Women’s Political Participation and Leadership in Georgia

“A lion’s whelp is equally lion, though female or male it be,”- When talking about gender equality, most Georgians proudly quote this extract from Shota Rustaveli’s medieval epic poem “The Knight in the Panther’s Skin”, which is regarded to be the masterpiece of Georgian literature. 

Gender equality stands for the idea in which women and men have equal conditions and life chances for the full realization of their potential; to participate equally in political, economic, social and cultural development processes of their own countries as well as equally enjoy public goods, opportunities, and resources. 

Shota Rustaveli’s poem clearly shows that the idea of gender equality has been no stranger to Georgian society since the Middle Ages, and having a woman as king is another phenomenon in Georgian history. Queen Tamar the Great is widely seen as one of the most powerful monarchs of the nation. During her reign, Georgia was enjoying its “Golden Age”.

Why is women’s political involvement important today?

An argument for justice – Women make up half of the population. It is fair that they hold half of the political positions.

An experience-based argument – Women have different experiences and in order to take these experiences into account in political processes, it is necessary to have a political representation of women.

An argument based on interests – Women and men often have different visions and interests and therefore men are not able to represent the interests of both genders.

A symbolic argument– The existence of a female politician is important to other women, she is a kind of role model for women’s participation in politics, which will help increase the political representation of women.

An argument based on the idea of ​​democracy – Equal representation of women and men increases the level of democratization, of governance and of the population’s well-being.

Brief historical retrospective

On May 26, 1918, when Georgia gained its independence, the first republic established “full civic and political freedom at home, regardless of gender, nationality, religion or status.” 

Peri-Khan Sofiyeva is the world’s first democratically elected Muslim woman from the village of Karajala, Gardabani Municipality, Georgia. In the local elections of 1918, Sofiyeva was elected to be a councillor in Karjala.

“The voice of the Georgian woman” was a weekly political, scientific and literary newspaper, published in the city of Kutaisi from 1917 to 1918. The main goals of the newspaper were to unite the “dispersed women’s force” for the benefit of the country and the protection of women’s rights, and to promote “the struggle for the restoration of women’s human identity and the right to a homeland.” 

“The Voice of a Georgian Woman” supported the suffragette movement and consistently fought for the emancipation of women. The media outlet demanded the restoration of women’s political rights, equal rights with men, the legalization of women’s suffrage and their participation in legislative activities and self-government, as well as equal pay for equal work, the abolition of sex privileges in civil and criminal law, and the abolition of sex education.

The most widespread notion of democracy is the rule of the people, and these people include women and men. It would therefore be fair for women to be equally involved in political processes.

Although according to the Election Administration of Georgia, 53.7% of voters are women, women are not properly represented at the decision-making level – in parliament, at the local self-government level, in the executive branch. This is well seen in numbers, in statistics.

Insufficient participation of women leads to a “masculine face” of democracy or “masculine democracy”, an imperfect and biased form of democracy.

What mechanisms exist for women’s involvement in politics in Georgia?

A gender quota legally regulates the level of representation of women and men in decision-making processes.

The main idea of ​​the gender quota is to substantially increase women’s participation in political processes, not to isolate them from these processes.

The gender quota gives the desired result only alongside other mechanisms (legislation, electoral system, party processes, parliamentary influence and authority, mass media, etc.). Only in such a case is it possible to achieve real gender equality in political life and not just a formal, “percentage” participation.

Types of gender quotas

Mandatory quotas – are the quotas established by law, the fulfillment of which is mandatory.

Voluntary quotas – such quotas can be established by law as well as recognized by political parties, the protection and implementation of which depends on the will of the political parties.

Mandatory quotas can be :

Reserved seats – means allocating a certain number of seats in the country’s parliament in advance only for women.

Legislative Quotas – oblige parties taking part in elections to include at least a certain number of women candidates.

According to the BBC’s project “How equal are you?”, the gender gap in Georgia is about average compared with others. It ranks 82 out of 145. The figures are based on the World Economic Forum (WEF)’s annual Global Gender Gap report, which measures by country where women are more likely to be able to participate fully in political and economic life and enjoy the most equal access to education and healthcare.

Georgia can definitely do better than that in terms of gender equality and hopefully will do better in the coming future!