International Women’s Day: Women in Georgia

It’s International Women’s Day, and I am taking this opportunity to write a post about the situation of women in Georgia.

Disclaimer: I am well aware that there are women in all parts of the world, including the tiny obscure corner of the world that I come from, and that the issues that I discuss with respect to Georgia have a wider scope and context outside of Georgia. There are gender roles in every society. There are gender problems in every society. I am not writing this to compare Georgia to the United States, or anywhere else. I am not writing to bring shame to Georgia or to complain about my life here (since my life here has been really unbelievably good, overall). I am writing about Georgia because I am in Georgia and this blog is an attempt to provide information about Georgia.

If I criticize, it’s because I care.


I know that my blog has been an unexpected font of positivity lately, but unfortunately the situation with respect to women here in Georgia gets mixed reviews.

Several months ago, when I first began to talk about these issues, I aroused the ire of the Georgian public by describing what I saw and what I heard about the treatment of women, especially foreign women, in Georgia. Most comments from Georgians flat-out denied that anything like what I was describing could ever happen in Georgia. I was urged to report incidents to the police. I was told that my friends were probably liars. I was told that I was a liar. One response in particular stands out, because it was from a Georgian woman who I had actually met in person, and who several of my friends here seem to like and esteem a great deal. In a comment that did not make it through moderation, she told me that it was “childish” to spread “rumors” – she didn’t even deny that these things were happening, she just insinuated that I was making it all up, like a child who lies to get attention.

Some commenters asked me to write again after I’d been here longer. They thought that once I understood Georgian culture, my opinion would change. Overall, it has not.

Literally every week I hear about another incident between a Georgian man or men and a foreign woman. I’m not just talking about catcalls, staring, or following women around – after a few months we all seem to become desensitized to that and not even really notice it any more. I’m talking about cases of assault, sexual assault, and battery. I won’t rehash them here – it’s a depressing and disturbing litany that everyone who’s been here is more or less familiar with. And given how small my personal network of connections actually is – I probably know less than a quarter of the people in TLG – and given that certainly not every woman I know tells me about every incident that happens to her – I can only assume that there are many, many more incidents that I haven’t heard of.


In contrast to foreign women, Georgian women seem to be doing fairly well here. First, Georgian women seem more successful in school than Georgian men. I’ve had teachers literally say to me that women/girls are better students and that classes with too many boys are impossible to manage. At the Police Academy, there were relatively few women in basic training, but the women were consistently among the top scorers, and unlike the men, never attempted to cheat on quizzes or exams.

Women seem to dominate most professions that I come into contact with. The vast majority of the TLG staff members are women, which formed my first impression of the professional culture – but almost all teachers are women; the psychological staff at the Police Academy were all women, etc. The exceptions are food service – which seems about evenly split – and taxi, marshutka, and bus drivers, who are all men.

So basically, in Georgia, women are more studious, are received better by teachers, get better grades, achieve more in school, and can move on to public sector jobs in their profession of choice, some of which are very well-paid.

Of course, that’s the public sphere. In the private sphere, women are allocated the lion’s share of household responsibilities. Georgian women that I have met seem to take it as a matter of personal pride that they control the house and the household environment and may or may not welcome male attempts to interfere in that environment. One of my best friends in Georgia has come to my house for several meals cooked by myself and my former roommate, and knows that we are both not only competent, but talented, in the kitchen – and yet when I come to her house she will not let me lift a finger. Her kitchen, her rules, she tells me.

It’s almost impossible not to admire Georgian women – they tend to be strong, smart, professional, and able to manage education, work, and running a household all at once, and they do it wearing four-inch heels that I imagine would cripple me. Many see themselves as equal to – and I believe in many cases superior to – Georgian men – and with good reason.


But of course, beneath the surface, all is not well. When I was told by numerous Georgians, including Georgian women, that cases of harassment, sexual harassment, assault, and sexual assault were aberrations, that they could never happen in Georgia and if they did, it was most likely due to a cultural misunderstanding since of course those things never happen to Georgian women, I sort of left it alone. I had only been in the country for a month or two, and I didn’t want to contradict Georgian women about their own experiences.

However, there are numerous studies and reports about domestic abuse and gender-based violence that show that Georgian women are faced with the same kinds of problems that affect women all over the world.

What makes Georgia stand out in my mind is that there’s a very strict, implicit code of silence about these issues here. This comes about because of a combination of aspects of Georgian culture – emphasis on family, and national pride. Basically, Georgians are a very proud people – and they have a lot to be proud of – but pride can sometimes stand in the way of progress. In the US if someone said “domestic violence is a big problem in the United States,” there would be no controversy. The general response would be something like “yes, that’s very sad.” That’s because regardless of the air of superiority adopted by many Americans, Americans really have no national unity and are more than willing to throw the other guy under the bus. In Georgia there’s such an impulse to preserve the Georgian identity that Georgians are often willing – especially when dealing with non-Georgians – to deny or overlook problems in Georgian society for the sake of preserving face.

There’s also the fact that Georgia is so community and family oriented. As the articles above state, it’s shameful to go outside the family to handle “domestic disputes.” Because the country is so small and tight-knit, reputation is extremely important, and in cases of abuse, at least one of the two people involved is going to take a huge hit to their – and their family’s – reputation. This can have widespread consequences, especially since family connections are, even to this day, still important for social, economic, and political status. This is changing, as Georgia has been making strides in fighting corruption and nepotism, but of course the culture may take a while to change with the reality.


To sum up: in the public sphere, Georgian women are doing extremely well. Women have formal legal equality and seem to be represented very well in the educational system and in the professional world. Women generally feel themselves to have equality and to be both safe and free to make their own choices. Women have access to reproductive rights like birth control and abortion. Good stuff.

In the private sphere, Georgian women tend to be conservative, to handle all household chores, to serve the men of the house first, etc. Overall I have heard few complaints about this arrangement, but it still strikes me as unfair. There are also problems with support for women who are abused at home, mainly because of cultural factors.


Finally, not to dwell on this, but foreign women are genuinely not as safe here as they should be. I reluctantly have to echo the advice TLG gave to women at my orientation: do not travel alone – travel in groups, or with trustworthy men. This goes double for getting into taxis at night. And if you are forced to take a taxi alone, sit in the back seat. Do not get drunk in public – not only does this make you a target for predatory males, but if you go to the authorities, the fact that you were drinking will absolutely count against you. Be extremely careful about any Georgian men you associate with – even ones that your host family trusts. TLG staff gave women all of these warnings for a good reason, as I find out over and over again, much to my dismay.

Georgia is a wonderful place and you can be safe and happy here, but you will have to get used to taking different kinds of precautions than you did at home.

Speaking of TLG – I strongly suggest that you go to them if you need help. Although there is no specific infrastructure for dealing with women’s issues, the vast majority of the staff is female, as I have already mentioned, and many of them have, unfortunately, gained a good deal of experience in dealing with issues of harassment or violence against women. TLG will investigate all problems reported to them and provide assistance in dealing with appropriate authorities if necessary. I have had a number of friends tell me that the head of TLG personally saw to their cases and that she is absolutely trustworthy and helpful, so don’t be afraid to get in touch with her specifically if you need to.


A link worth checking out – this one’s from a friend in Georgia who’s been to many many places: Steve Diamond’s take on world gender issues, and other things

And a song by one of the most amazing lyricists ever to grace the English language:

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18 Responses to International Women’s Day: Women in Georgia

  1. ---> says:

    Well said. Thanks… but… nothing new.

    You are beating a dead horse. All above (especially related to Georgian women) was more then once said (shouted, screamed) in Georgian Internet in last 10 years, but it did not generate any significant changes.

    That’s because of the following paradox – women are not really interested in change. They prefer the current, existing situation because of the simple reason: devil known is better then angel unknown.

    Translation: with the current situation they do know what to expect, what are rules of the game are and what one will/might get as a result. However the alternative is very unclear and nobody knows that it worth to pursue.

    One changes his/her behavior when he/she has a choice and more and less clear understanding what will be the outcome if choice A or B is picked up. But when there is (and was generation by generation) only choice A motivating them to pick up B is extremely difficult because they do not know what to do with the C which is the result of picking up the B.

    One might say that this is a representation of Stockholm Syndrome and probably they will be right.

    Once again – do do something differently one first of all need to convince herself that alternative does exist and it is better then the reality. Without that change won’t happen.


  2. Ilyk Eyaj says:

    @ whoever commented above, “That’s because of the following paradox – women are not really interested in change. They prefer the current, existing situation because of the simple reason: devil known is better then angel unknown.”

    The comment above me, whoever it is, put it well. So true, women sometimes push the sexism just as much as the men do and perpetuate it too.

    When I lived in Georgia, I saw the role of women and I found it very disturbing. There’s an old expression, “God helps those who help themselves.” It’s not religious at all, but it’s making a clear point and I use it to describe women in Georgia but also in other parts of the world. If you’re not willing to help yourself, why should anyone else do it? It never ceases to amaze me how indoctrinated whole societies can be about gender roles.

    For many women, it’s a passive aggressive way of being empowered if they are the educated ones that control the entire household, technically they’re in charge. So they might get slapped by their husband, cheated on by their husband, or assaulted; but hey they’re still in charge of the child rearing, cooking, finances, shopping, and also have the career. So they have passive aggressively secured their places in society.

    Change in any culture and society takes time and it is difficult. People are afraid of the unknown, including the victims. Since many Georgian women don’t know what a new gender role for them would look like, how it would feel, how it would fit into Georgian society……then it’s better not to change things, remain indenial, and push it off as some wierd thing that Westerners are trying to do.

    I live in Turkey, and it’s very common for the Turkish mother of an adult son to enourage him to slap/smack his wife, should she get out of line. That’s sick and counterproductive but there’s many a Turkish mother-in-law that is happily insuring that their daughter-in-laws don’t forget their place in the family. This definitely sets gender relations back when a women is encouraging males to abuse another women. I also see that as way of keeeping people in their respective roles, it’s sick, but it’s what works….for now.

    Thanks Neal for doing a special post on International Women’s Day!


    • Rosa says:

      I helped my daughter get a restraining order when she was finally tired of being sick and tired of fighting back with an abusive boyfriend whose mother finally brought her home to me one night during a close escape from him. The mother begged me not to take any outside action like sik my gangster uncles in Detroit on him, so we went the legal route and his mother also asked us to do it so he could get some required anger management counseling (help?), thank God my daughter has not succumbed to going back with him, not sure if the restraining order is still in effect but it sent a message to him that hopefully let him know “homey don’t play that!” and gave my daughter the message that there is a way to get out and get someone to help change a wrong action to hopefully a right action. His mother apologized for allowing them to live together at her home, which I knew was wrong in the first place, and said she wanted to get help for him and thought it was the only way through what we did that he got help to see through a Judge and court ordered counseling for anger or maybe even counteract the sick way men in Georgia want to mistreat and abuse women they claim to love. I tried to get my daughter to an abuse counselor but she refused to go but I believe this experience has made her a stronger woman, but she certainly did not take all the war wounds. I prayed a lot during the whole time she was not living with me because I knew she was hiding something when she would not come to visit me. Now she is dating other men and some men are not even from Georgia. Please talk to your daughters to stand up for themselves, this is the only way that change for the better can happen. Thank you again for creating this blog.


  3. James Norton says:

    Thank you for writing openly, professionally, and sensitively about such a horrific and taboo topic as sexual violence. 100% agree with everything you’ve written.


  4. Anonymous says:

    I agree with the comments made and good job with the article but together with everything said I would add that women in Georgia are not only afraid of the “unknown” but they are also frequently afraid of “the very well known” predictable consequences of disobeying the socially accepted norm. If there is no strong support from friends or the family person runs the risk of being isolated, pointed at and awfully shamed for example for being “unworthy of having a family (!) and a husband (!)” when not taking care of the ENTIRE household or “having no dignity or respect for the “holiness” of her own home (whatever it means but I’ve heard it being said)” for calling the police if she is being abused. I am not disagreeing with the idea that a big portion of the blame lies with females whose actions are necessary to change the existing reality but speaking from a female’s point of view in Georgia it is way easily said than done. Knowing how destructive the social pressure can be it takes all courage and determination a person can master to achieve your freedom and remain part of the society at the same time. If you do not have enough willpower it goes down to a simple pragmatic calculation whether you want to become Giordano Bruno and burn in fire or retain your outer peace and quite and burn silently at home by the kitchen stove cooking every evening. How many of us would dare not wear a headscarf in Tehran thinking it goes against our principle of equality with men? It may seem too far off of a comparison but in Georgia, for Georgian women rebelling often means taking off that headscarf. It takes lot of courage, there are few heroes and many are not ready to face the pressure.


  5. pasumonok says:

    let me tell u what happened last week: i am participating in debate club sorta thing, where committed people debate about stuff, like last time we debated about arabian revolutions and next week we are going to debate about united caucasus. just giving u a range. while choosing topics for the future debates, seeing that all of them were economical/legal issues, i suggested 2 throw in a social issue and named gender equality as a topic. low and behold, all of these very intelligent males all the sudden lost their enthusiasm and looked at me like i was saying something boring and unimportant. my jaw dropped when they started claiming that there is no inequality in georgia and that girls themselves choose assholes to marry and really it is their own fault, they have it coming and stuff like that.
    now, these people know lots of things. they are very educated and very aware of what is going on in the world and in georgia. i swear, i am still in shock that i heard such immature judgement from boys that can easily talk about complicated matters like developing agriculture in georgia or improving public schools. i guess social issues, more than other issues, are products of beliefs and values, and can make even smarter people ignore facts–i mean facts, statistics!–and repeat the same stuff that some drunk men spit out at an all-male supra.
    p.s. that evening, my debate partner ( female) and I stopped by beer brewery. the moment we walked in, the “dacva” asked me: are you meeting anyone here? his 1st assumption was that 2 girls can’t come have beer without boys.
    p.s. those debate men probably won’t attend the gender debate. coz they think there is nothing 2 debate: everything is fine.


    • Mach says:

      Well here’s a thing, many people are biased against “let’s talk about gender equality” because there is really a lot of cheap propaganda about it. These people, collectively vaguely described as “NGO” have no idea, or indeed don’t actually care about what the actual problem is, where does it come from and how exactly does it manifest itself. The overall impression is that they do these posters and seminars and what not for the sake of money, which might well be true, but this is irrelevant. In fact, for a long time I have been one these biased people. Me and some of my friends hold workshops about different topics, we hand out and ask to fill in the feedback papers and the end of every event, with “what would you like as the topic of the next workshop” section. We’ve had several occasions of somebody asking for gender equality theme. Now, if we do decide to go with this, there is actually very little chance that we will get somebody who knows what is he/she talking about and won’t go into usual flat statistics which nobody really believes anyway. I hope all this made sense.


  6. ---> says:

    Got this from Peace Corps 61 page manual/information about Georgia

    Page 25:
    Georgian women often do not drink at or even attend all-male supras. Female Volunteers are strongly advised to do the same since females drinking with men at supras may send the wrong message and invite unwanted attention and harassment, in addition to compromising their reputation and ability to do effective work in the community

    Page 40:
    Female Volunteers may find that a single woman living alone goes against the cultural norm. They may receive more unwanted and inappropriate attention from Georgian men than in the United States or may have to work harder than male Volunteers to gain the respect of Georgian colleagues in the workplace. Females Volunteers will also have to adapt to the cultural norms of not smoking or drinking in public in order to avoid sending the wrong message to men.

    Page 41:
    The safety risks for Asians, particularly females, are very high. Some Georgians may believe Asian-American females to be prostitutes; therefore, Asian-American females are discouraged from traveling or being outside alone at night.

    This manual is available for public access and has well balanced information. Why it was not sent to TLG teachers coming to the country? A lot of problems might be avoided if people would read this first and secondly, listen a little bit more carefully what they’ve being told during orientation/cultural training.


  7. ---> says:

    Here just one more piece of statistics from Peace Corps manual about sexual attacks on their volunteers. Statistics are from Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia
    Armenia, page53 :

    The average numbers of incidents are in parenthesis and equal the average reported assaults for each year between 2002–2006. Incident rates equal the number of assaults per 100 Volunteers and trainees per year (V/T years).
    Since most sexual assaults occur against females, only female V/Ts are calculated in rapes and minor sexual assaults. Numbers of incidents are approximate due to rounding.

    Rape – 0 (0)
    Aggr assault – 0 (0)
    Other sexual assault – 1 (1.4)
    Azerbaijan, page62:

    The average numbers of incidents are in parenthesis and equal the average reported assaults for each year between 2002–2006. Incident rates equal the number of assaults per 100 Volunteers and trainees per year (V/T years).
    Since most sexual assaults occur against females, only female V/Ts are calculated in rapes and minor sexual assaults. Numbers of incidents are approximate due to rounding.

    Rape – 0 (0)
    Aggr assault – 0.5 (<1)
    Other sexual assault – 1 (3.2)
    Georgia, page37:

    The incidence rate for each type of crime is the number of crime events relative to the Volunteer/trainee population. It is expressed on the chart as a ratio of crime to Volunteer and trainee years (or V/T years, which is a measure of 12 full months of V/T service) to allow for a statistically valid way to compare crime data across countries.
    Incidence Rates of Reported Incidents in PC/Georgia and EMA Region, 2004-2008

    Sexual assault – 1.9*
    Other sexual assault – 12.8**

    * Sexual Assault includes the categories of rape, attempted rape, and major sexual assault.
    ** Other Sexual Assault consists of unwanted groping, fondling, and/or kissing


  8. ---> says:

    Here is one more link – Georgia Gender Assessment, by USAID :

    Some quotes:

    Page 8:
    The Government of Georgia has taken important steps to improve the legal system response to domestic violence, and victims now have a number of options for their protection. However, strong social pressures and shame around the issue of violence prevent the majority of female victims from seeking help. Fostering greater awareness of the problem in society and compassion for victims is still critically needed…. Healthcare professionals appear to be aware of the health consequences suffered by victims of domestic violence, but they often lack the knowledge and skills to address the problem and make appropriate referrals.

    Page 22:
    For example, a study of media reporting on children in Georgia found that news articles about violence committed against children is often sensationalized. This is especially harmful in rape cases involving adolescent girls in which information about their identities is revealed as well as comments made about their characters.

    Page 32:
    that of all registered cases of domestic violence for 2007-2008, 87% of the victims were female. According to a survey conducted by a Georgian NGO, 36% of female respondents said they were subject to violence by their husbands several times a month and 22% reported physical violence every week. A large group, 43%, said their husbands had used physical violence after learning that their wives were pregnant.

    Page 33:
    According to the countrywide study on the prevalence, causes and consequences of domestic violence in Georgia, 80% of respondents stated that domestic violence should only be discussed within the family and there should be no outside interference. When victims were asked about where they turned for help, 28% told no one about the violence, 70% told family members (primarily parents but also siblings), and 2% or fewer turned to police, medical professionals or NGOs.
    Indeed, discrepancies between the numbers of women reporting violence in social surveys and the numbers of victims in official domestic violence cases (358 in a two-year period) suggest that there are strong societal pressures to keep such information hidden.

    etc… etc… all 60 pages report is must read material.

    I wonder, was this report ever translated, published and discussed in Georgian media?


  9. Rezo says:

    As a Georgian male I must confest, that as general Georgian women are much agucated, progresive and open mind persons than Georgian male, who yet have been came out from the lagacy of soviet-georgian hybrid mentality..
    but there can be seen some progress also, the new genearation has much more healthy aproach to the woman right and to their place in socity


  10. --> says:

    Neal, here is a blog entry of one of your colleague – she lives in Samtredia and describes how her fried was bridenapped:


  11. JG says:


    Thank you for posting three credible sources with data about this issue.


  12. Rosa says:

    I am glad someone has made a comment about the be seen and not heard issues women in Georgia have and are continuing to suffer, but believe that it is not just foreign women that are being mistreated and also it is not just from the grown men, there are young boys who have carried on such disrespectful treatment of silencing and attacking women and girls. It is like a disease that seems to have no end. Women here in Georgia seem very protective over the men and do not either want to fight what they are going through or cannot do so. I have spoken up about a man that lives above me who hammers 2-3 times per day on something, I heard was ice for his medication, also he was leaving trash in my front entrance area daily and wants to get indignate with me when I speak to him because I complained like I did something wrong, telling me I must have a health problem when he is the one who has the health problem and probably a mental problem too. I am constantly studying for a Bachelor’s degree in business online and when I hear the noises I get surprised and a nervous jolt from the shock of banging and hammering sometimes in the early morning hours. I can’t sleep or have company without hearing the daily hammering, and when I reported it to the property manager about it her assistant (a Georgian native) says he is a nice man and she offered me another apartment but it would raise the rent costs for me to move, There are some really bad seeds in our complex who moved here from the notorious Barnham projects and they throw rocks at the mailboxes, I went outside to let them see I see what they are doing and gave them a set of tennis rackets and balls to get their minds on something less destructive. One Sunday one boy threatened me with a beebee gun when he was shooting against the wall where I sleep, I went outside to tell the boys to stop tapping on the wall because I did not realize the big boy was shooting the beebee gun and he said to me “shut up bitch I will shoot you.” I called the police on him, made a report and advised the management office and now one of his friends spreads rumors that I will call the police on them when they do something like throwing the rocks (stuck on stupid stuff) and these boys seem to want to be so hateful it is really sad that I have been minding my own business and let them know they disturb me but they want to shut me up. I do not understand how hateful these men and boys are and take out their frustrations on innocent women than on each other. I want to say something to them but wonder what would happen next if I do and I am not really the scarey type, coming from Detroit. Only God can deal with these demons which has always been the case for atrocities against innocent people. Thanks for speaking out for all women all over the world.


  13. Pingback: Sex in Georgia: The Anniversary | Georgia On My Mind

  14. As a woman living in Tbilisi (sometimes), I can largely back up your overall sentiments – although I’ve found that (possibly as a result of the unofficial protection of my very lovely, very educated/”liberal” landlady), I actually do feel surprisingly safe in Tbilisi and – even more so – in my area. Certainly I’ve never felt unsafe in a taxi in Tbilisi – I take them all the time, day and night! – but this might be area-based and/or Tbilisi-based.

    My two “awkward run-ins” consisted of a daytime street assault (close enough to a crowded main street that I never felt unsafe) and of a waiter at a restaurant near my house who managed to get my mobile number and ring me constantly (despite the fact that I’d never given him any personal information about myself, not even a credit card, that could help him find said information). Both, I think, are indicative of wider sexist issues in Georgia (hell, in the world), but I imagine female volunteers might wish to consider Tbilisi as an alternative to the regions if they’re keen on Georgia.


  15. Nini says:

    After reading this post I was think should I reply or not as a representative of Georgian women. Then I thought that If i wanna make change I have to reply. Actually, I agree with all said above by Neal, I’ve 2 kids, I have a business that I built up by myself(technology field), I had normal education, and all this I’ve done while being married to Georgian Man, carrying for him as much as i can, but still not as appreciated as I would like it to be. Well thanks for compliments:). I think this kind of problems are associated with the fact that Georgian men are really very weak (or pretend to seem like they are), and looking at them, we feel that if we don’t take on us certain responsibilities than they certainly don’t so the relationship then continue in the way of a mini battle, as much responsibility takes woman on herself as much men are willing to give. At last, finishing with not having at all. I know many woman around who manage not to take some and they are happy in this regard, but as much stronger the woman is as much she is willing to take more. So the fault is still more on women than men, but this is also because, we were grown up in this manner. And again living with mothers-in-law are the most problematic part of this whole thing I would say. As you are starting to fight and/or educate not 1 but sometimes 5 people together, which is impossible. And why the men became so weak, again because of education, there were served by mothers since and parents are ready to serve their “kids” whole life. So they are used to this kind of attitude. If we want to change , we have to start growing up our male kids as independent and strong men, and our daughters as self-sustainable, strong, independent women.


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