Nona Samkharadze is a philologist by profession. She together with her friends and associates founded a non-governmental organization Marneuli Democratic Women’s Society back in 2004. She has worked as a journalist and producer for Marneuli local TV channel since 2007. Now she is employed as an Information Manager for the Alliances Lesser Caucasus Programme at Mercy Corps Georgia. Nona is a civil activist and, in addition to her work, she is actively involved in campaigning for women’s rights.

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I was born in the village of Tsereteli, Marneuli Municipality. I’ve been studying at the school in my village until the seventh grade. This process was symbolically called studying: We were usually leaving for school at 9 a.m. and coming back at 11 a.m. Majority of the lessons were usually missed. That’s why my mom transferred me along with my sister to the school N126 in Tbilisi. We appeared in a great class. My sister and I had to work hard in order to overcome the cultural shock, study well and no longer speak the dialect. After finishing school I continued my studies at Tbilisi State University, Faculty of Philology.

After graduating the University I returned back to Marneuli. My father was against my return to Marneuli. He was telling me there was no perspective for young girls and it was better to stay in Tbilisi. I am very happy that my father’s expectations did not come true and I appeared in the right place at the right time.

I started to work at Marneuli local television. I got employed as a journalist at first and acquired lots of information and knowledge during this period of time.

I first heard about gender issues in the framework of the training for journalists on covering women’s rights back in 2007. Prior to this, premature marriage used to be a common occurrence for me. My sister got married at the age of 15, 13 years ago. This was an acceptable and usual thing for me then. During the training, I realized how many negative consequences premature marriage is followed by and how the rights of women and children are violated by marrying a minor girl. Then I began to cover premature marriage dynamically and today I am actively fighting against this problem. I have prepared many stories on this issue since then. I received a grant from the Open Society Georgia in 2011 and continued my master’s degree in gender studies.

Advocating women’s rights is not an easy thing to do. It’s not like Nona Samkharadze visits an unknown family and teaches them morality. I have accumulated much knowledge throughout these years and learned that choosing a careful approach towards this issue is essential. I have definitely made some mistakes in the beginning. I still find it hard to remember my video story on premature marriage prepared for Marneuli TV. I went straight to the family with a microphone. Since the girl was minor I received the permission from her mother-in-law and interviewed them both. I wanted to illustrate how this girl was no more able to continue her studies due to premature marriage and how her life had lost all the perspectives from now on. Next day I was told the husband had beaten this girl. This was the biggest mistake I have ever made and the most painful experience in my journalistic career.

I will not repeat such a mistake anymore. Years of experience have taught me how to fight.  If I hear that a family is going to marry a minor girl I do visit them but not alone. I am always accompanied by a person respected by the family. I have a group of allies. Now the schools are staffed by many good teachers who usually raise a red flag on time. If a girl is absent at school for a long period of time these teachers know they have to alert. This is an early notification mechanism working most affectively to prevent premature marriage. Then we report to the relevant agencies. Due to such notifications, we have canceled the weddings of seven minors recently.

 Currently, I am volunteering at Marneuli Community Radio. I host the program “Woman’s opinion” together with Olga Endeladze. There are no women in Marneuli City Council. Only men on higher positions serve as decision-makers in our country. Women have zero participation in politics. Politician men try to justify themselves by the fact that Marneuli is mainly inhabited by the Azerbaijani population for whom the social and political activity is unacceptable. Marneuli is definitely distinguished by certain ethnical characteristics but this can’t be a reason for justification.

Due to the efforts of international organizations and foundations, the situation in Marneuli has definitely changed – the number of premature marriage is decreasing and more and more girls are getting an education. With our program, we try to highlight that many decent women live in Marneuli. The opinion of these women is worth to take into account and they certainly deserve to be involved in the political decision-making process. Too many women tell me that our program together with its guests encourages them to become more active.

I have been working in Mercy Corps since 2011. Because of my job I am no longer as actively involved in activism as I was before. However, due to my previous experience, many women still approach me and ask for the support- some of them are forced to get married, some of them are not paid alimony, some of them are victims of domestic violence or seek for business funding. Although I do not have an organization and resources to support such women, I do not neglect any of them. I guide them who to approach and what to do in order to solve their own problems.

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.