Georgia: Women in the Army

“When I put on my uniform for the first time, I felt so strong and proud.”

Georgia: Women in the Army

“When I put on my uniform for the first time, I felt so strong and proud.”

Ekaterine Marikashvili, a sergeant and a senior sapper of the EOD group.
Ekaterine Marikashvili, a sergeant and a senior sapper of the EOD group. © Photo courtesy of E. Marikashvili
Nana Tskhadadze, a sergeant and a platoon combat medic.
Nana Tskhadadze, a sergeant and a platoon combat medic. © Photo courtesy of N. Tskhadadze
Saturday, 15 October, 2022

Nana Tskhadadze, a sergeant and platoon combat medic, has served in the Georgian army for the last 18 years “and I can’t imagine myself without my uniform”.

Tskhadadze, from the village of Sviri in western Georgia’s Imereti region, joined up after graduating from medical school.

“It is a huge responsibility, to take care of soldiers’ health, not only in war, but in peacetime as well,” she said. One of her first tasks was a peacekeeping deployment to Iraq; then during the August 2008 war with Russia, she served in a frontline position.

“I went through hell to reach the wounded soldiers,” Tskhadadze recalled. “I walked through a rain of bullets, shells exploded right at my feet, but I moved forward to get the wounded soldiers out.”

She herself was badly wounded.

“Many of my fellow combatants died. It was a miracle that I survived, I had a serious injury. After the war, I gathered all my strength, put my uniform back on and returned to the army. Since I survived it meant that I had to continue my work.”

“I don’t think that I am special or a hero,” she concluded. “If a woman can do other jobs, why can’t she be a soldier? Women and men are equal. We are the soldiers serving our country.”

Women are still a rare sight in the Georgian army, a force of some 30,000 active personnel, but officials say that more are signing up. In 2019, women made up some six per cent of full-time personnel, and numbers are growing.

“According to the latest data, women represent eight per cent of the total number in the military,” said Maka Petriashvili, deputy head of human resources at the Georgian ministry of defence and heads its gender equality monitoring group. “This is not a huge increase, but the growing trend is noticeable.”

Gender stereotypes remain strong in the South Caucasus country of some four million, with persistent inequalities in fields including the labour market and political participation.

Tamar Lobzhanidze, an analyst in the UN Women, Peace and Security Programme, noted that women were also underrepresented in the security sector, especially at the decision-making level.

The situation in the civilian sector of the defence forces is much better than in the military,” she continued. “But the promotion of women who are already serving in various positions in the military is still a challenge.”

Ekaterine Sikharulishvili, head of a battalion medical support team, is one of those who have risen to a leadership position.

“Many people are surprised to see women in the military,” said the dentist by training, who joined the army in April 2003.

“When I put on my uniform for the first time, I felt so strong and proud. It was not easy to go through all those trainings, I did not believe that I could make it. But, when you take small steps and achieve results, you are proud and happy. I joined the engineering brigade when I got my officer rank. I went through special training programme there.”

She said that the support of her family had been key in making her career work.

“I wouldn’t be able to do all of this without them. I have two children, my daughter has special needs and requires a lot of attention. My husband is very supportive and helps me a lot.

“Taking care of soldiers gives me such happiness,” she continued. “When I see the faces of grateful patients it means a lot to me. My job has taught me to value and love life, I appreciate every moment of it.”

Medicine is a common route for women to enter military service. Aged 21, Ekaterine Marikashvili also joined as a medic, but went on to retrain as a sapper – currently the only woman in this role in the Georgian army.

“I was quite courageous as a child. I never allowed anyone to bully me. My father was a military man and perhaps that’s why I wanted to serve in the army,” she recalled.

After the 2008 August war, Marikashvili retrained in Azerbaijan to become a sapper.

“It is not an easy job for a woman to be a sapper,” she said, adding that the pressures could be relentless.

“I spend a lot of time at work. Sometimes I have night shifts too. When I come home, I try to be with my family. Sometimes I miss so much just being in the kitchen and cooking.”

Her 24 year-old son “always says my mum is a hero,” Marikashvili continued, adding, “I cannot imagine myself in civilian life. My life in the military is very interesting. I learned and saw a lot. This was my path to walk. I am glad that more women are joining the army.”

Petriashvili said that the army and defence ministry had been implementing measures to promote gender equality in the forces over the last decade.

“We started with awareness raising campaigns, because in Georgia, like many other countries, the military is a masculine domain,” she said. Most recently, in 2021, “we developed a new policy on gender equality and put more emphasis on supporting the empowerment of women, their professional and career growth”.

But Lobzhanidze said that the army needed to do more to ensure equal opportunities and access.

“The ministry of defence should not only act at the policy level, but must ensure sound infrastructure in practice,” she said. “It is crucial to make sure that there are no additional barriers for female soldiers during recruitment; it is also important to facilitate their promotion and carrier development in the defence forces and other jobs as well.”

Having more women serving in the army would only improve its functionality, she continued, adding, “We want to make sure that the defence forces embrace the principles of gender equality, that women can make huge contribution to the military and make it more effective.”

This publication was prepared under the "Amplify, Verify, Engage (AVE) Project" implemented with the financial support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Norway.

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