Quota Calls for Women in Georgian Politics

Despite legislative reform, women are still underrepresented in a “macho” world.

Quota Calls for Women in Georgian Politics

Despite legislative reform, women are still underrepresented in a “macho” world.

A rally in Tbilisi in support of greater female participation in politics.
A rally in Tbilisi in support of greater female participation in politics. © Regina Jegorova-Askerova

A recent campaign designed to promote the need for women in the traditionally male-dominated politics of Georgia comes as statistics show that female representation is no better than before, and in some areas worse.

Two weeks of events including conferences, public meetings and concerts were held all across Georgia around International Women’s Day, March 8.

“I’m certain a lot would change in this country, and life would get better, if we had more women in politics,” said Mariam Gegechkori, a student attending a demonstration in the capital Tbilisi calling for greater female representation in politics. “I really want there to be equal numbers of men and women in parliament.”

The evidence suggests that Georgia is not really moving in that direction yet. Female representation is either static or, in some areas, moving backwards.

There are just 17 women in Georgia’s 150 seat parliament, or about one in ten. At local level, municipal executive bodies are getting steadily more male – 14 per cent of their members were women in 1998, and that has fallen to under ten per cent last year. The elected local councils are somewhat better, averaging 12 per cent.

Georgia has 12 cities that are accorded self-governing powers because of their size. All their mayors are men.

Since 2010, the country has had an equality law prohibiting all forms of sexual discrimination. And in 2013, at the European Union’s urging, it came up with a two-year action plan to promote gender equality, identify new female leaders and increase the percentage of women in central and local government.

Khatuna Gogorishvili, a member of parliament from the opposition United National Movement, believes that systemic reforms need to go hand in hand with cultural change.

One priority would be to make Georgian politics look more attractive to women, which Gogorishvili says is “important because the majority of women here don’t see politics as a feminine thing”.

To ensure there are enough up-and-coming candidates for political office, she continued, “we need to change this situation where young girls and women drop out of university for the sake of family and children. I have statistics that show most people who drop out of university are girls who’ve got married or had kids. They’re choosing between family and education.”

Levan Tsutskiridze, who heads the South Caucasus branch of the Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy, agrees that cultural norms are a significant constraint on female political participation.

“That’s especially true of ethnic minorities, among which a very small percentage of women complete higher education and seek a career,” he said. “Many start families, and then their husbands won’t let them out.”

He also pointed out that Georgia’s rough-edged political scene was not particularly appealing to women, with what he called “machinations and macho culture”, and occasional fisticuffs during the excitement of election time.

When it comes to elected positions, Georgian parties often say they would be happy to nominate women; it is just that the voters do not want them.

Some argue that a quota system is the only way to break this pattern.

New Rights, a minority conservative party, has drafted legislation designed to prevent candidates being de-selected in advance.

"Quotas are not some kind of privilege,” the party’s Manana Nachkebia told IWPR. “Quotas mean creating equal starting conditions for women and men. They compensate for the barriers and discrimination experienced by women going into political life in Georgia.”

Nachkebia said the proposed quota would address the complexities of Georgia’s parliamentary system in which 77 seats are divided among the parties that have won by proportional representation, using pre-prepared candidates, while the rest are elected first past the post.

“If quotas are mandatory only for the proportional-representation side of it, we’ll get just 36 women in a parliament of 150,” she explained.

Gogorishvili agrees that parties need to be prodded into ensuring they have more women on their candidate lists. She thinks they could be awarded extra funding from the state as an incentive for doing so.

For some years now, Georgia’s parliament has in fact had a financial incentive scheme for parties that promote women as candidates at election time.

Erika Kvapilova, UN Women’s regional programme director based in Tbilisi, says Georgia’s top political leaders have signalled support for action on gender equality, and notes that the country has made real progress in recent years, especially with legislation on domestic violence and on discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation.

She agrees that “cultural and national traditions” and discriminatory stereotypes remain a barrier to women exercising their right to occupy an equal place.

On the streets of the capital, 40-year-old Giorgi Mamniashvili is not quite ready for change.

“I wouldn’t want my wife being a minister or member of parliament. Everyone would be talking about her and insulting her, since you can’t be liked by everyone,” he said. “What would the children say if someone got annoyed about stuff their mum was saying on TV?”

Regina Jegorova-Askerova is web editor for IWPR in Georgia.

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