Georgians support having more women in politics, but social barriers remain entrenched.

The International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) released a report last week on the Perception of Women in Georgian Politics.

The data presented in the report, titled “Focus Group Findings on Perceptions of Women in Georgian Politics: An Assessment of Perceptions of Women as Political Candidates and Elected Officials” was carried out by the Institute of Social Studies and Analysis (ISSA), a research organisation based in Tbilisi. ISSA conducted eight focus groups of 7-10 participants across the country in Tbilisi, Kutaisi, Batumi and Marneuli to tease out attitudes in Georgian society towards women in politics.

The study found that, in general, Georgians are open to women participating in politics, however, several informal barriers to greater participation by women in the public arena are present. Particularly, the study found that a majority of focus group participants, both men and women, believe that the priority of Georgian women’s lives should be there families. One male participant from Tbilisi noted that, “Personally, I think that family should be a priority for a Georgian woman … and then other things. It is difficult to combine family with politics…” A female participant from Marneuli indicated that women should be able to pursue a political career, but would need the support of their family. “A woman who is married and spends all day in the Parliament, who will do her duties in the family, her husband? So it depends on the family, it should support a woman and share her obligations.” This “traditional mentality,” as it is referred to in the study, is a hindrance to women getting more involved in political life.

IFES also found that while participants generally agreed that they would vote for a female candidate if they felt her qualifications were equal to those of a male counterpart, focus group participants pointed to the fact that it was often difficult to picture women in political roles since there are so few political female role models in Georgia. Nino Burjanadze was often viewed negatively by participants, while Salome Zurabishvili and Magda Anikashvili were said to have made positive achievements in Georgian politics. “Even though they say that Burjanadze is a male type of a politician,” said one female participant from Batumi, “I do not agree with that. I like all female features in her but I do not like her much as a politician.”

According to the report, every group referred to Queen Tamar, a 12th-century ruler of Georgia known as “King Tamar”, as an example of a positive female leader in the country who was, and still is, “highly respected”. The focus group demonstrated a general distrust and distaste for politicians in Georgia. Participants believe that female politicians are concerned with the same issues as their male counterparts. However, two female politicians were raised by the groups as having worked on issues that concern women: Guguli Maghradze and Elene Tevdoradze.

Other barriers to female participation in Georgian politics is the notion that politics is a man’s game. Many of the participants referred to the “dirty game” of politics during the focus groups and emphasised the fact that many women might not possess the same qualities required of a politician to be successful. Participants described their ideal candidates as being “intelligent, charismatic, reliable, keep[s] promises, not aggressive, diplomatic, a good communicator, patriotic, humble, democratic, trustworthy, honest, not corrupt, well-respected, well-balanced and a good family man or woman.”

As a result of this more traditional view of women, female politicians in Georgia are often thought to possess qualities that would make them more honest than their male counterparts. According to IFES, women are thought to be “more diplomatic, better at ensuring consensus [a quality, felt by Georgians, that is lacking today], less aggressive in imposing their will on fellow officials or citizens, more reliable by keeping promises and less corrupt.” Some participants felt that Georgian society must stop thinking of women as the primary caregiver, the one responsible for the household and the weaker sex. One male participant from Batumi expressed, “Unless we change our mentality and the way of thinking, it will be impossible to encourage women’s involvement. We should assess women’s abilities in the right way and should not consider that the only job for women is to look after the family.”

Interestingly, though participants agreed that women were underrepresented in politics and there were too few female politicians, many participants disagreed with the concept of gender quotas in the parliament. Those who disagreed with the notion of gender quotas, were often male according to the study, claiming that having a quota “artificially imposes” voting for a gender on the electorate. Women were more likely to support the idea of a gender quota in parliament than men. One female participant from Kutaisi, even went so far to say that “If I learn that there has to be 75 women in the parliament, I might have a desire. This will be a great incentive.” Currently, only 6% of elected officials in Georgia are female.

The IFES study, which was funded by USAID, recommends the Georgian authorities promote increased female participation in politics by focusing on the positive characteristics of female politicians perceived by Georgian society. Doing so, concludes IFES, “could form the basis of efforts to educate Georgians on the changes women could bring to political affairs in the country – a way to improve the political status quo.”

Report prepared by Karina Gould for CEW.