of the double standards which are characteristic to every patriarchal society. There is not a country where patriarchal society does not exist. Maybe in Sweden, democracy is close to it. The Swedish society is the best [in terms of] doing gender equality.’

Double standards play an important part in patriarchal society and double standards for men and women create inequality in everyday life:

‘For example, to make it affordable, if you are women and you are suffering from domestic violence. It is domestic violence mostly. It is supposed to be women’s fault rather than [that of a] husband’s. Because a woman is driving him to this.’

Salome argues that these double standards create discrimination against women and that, sometimes, the results can be tragic. At this point in the interview, she shares real stories of women in Georgia who were killed by their ex-husband or ex-partner:

‘…She divorced and she went. Then she was going out to nightclubs and he killed because of that. I mean there were cases like that. So just because you are, like, able to move on and to have life on your own. Double standards exist because society takes the abuser’s side because they were married and he has the right to act like that; for men acting like that is pardonable and normal. “Poor guy! She was so flirty.” These double standards are widely spread in patriarchal societies which serve as a mechanism of oppression against women.’

There is a women’s movement in Georgia in which 2000 Georgian women are united. Feminist movements are quite active. There has also been harassment against women by empowered men from an international organisation in Georgia:

‘This harassment was a big scandal in Georgia. It was very much spontaneous. This case has not been identified as feminist but [in terms of] conceptional feminist thoughts and discussion, it claims equality. When something happens they always put things there. There was an election for Supervisory Committee for a public broadcasting system. Public defenders would have a choice over either a feminist activist woman or a guy from an international organisation. The guy was a SIDA organisation representative in Georgia. Then it comes out that this guy supported feminism. The public defender made a choice on this man from SIDA. In this group, it was written that a public defender made a choice on this man, not the woman, who actually was head of the feminist movement in Georgia. Then girls had been stating, “Oh, that asshole.” Then, in the feminist group, it came out that he had a sexual harassment history. People got angry and said that public defender[s] cannot push a person who has this kind of history. It was, in a way, a #me too campaign.

‘I say it is pretty much a #me too campaign now because people are talking about it. Before that in Georgia, the #me too campaign [focused on] harassment in public transport and public spaces. It had more animosity. Because every woman has been harassed in … public spaces in Georgia. You know when you are on public transport, you are in a powerless position. It is clear that when the global #me too campaign started, Georgia [responded] and Georgian women [responded at] this anonymous level.

‘This was also triggered when it came to a particular well-known guy, who had this kind of history, and it was in the spirit of this #me too campaign. Actually, women started to talk about this particular guy who had used his power in these kinds of things. He was harassing his co-workers. There was a girl – she was call on the interview, but then the interview turned [out] to be something else, but not an interview and she was harassed. She was not raped but there was inappropriate physical action. She went there … after working hours because of this guy’s reputation as a representative of SIDA and his organisation’s reputation.

‘When you go to [a man’s] office after working hours you do not expect to get sexual harassment. You would expect it maybe in the private sector, [due to] reputation. [But] because of the reputation of [this particular] organisation, you [would] not expect that – [because of] his position [of] standing with feminists and all these kinds of things. You are paranoid to expect this everywhere but eventually you have to be paranoid [and] expect that empowered men will abuse everywhere!

‘This guy was a friend of feminist women and was now the candidate. And when this kind of thing started, this woman said, “I am taking out my candidature because it was a conflict of interest and it would be shown in a bad light. Like, I am using this campaign against him.” She took it off. The public defender took off this guy’s candidature as well because he was forced to take his candidature. And now a public defender is investigating these cases.’

The Public Defender of Georgia is a constitutional institution supervising the protection of human rights and freedoms within its jurisdiction on the territory of Georgia. It identifies human rights violations and contributes to the restoration of those rights. All issues on violations of human rights are the matter of investigation of Public Defender and the case Salome describes had a huge response from community (Public Defender of Georgia, 2018):

‘A week later, a similar campaign started on the behalf of someone who already worked in the public sector of the Government. This [was] very much new. He was sexually harassing too. For example, I was also sexually harassed when I was told by my former boss how he took his son to sex workers. And this sex worker looked like me. That was sexual harassment. It was not physical, but when you are talking like that to girl [in her twenties]… This guy was telling me how he took a sex worker for his 17-year-old son to lose his virginity … but I mean, why you are telling a 22-year-old girl that you took your son to a sex worker?

‘Can you imagine this kind of conversation? I am not talking about practicing, even mentioning it. I was sitting there. I was puzzled. I did not know what to do. I was feeling something was really wrong, but I could not say what was wrong. And after my feminist enlightenment I learned that was a sexual harassment. At a verbal level it was inappropriate to say it to a 22-year-old girl  … Even if I was 30 or even if now someone tells me that. This is why I feel so lucky that I do not work in this public sector any more. I had, like, the privilege being a freelancer, which is a very insecure position because of instability, but has its privileges as well.’

Salome uses the word ‘privilege’ a lot during our conversations. In this particular case, by ‘privilege’ she understands that she feels more comfortable to choose the projects and people she wants to work with. Also, being a freelancer means that she is not put in a position of weakness; if someone behaves inappropriately, she is free to leave, which empowers her in some ways:

‘Also, my freelancing includes translation which I am doing on my own. [I also freelance as a photographer], which I am doing on my own. [Along with this, I edit], which I am doing on my own. It also includes feminist things [and, again] I am working on my own. I do not have to go to an office and I do not have to do this work and sit there and [communicate]. It is like I am on my own. I do not have any guys like, “Ooh, please make me a coffee”, which happened when I was working on the contract base as a translator … He was not my boss. My boss was a Canadian guy who had already left. He was not my boss directly but he was in higher position in the structure than me. We were sitting in the same room. They made me to do extra translations for which I was not paid. They said that it was my obligation, but it was economic exploitation.’

Salome uses her personal experience to explain the position of women in Georgia, which I find very relevant because it shows how the patriarchal mechanism works in everyday practices.

In answer to the question, ‘How is it, being educated, independent and feminist women like you in Georgia?’, Salome responds from the standpoint of her position in a social circle. Salome is a representative of the middle class. She elaborates:

‘I would not like to use the education thing like that much. I mean to stress it because it also comes from class privilege. And even though it is very difficult to talk about class issues in Georgia because you have very upper rich and other classes in between. [The middle class is termed] “The trembling middle class” because the middle class cannot be financially stable. I am not able to support myself and my father on my own without the help of my sister. Because I do not have stable work. And this income depends on being involved in a project and donors. It is very much ups and downs. And there is this fear, “When will this project be done and what is next?…”’

This situation is pretty similar to Kyrgyzstan, where education does not guarantee your financial status. Salome continues:

‘When I was little, it did not happen that my father had … earned enough money so I could not … learn English and French, which I learned, and also to the standpoint of my mother that she was so … supportive. She was like, “Very much know we would rather not have a nice dinner every evening but you need to go to the lessons. For that I will pay but you know [these] kinds of investments.” ….

‘I mean education, it is so related to social position. Now, because of the internet, it is so widespread and people can informally educate themselves too, but it also has to do with privileges … like having a computer and [access to the] internet. And then the thing is also to be independent. I mean because you are independent, to work on your own and so on and so forth. Somehow, you always have this feeling that you are like [being pushed] to the [idea] that you are incomplete, because you lack that side, because if you are independent on your own and single, you are incomplete.

‘People in Georgia always say, “It is good to be educated and independent. Now you are, you also need to think about more important things like family” and “Do not forget about it.” Or there are people who think that I have wasted my time on education and being independent instead of getting a family. Personal characteristics and education [are seen as admirable] but people always remind [you] about the position of the women and the importance of your own family.’

The above situation is pretty similar to in Kyrgyzstan. In addition, the fact that Kyrgyzstan is a Muslim and traditional society is worthy of consideration. In Kyrgyzstan woman’ destiny is seen as being a wife and mother. A woman’s position is always seen to be behind that of her husband. Most of the time, job and education comes after the household and family interests. In order to be viewed as a ‘complete’ woman, she should get married and became a mother. This is a patriarchal religious rule that women in Kyrgyz society must meet.

Salome’s contribution to gender studies

Salome contributes to the changing gender situation in Georgia as a feminist and activist. She is teaching in a gender programme:

‘This is what I do because this is what I really can do to [create] change on a larger scale. Even if you have [a small] amount of students, they have become very much the prominent feminists in Georgia. They are the members of these feminist groups. That [is what] I am doing.

‘To be open and conscious of the privileges, [one must also be aware that] there is also social capital. I teach an MA programme. This is a [form of] social capital that gives a position even though there is no financial profit in it. I mean the input I am putting in is higher than the social and financial capital I am getting from it. But then my former students say to me that they are happy with my classes which I taught them. This makes me happy! Also, I teach literature and visual art and it is always fun for them. I teach in Georgian. I used to teach in English but … for Georgian students it is difficult and they are struggling with it. Especially, you know, talking in English. They used to have, for a while, an international programme but now it is closed.’

As part of the Gender Studies Programme in Tbilisi State University, Salome is raising a new generation of feminists. As a photographer, she has participated in the social project ‘Women of Georgia’ and many other gender-related events as a feminist activist. This is her input in the development of feminism in Georgia and it shows her devotion to the ideas of feminism. I truly believe feminism and gender studies are in good hands in Georgia!


References

Elwood, S., & Martin, D. (2000). ‘Placing’ Interviews: Location and Scales of Power in Qualitative Research, Professional Geographer, 52(4), 649–657.

Jaschok, M., & Jingjun, S. (2000). ‘Outsider within’: Speaking to Excursions across Cultures. Feminist theory, 1(1), 33–58.

Ombudsman of Georgia. (2014). ‘Public Defender of Georgia’ (http://www.ombudsman.ge/en/public-defender/mandati).


AUTHOR BIO

Jarkyn (for bio)As well as being a WEF fellow at IGS LMH, Jarkyn Shadymanova is an Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology, Bishkek Humanities University (Kyrgyzstan). She holds a PhD in Sociology and was a Post-Doctoral Researcher at the Sociology of Consumption and Households Group, Wageningen University (2012, 2014) and in the Department of Anthropology, University of Amsterdam (2017). Her research interests focus on Muslim marriages in Kyrgyzstan and diversification in the higher education system in Kyrgyzstan. Within the frames of the Global Dialogues & Women’s Empowerment in Eurasian Contexts (WEF) Programme, she is analysing early marriages in Kyrgyzstan.

This text has been adapted from the WEF Fellows page.


The two images in this piece have been supplied by Salome Tsopurashvili. The descriptions are contained in the alt-text within each image.