Justice in Georgia for Rape Survivors
Elene works for the Public Defender’s (Ombudsman’s) Office in the Gender Equality Department but she is talking as an activist who has been involved in the women’s rights movement in Georgia.
I’m a lawyer and I consider myself a human rights activist. Growing up I don’t remember ever hearing anything about gender equality or sexual violence. I remember the word feminist at school was something you shouldn’t be.
I became interested in women’s rights in 2014, when I started working for the Georgian Young Lawyers Association (a local human rights NGO). Through my work there, I met Tamar Dekanosidze, who now works with Equality Now in Eurasia. Together, Tamar and I worked on the study on femicides in Georgia and I was interviewing the families of victims of femicide.
After that, I started working in the Public Defender's Office and also for Women’s Initiative Supporting Group (WISG) on a project to advocate for LGBT rights.
‘In a couple of years you will all be married with babies’
When I was a student we didn’t have any discussions about gender equality in the four years I was at university. During criminal law courses I remember discussing rape and our male professor used an example telling us that it is impossible to rape a sex worker because she is open to sex.. Textbooks we used talked about homosexuality as an immoral behaviour.
The direct English translation of the Georgian word for rape– gaupatiureba – means “to take your honour”. You are the one who is raped and it is you are who are dishonoured, not the rapist.
At the time, I didn’t think to question these things
At university, there was also an issue of girls not being taken seriously. A human rights professor told female students, “ I know in a couple of years you are all going to be married with kids, you are girls, you will all be home with babies.”
I didn’t think change would come so quickly
Today, the women’s rights movement is growing, I see new faces every year, there are more students studying gender studies, in 2015 there were very few lawyers who focused on women’s rights. Even now the word feminism is demonised because people see feminists as people who are taking away their traditions, but if we measure it by how much the government has been forced to do, we are ahead.
Twenty years ago, ten years ago nobody knew what gender based violence was and sexual harassment laws were not discussed at any level. People didn’t see a problem with women not being in politics, now even those who don’t agree with quotas acknowledge that we need representative democracy.
I didn’t think change would come so quickly to Georgia. Not just in government measures, but the way people see gender equality and the way people have adopted the things we were arguing for. Now, I hear people I was arguing with using arguments that I used against them. Tools like social media are empowering because I feel like I can be more radical about my activism and I feel part of a group who sees things in the same way.
As a feminist people see you as open for sex
However, there is still a lot to do in context of preventing and dealing with sexual violence . Just holding a sign in the street with the word sex can trigger a negative response. It’s the the double standards around sexuality for women and men; a woman cannot have sex just to enjoy it. Its only “acceptable” if its connected to reproduction. Some people don’t even consider that a wife can be raped by her husband and rape threats are very commonly targeted at feminists and lesibians. As a feminist, people see you as open for sex.
With all that women and marginalised communities are facing right now I don’t think there is a distinction between my work and my activism—what I do for work is a form of activism.