Georgia: Peace in Our Families

This is the second article written by Marina Tabukashvili from the Taso Foundation in Georgia, Retaj partners in the Sharing for Empowerment project conducted in Lithuania in September 2015.

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In 2001, as we were shooting a film in an ethnic minority village, we spoke with the head wife of a man who stretched his arms saying, “What law are you talking about? Tbilisi? Where is Tbilisi?” Tbilisi was one hour away northeast by car. At that point, I thought, “Probably they don’t beat their wives here.” Naturally, I meant that wives were beaten in Georgian villages and cities alike, and around the world for that matter, but the head wife said, “I couldn’t bear a son, so what was he supposed to do? Of course, he married a second wife.” They did have children, but all three were girls. “Who would inherit the fruits of his labor? He needed an heir.” I do not remember if that man even had a son, but what I do remember is the distribution of duties between his two wives. The first wife ran the household—she was quite aged. The other worked in a potato field. That is why I assumed there was no beating, since there was total obedience thriving in this closed community, with Tbilisi at a distance and no rules other than the law dominating within this closed community.

These rules prescribe to have a young daughter, who has just entered adolescence, drop out of school and stay at home until she gets married—which actually means moving from one house to another in the same village, often into the family of an uncle or an aunt in order to ensure against family riches ending up in an outsider’s hands—lest shameful assumption about her arise and dishonor her father. Actually, that was what our film was about, inaccessibility of education for young women in ethnic minority villages. So we decided to film a graduation ceremony in this village, the graduates, all young men, receiving congratulations from the principal who, in another scene, smiles shyly during an interview and says, “I was away from the village, studying in university, when I learned that my cousin was about to get married. I came back and kidnapped her—I couldn’t let someone else have her!”

I have a story about how the issue of education links to violence against women. I heard this story at the Cairo Airport, from an Egyptian doctor who was about to fly to Istanbul to participate in a scientific conference. Our flight was delayed. His story was triggered by my remark, “How strange is that? Demographically, men considerably outnumber women in Egypt.” “It’s very simple,” she replied, “Women are not allowed to go to school, which is why we don’t have women physicians. Since we don’t have women physicians, women don’t visit doctors, considering it an embarrassment. So, given the absence of medical treatment, they die young.” “What about men?” “They weep and mourn, but there’s nothing they can do about it.”

To return to ethnic Georgian women in Georgia, I add that said film was first screened for Georgian women reporters who admitted later, “Apparently, they’re just like us, and they have the same problems.” In other words, as expected…

Violence against women is quite tricky—no matter how good your legislation, mechanisms, and shelters may be, violence is still there, in very places where no laws or mechanisms apply at the moment… Even in the best-case scenario, when a victimized women ends up in a shelter together with her three children, with subsequent efforts for her rehabilitation to make sure she is labeled a survivor, not a victim, even that proves very difficult, especially in poor countries, countries with high unemployment rates, largely because property rights are respected only on paper.

In this same vein, as one woman MP told me in 2007, we are all victims, often with our consent, voluntarily. In rare cases, victims of violence are lucky enough to have support from their parents and families. As a rule, a married woman with children of her own is not welcome back, with excuses like her brother got married, has children, there is not enough room, and the like. In addition, no one wants a crazed drunk son-in-law storming in and raising hell. So be long-suffering and keep your family together—this is life.

Kidnapping young women with a view to marrying them was quite typical in the 1960s. As a rule, families did not try to reclaim their daughters and abstained from interfering. I believe it is the worse form of betrayal when your own father betrays and gives up on you, while mother, choking back her tears, tells you, “Be long-suffering. You’ll get used to it—that‘s a woman’s fate.” Today kidnapping, especially unpunished, is not as widespread, with a rare exception of extremely closed communities in remote areas.

It is important and urgent to ensure large-scale activities aiming to prevent and, at the same time, fight domestic violence on the ground, that is, everywhere. Fighting is the same is adequately responding to cases of violence, engaging said mechanisms with the participation of police forces, judges, crisis centers, and shelters. Usually, this fight here is initiated not by a victim of violence but a member of civil society, be it a zealous activist or a zealous activist from a local civil society organization. Such rural organizations few and far between, and one of their leaders, Ketevan Khidasheli, writes:

“Despite our great efforts, we believe that we will not succeed unless there is public support, unless the media work on this issue, unless judiciary reform is in place (I am talking about engaging women police officers in processing cases of domestic violence, as well as launching a psychosocial rehabilitation program for abusers). I have not noticed much public support, and the reason lies within lasting stereotypes. If a women is beaten, it is immediately assumed that “deserves it.” We encounter problems where we should enjoy support. Unfortunately, besides beating or killing a woman, society and women themselves do not perceive other forms of violence as such. These forms include psychological pressure, coercion, economic abuse, and others, which constitute only the initial step followed by physical abuse. As a rule, victims keep silent, knowing that violence against them is prohibited by the law, but having no hope of help, and opting to accept their lot. Even under extremely unbearable conditions, they turn not to the police but to the local community governor who chides the abuser or has him write a statement which has no legal power. As for the victims, they find themselves face to face with their abusers who may punish them brutally for reporting. Police officers, who are versed in the law and have been repeatedly trained, rarely issue restraining orders, which may have only one explanation, that of so-called masculine solidarity. However, a recent legislative amendment obligates police officers to escort abusers from the residence even if owned by the abusers themselves.

Many believe that launching protection services for victims of domestic violence is a top priority today. We, on the other hand, believe that prevention of violence should be prioritized. If we fail to solve this problem and ensure that future generations are nurtured by values involving social justice, if each of them does not assume responsibility for achieving justice, we will never break out of this vicious cycle, wandering aimlessly.

Let us not be tolerant of violence; let us not eat with abusers or greet them; let us make them feel our attitude toward violence. Abusers are most dastard creatures, and they are strong only when we are afraid of them.”