On May 24, the Georgian Institute of Politics (GIP) held the 8th Annual Democracy Conference: WOMEN IN POLICY-MAKING: The Achilles Heel of Georgian Democracy.
#GEODEM2023, organized with the support of the Embassy of the Swiss Confederation in Georgia, included three thematic panels:
- Panel 1: Women Voters in Georgia and Representation of Their Needs in Georgian Parties’ Agendas
- Panel 2: Women Politicians and Intraparty Democracy
- Panel 3: Women’s Political Engagement and Increased Participation
Conference discussions were based on a compendium of policy briefs, published and presented to the #GEODEM2023 audience.
Renata Skardziute-Kereselidze, Deputy Director of the Georgian Institute of Politics, and H.E. Heidi Grau, Ambassador of the Swiss Confederation in Georgia, launched the conference with their welcoming remarks. In her speech, Renata Skardziute-Kereselidze focused on the importance of women voters. She noted that women voters are more critical in evaluating a country’s development and democracy. It is, therefore, necessary to consider women voters in the political parties’ strategies; here, the parties still have much work to do. As Ambassador Heidi Grau pointed out, women’s participation in politics is vital because democracy necessitates representation and inclusion. H.E. Grau emphasized that there is no real democracy without women’s full and meaningful participation.
The moderator of the first-panel discussion, Prof. Iago Kachkachishvili (Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University), opened the discussion on the topic “Women Voters in Georgia and Representation of Their Needs in Georgian Party Agendas.” The panel discussed the needs of women voters based on research and survey results and included distinguished speakers: Teona Kupunia (Deputy Director, National Democratic Institute); Tamar Sabedashvili (Deputy Country Representative, UN Women Georgia); Nino Dolidze (Executive Director, International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy) and Tamta Mikeladze, (Director, Social Justice Center).
According to Prof. Iago Kachkachishvili, communication messages, and party strategies do not include clearly defined messages addressed to women, especially when there are different subgroups among women themselves — urban, disabled, single mothers, rural, Etc. In this regard, the Georgian political scene remains relatively poor and not diversified enough. Teona Kupunia emphasized that the female electorate needs to be studied more. Although some political parties work in different niches, women are not their primary focus.
“In addition to the fact that women comprise more than half of the electorate, they can also be agents of influence because of their social ties. Drawing from international experience, women in other countries have made great political changes.”
Salome Sabedashvili says women are only sometimes encouraged to be publicly active.
“There are conscious and unconscious biases about women’s public activity, which are already critical even before we become aware of them – a woman has more filters in the public space than a man. Therefore, to change this field, at least 30% of decision-makers must be women so that institutional culture is changed. Otherwise, we should not expect that the women’s group as a minority will be able to change much.”
According to Nino Dolidze, parties in Georgia are usually formed around individuals and then tried to reach out to electoral groups. Parties in Georgia have a short lifespan, and newer parties work less on internal party structures. In addition, gender issues are not in general mainstream. Nino Dolidze also called on various organizations to make efforts to see more women in the parties’ ranks.
The last speaker of the panel, Tamta Mikeladze, director of the Social Justice Center, noted growing signs of authoritarianism and polarization, which make the political field aggressive, antagonistic, and effective. Consequently, women cannot find their place in such an environment, and creating socially sensitive politics becomes difficult.
The second-panel discussion was devoted to “Female Politicians and Intra-party Democracy” and aimed to discuss internal party democracy in promoting women’s participation and representation.
The pane, moderated by Prof. David Aprasidze (Ilia State University)l started with presenting findings of the policy brief by Salome Kandelaki, Policy Analyst of the Georgian Institute of Politics. The brief focused on the mechanisms of women’s involvement in internal party structures and how parties use existing legal and institutional guarantees related to gender equality.
Key findings of the policy brief:
- Female politicians unite more easily around issues in the parliament;
- In terms of condemning discrimination against female politicians, the parties have mixed reactions, revealing a troubling tendency;
- Regarding gender equality, the sensitivity and awareness in the regions are low; therefore, it is necessary to implement awareness-raising activities on gender mainstreaming in the regions;
- The purpose of women’s councils in parties is to attract women voters rather than trying to involve them in politics;
- Given the existing challenges, gender quotas are currently the only way to activate women and ensure gender balance in politics
After the presentation, women MPs, namely, Khatia Dekanoidze (independent MP), Ana Natsvlishvili (Lelo for Georgia), and Ana Buchukuri (Gakharia for Georgia), delivered their remarks.
Khatia Dekanoidze noted that women do not make decisions in political parties today. According to her, they certainly participate in the decision-making process, but the final decisions are not made at the table where women sit. Among the main reasons, she quoted party structures — the top officials of political parties are primarily men, who also hold the most significant portion of the financial capital.
Women’s rights were high on Ana Natsvlishvili’s r political agenda. She pointed out that when discussing “women in politics,” we face more fundamental problems. Most politicians do not understand why women politicians are singled out and do not recognize that they are political figures with different needs and challenges. In her remarks, Ana Natsvilishvili noted another critical issue for women — time, which, according to her, is the biggest obstacle for women politicians and the most important resource when it comes to the self-development of a female politician. Without ample time it isn’t easy to imagine achieving essential goals in this field.
The last speaker of the panel was MP Ana Buchukuri. According to her, the events of March 2023 clearly showed the importance of women politicians in the country’s political agenda, particularly the role of women parliamentarians in the life of the main legislative body.
The third-panel discussion was devoted to the topic “Political Involvement of Female Voters and Ways to Encourage Them” and moderated by Levan Tsutskiridze (East European Center for Multiparty Democracy ).
According to Levan Tsutskiridze, GEODEM conferences are already an integral part of Georgian democracy, and they must continue. It is also crucial for public members interested in objective discussion of relevant democratization challenges to have the opportunity to do so.
The first speaker of the last panel, Mariam Kobaladze, a Researcher at the Caucasus Research Resources Center (CRRC – Georgia), presented the findings of CRRC surveys on gender issues. She highlighted a challenging trend – online attacks against majoritarian candidate women on Facebook and the overall toxic environment of social media. According to the researcher, CRRC studies revealed that the nature of online violence was very gendered, and women were more often subjected to comments related to their personal or sexual life, insults, as well as calls to “go home and take care of their family,” etc. The speaker also noticed that when female candidates were insulted, it was directed at them, while in the case of male majoritarian candidates, the insults were directed at women in their immediate environment (i.e., their wives or mothers).
CRRC research shows that according to the average rate of online violence, women are about three times more likely to be assaulted than men. She believes online attacks are a significant barrier to women’s greater political involvement.
Elene Rusetskaya, founder of the Women’s Information Center (WIC), spoke of challenges to women’s participation in the regions. She said, “We have seen that, unlike in big cities, women in rural areas are scared and afraid even to write their opinion. Moreover, living in fear is very bad.” She called on the GeoDem participants to strengthen women’s work in the regions regarding political and economic empowerment.
Tamar Bagratia, an expert on gender issues, also voiced the importance of engagement with women in the regions. She reviewed CEC data from the last elections and noted that in some municipalities, the turnout of women voters was even 20% lower than men.
“It is vital not only that a woman goes to the polls but also to what extent she can make an independent choice. Because, especially in regions, women’s political will is influenced by spouses, employers, self-government representatives, and informal family leaders.”
The last speaker of the panel was Dr. Sonia Schiffers, Director of the South Caucasus Office of the Heinrich Böll Foundation. She noted that t women’s activism has not translated into political power. According to the speaker, the introduction of quotas is an important step in increasing the representation of women, which is very important. However, if the representation is not substantial, it loses its meaning.
After each panel, conference attendees had the opportunity to ask questions of the speakers and engage in discussion. A practical and challenge-oriented discussion between the audience and the speakers took place.
For complete information about GEODEM2023, please read the conference notes or watch the full video recording on our YouTube channel.
The 2023 Democracy Conference #GEODEM2023 was organized by the Georgian Institute of Politics with the support of the Embassy of the Swiss Confederation in Georgia.