Last week I attended a training event in Kobuleti alongside a number of European volunteers. It was a great event which helped me learn more about Georgia and its cultural values. While there I shared with other volunteers the cultural shock I have felt, a feeling many of us have shared. In most cases it’s a feeling that comes after some time living in the country, since it is only when you start getting to know it that you can understand something for more than just its surface.
We all discussed topics that had been shocking for us; such as the language barrier, our place in public spaces, the curious people staring at you in the metro or other public places, the crazy way of driving in the Caucasus and so on.
One topic discussed in the training was gender discrimination and domestic violence in Georgia. This, of course, is a very sensitive topic to talk about for Georgian people and sometimes they even try to hide it or deny its existence.
There are many aspect of gender discriminatory within in the Georgian culture – sometimes these aspects, for some Georgians, go unquestioned. They were raised with them, and often they consider them as part of their traditions and values. Only when we look deeper and we try to understand them we can see the discrimination hidden within.
For example, the fact that typically, Georgian women have to be virgins until their marriage and the men experienced in terms of sex. This is changing, of course, and not all Georgian women accept this tradition anymore but still because of the powerful church institution and the fear of being rejected or judged by the others some women don’t feel free to break with this tradition yet.
Another discriminatory aspect is that Georgian women have to be responsible for the housework and the education of the kids while the men have to be responsible for bringing money home and showing discipline to the kid. During recent years the number of housewives has been reduced, but even though Georgian women are getting involved in the labor market more and more, they are still mostly responsible for the housework, that means that they have double shift of work. At the same time, Georgian men have the big responsibility of the economical stability of the family, which can create frustration and pressure if they don’t accomplish it.
Typically, Georgian women don’t smoke in the street or don’t drink like men do; that was one of the most shocking things for me since you can see many men everywhere smoking, but at the same time very few women doing the same. It’s same regarding drinking, in most celebrations or events it is understand that men will have to drink a lot, since that is what men should do, on the other hand women will have to keep aside and let men show their braveness.
In Georgia, the men and women’s roles are strongly established and that creates a big gap between the genders. I have to admit that it was, and still is, hard for me to adapt to these aspects – mostly because I don’t understand them and I guess that sometimes some Georgian people don’t understand me either. It has put me in a limited space where I should decide both to avoid and accept or to disagree. As a foreigner in a country with different culture and values, some of them discriminatory, I feel confused. What’s the limit for respecting and tolerating other traditions, even though those traditions are discriminatory or are going against your moral? I guess I am not the only foreigner in Georgia that has been through this question before.
Mercè Girbau is a Georgia-based blogger for the CEN Network. She is an international volunteer at the Women’s Information Centre (Tbilisi) who was born in Barcelona. She has a strong interest in women’s rights and the struggle for female equality and hopes to address these topics in her future blogs.