Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Georgia: Combating Violence in the Home
Georgia’s parliament is close to approving a new law on sexual equality, but experts say it will do little to combat the domestic violence that is rife in the country.
March is considered “women’s month” in Georgia, since March 8 is International Women’s Day and March 3 is Mother’s Day. This is proof, according to parliament deputy Akaki Bobokhidze and many other Georgian men, that the country respects women more than them.
But many women clearly disagree. On March 2 and 8, feminist activists gathered for a protest in the capital Tbilisi. They said women were under-represented in senior positions, had few rights during pregnancy, and faced the risk of domestic violence.
“Problem number one for women in Georgia is violence in the family, and steps need to be taken urgently to fix this,” said Mzia Chakhvadze, one of the demonstrators.
“Georgia has beautiful traditions around women, but behind these traditions lies an ugly reality. Women’s rights are often violated, and the worst thing is that many women think that’s how it should be,” said Nino Shamatava, another protestor.
Non-governmental organisations in Georgia have long campaigned for action against domestic violence.
Deki, a group specialising in the issue, and said that 22 per cent of respondents said they were subject to violence every week. Another 36 per cent reported that they were beaten several times a month. Forty-three per cent said their husbands had beaten them on hearing they were pregnant, and ten per cent said they had miscarried as a result.
Interior ministry figures show that since 2006, when a law was adopted recognising domestic violence as a specific crime, 757 cases had been recorded. In all but 71 of these, the violence had come from the man.
Experts say that this is only the tip of the iceberg.
“The problem is not just in families, but also among police officials, particularly in the provinces, where they sometimes don’t see that family problems can constitute a breach of the law,” said Anna Loria, director of the Centre for the Defence of Constitutional Rights.
Rusudan Kervalishvili, the vice-speaker of parliament, is pushing the new law on gender equality to help fight domestic violence. Parliament has already passed the bill, which contains measures to prevent and detect such attacks, in a second reading.
“You cannot close your eyes to this,” she said. “The number of victims of domestic violence is rising day by day, and the protective mechanisms are inadequate.”
Kervalishvili said the law would broaden the definition of family members who could be accused of violence, and would make it easier for people to be recognised as a victim of violence. It would also set up a crisis centre which would serve as a short-term refuge and provide counselling.
Women’s activists, although they welcomed such measures, said they would not be enough to solve the problem in the long term.
Some regions of Georgia already have refuges for women set up by local NGOs. Women can stay there for up to five months, receive training and be fed along with their children, but they need to leave them eventually to free up space for new arrivals.
“I ran away from violence from my mother-in-law. Lawyers told me that Georgian law does not allow me to claim the status of a victim of domestic violence so I appealed to a local NGO, which helped me get into the shelter,” said Sofo, a 22-year-old mother of two who left the refuge a month ago.
“I was there with my children for three months, and then I had to give up my place to a new victim. While there I started working with felt, but since leaving I have been unable to find a place to use these skills.
“I don’t want to be ungrateful – the help I received in the refuge was very good, but it was only temporary.”
Sofo now lives illegally in Greece, where she cleans for an elderly woman. She sends money to her relatives, with whom she can only talk via Skype, an internet telephone network.
She is not alone in facing troubles after leaving the refuge. Some women are even forced to move back with their abusive families.
“My parents live very poorly and cannot feed me and the child,” said Lika, a 21-year-old. “I went back to my husband. We haven’t argued, but I live in a permanent state of tension, and I’m afraid he might hit me again,”
Lawyers specialising in domestic violence cases say that social attitudes are the main obstacle to change.
“People don’t want their problems to become publicly known; they’re ashamed. But society must understand that there is nothing shameful about this, and that these things must be spoken about openly,” said Khatuna Chitanava of the Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association.
“Our organisation took part in drafting the law on gender equality. Sadly, during discussions in parliament the bill was heavily amended and in its current form it is mainly of symbolic importance,” said Chitanava. “Either our society really isn’t ready to discuss this problem seriously, or our state does not want to raise the issue at this level.”
Natia Kuprashvili is a freelance journalist in Georgia.
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