One in seven women in Georgia experience domestic violence, the National Study on Violence against Women finds. The study was prepared jointly by UN Women and the National Statistics Office of Georgia.

The study findings indicate that the women and men in Georgia still show a high degree of acceptance towards the violence against women: Almost one-quarter of women (22%) and one-third of men (31%) believe that beating a wife is justified under certain circumstances. Moreover, almost one-quarter of women (23%) and almost one-half of men (43%) believe that a wife should obey her husband even if she does not agree with him.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs has registered 5875 cases of violence against women in 2018. In 5671 cases men were reported as abusers, in 954 cases – women.

Mariam Tedliasvili is a civil activist and the head of the organization Karaleti Women’s Solidarity Center. The Center was established back in 2010 to support women victims of violence and raise awareness on combating violence against women. Due to Mariam’s efforts, women in Karaleti and neighboring villages now are more informed about their own rights.

Mariam Tedliashvili, head of the organization Karaleti Women’s Solidarity Center:

I was born on July 26, 1981, in the village of Karaleti, Gori Municipality. I knew I would become a women’s rights advocate since I was a child as I faced stereotypical attitudes towards women way back in my early childhood. I am from a large family. I have four sisters. When finding out that there were five girls in my family, people often told me that, perhaps, my parents wanted to have a boy but did not manage to. I used to feel very offended when hearing this quote. It felt like these people were telling me that a boy is considered more valuable for the family than a girl is. This quote was what made me think about women’s rights and the attitude towards women in the patriarchal society for the first time.

I wanted to direct the movie “Abesalom and Eteri” in my childhood – you know why? I wanted to demonstrate that Abesalom, saying in the poem: “Who wants Eteri? I am heading to hunt”, is not a decent person. I wanted to highlight this attitude in my film.

I did not manage to make this dream come true as I decided to become a lawyer. My relatives and acquaintances got disappointed with my choice. They told me that the lawyer is not a suitable profession for a girl. Then again I faced a stereotypical attitude towards women and experienced a huge protest: How can a certain profession not be suitable for a woman?!

Despite the critique from the side of my friends and acquaintances, I started to study law at the Gori State University. We studied gender equality issues – even Tbilisi State University did not have this in its program then. We used to attend very interesting classes that were accompanied by tensed discussions. After finishing my University studies, I have been working as an attorney for 2 years.

My activities were always linked to my region and my village. During the war in August 2008, I finally realized that I can not live anywhere except Karaleti. I left my village on August 9. I remember the sky being blackened. Gori was on fire. My mother told us she was staying at home as nothing could force her to become an IDP from her own land. We had to temporarily stay with our relatives in Tbilisi as Russian soldiers were already roaming over the village. We tried to stay proof against mother but in vain. My mother, grandmother, and grandfather stayed at home. This was the hardest moment of my life. I returned to my village in early September. Russian soldiers were still patrolling at the entrance of Karaleti. It is a horrible feeling when a soldier of the occupier country is checking your ID to let you in your own home.

I arrived in a different village. Forty houses were burnt. Two people were killed. Two people were missing. The stress was evident on everyone’s faces. Hope had abandoned people. Then I decided I had to do something in favor of this village.

Taso Foundation, entering my village after the war in August 2008, has pushed us to move forward. Women Fund in Georgia has also supported us.

We established the Karaleti Women’s Solidarity Center in 2010. Violence against women in Gori and Karaleti was as relevant as in the rest of Georgia then. Thus, we decided to provide legal assistance to women victims of violence. At the same time, we wanted to put the emphasis on raising awareness about the violence against women in society.

Today I can proudly say that there is no organization in Karaleti community where we have not discussed the women’s rights, the forms of violence against women or international law. You cannot find a topic we have not touched: domestic violence, sexual violence, premature marriage, sexual harassment…

It was not easy to launch the activities. The Center was newly-formed when one of the public servants applied to us in a strict manner: “My wife would better not to approach you or vice versa, or you would better not to guide me how to behave in my family…” Then he cursed us.

During the first training on domestic violence, I approached the police officers and asked them to share their expectations about the training. Mocking smiles appeared on their faces. The officers replied they were looking forward to meeting the women willing to teach men how to behave.

Despite such skepticism and negative attitude, we managed to showcase that domestic violence is a crime and abuse is never acceptable. Several years ago, due to our advocacy, a restraining order was issued by the court to ensure the safety of a young girl victim of domestic violence. This was an unprecedented case as police had never issued a restraining order before. The law had never been properly enforced before.

I feel special empathy for the victims of domestic violence. They usually do not have enough skills to make a new start. More commonly, they leak support from society and their own families.

There is a woman whose husband set her on fire. This woman had initially been the victim of domestic violence. She got married at the age of 15 in order to survive from her abuser father but the worse situation was awaiting her in a new family. She became a mother of three children: two girls and one boy. This woman had experienced all kinds of violence. Her father was still pushing her to stay patient for the sake of the family. Actually, she had no way to escape. Once upon a time, her husband spilled some gasoline and set her on fire. Almost 70% of her body got burnt. However, she decided not to sue her spouse. The woman told the ambulance that she accidentally set herself on fire while she was burning the oven. We spent this woman to the shelter. We got a psychologist for her. Then she went to Tbilisi where she used to stay with her relatives and even managed to find a job but finally, she still decided to return to her abusive husband. Now she became a victim of psychological violence from her 19-years old son. The son was complaining he felt embarrassed while walking in the village thus he forced his mother to stay with the abusive spouse. Unfortunately, we often encounter such cases.

The result of Karaleti Women’s Solidarity Center’s effort is evident: At the beginning of our activities, many women victims of violence were approaching us. Now, fewer women apply to us for help – they go straight to the police. This is the main outcome of our effort – The population is already aware that the violence is a crime and the abuser should be punished fairly.

Our endeavor is not limited to ending violence against women. We try to refresh the community, discover energetic and responsible people and support their initiatives. In this case, we focus on women again.

With support from Taso Foundation, we empowered women for social participation and promoted their initiatives. We funded nine projects in favor of society: A kindergarten for the children with disabilities was furnished and the public park was created in the region of Garejvari; A space for meetings and events was organized and the library was opened in the village of Karaleti.

We strive to convince the population that the problem in the community is meant to be a dilemma for each of them. I wish people to realize the essence of community philanthropy. The core idea of community philanthropy is to involve people in common work aimed at taking the responsibility not only on private property but also on common property, interests, environment, and people. It is a will to merge works aiming at transforming the local environment, supporting social changes and living in dignity. I wish I could make this idea clear to everyone as we can never impel a worthy society without sharing these values.

Author: Manana Vardiashvili 

This article was prepared in the frame of the project ” Promoting new women leaders and ‘invisible women’ human rights activists” implemented by IREX Europe in partnership with Human Rights House Tbilisi, with financial support from the European Commission. The views in this article do not necessarily express the views of the European Commission.