Irina

"Life here is full of stereotypes, but people think these stereotypes are traditions."

I was born in Ninotsminda, and I can say that I had an interesting childhood. I was a very active child. I liked spending time with my dad because I felt close to him. I felt closer to him than I did my mom. I love my mom of course, but I am closer to my father. My mom didn’t work at that time; she was at home busy with domestic chores, so I did get to spend a lot of my time with my mother and my grandmother. I gained a lot of knowledge thanks to my dad, he taught me the rules of etiquette because he worked with officials - he was as a police officer. I grew up very free and pampered, I was always allowed to do exactly what I wanted.

"One day, our relatives from my dad side told us that it was not okay for a girl to drive, that her place is not to sit behind the wheel"

When I was about 1 or 2 years old, my father would take me on his lap while he was driving and he would let me touch the wheel.  I liked the feeling of driving so much that when my feet could finally touch the pedals, he let me drive by myself. I was one of the first girls in my community that could drive. Now, there are only about 20 girls that know how to drive here. One day, our relatives from my dad side told us that it was not okay for a girl to drive, that her place is not to sit behind the wheel, she should be preparing for marriage and learning how to do housework. This is still how a lot of people think in my community. My dad answered: “that’s no one else’s business, and I want my daughter to grow up to be a strong and independent woman”. My father never imposed any restrictions on the things I was allowed to do. He would only warn me: “if you do this, this is what could happen”, but he would let me experience things on my own. Sometimes things turned out well, and sometimes they didn’t. But that’s how I learned what I was capable of and what I wasn’t, what is a good idea and what isn’t. For example, I wore short skirts and tight tops for some time because I wanted the experience, but after a while it made me felt uncomfortable so I stopped. I never asked him permission to go anywhere, I would simply say “I am going” and that was enough for him. The main thing is that my parents trusted me. That was very important to me because I didn’t want to disappoint them. I didn’t want my actions to reflect badly on them and make them feel ashamed in any way. I think this is the main reason why I always was so responsible. You won’t find this situation in many families living the region. In most cases, fathers don’t let their daughters do what they want and they keep them at home. Growing up, I felt like a “white raven” as opposed to being a black sheep.

I attended the Russian school and, until the 8th grade, I was a good student. But after that, I don’t know, I lost interest in school. I only studied for the subjects that liked; Georgian, biology, physics and chemistry. I wanted to be a doctor. Then I changed my mind, I wanted to study foreign languages in order to become a translator. I thought that it would take me on the path of an international career; I was interested in travelling. But my family stumbled upon some financial problems, and I stayed in Ninotsminda where I began studying law.

 

Two years later, I got married and I had to get a job immediately working as an operator in a factory. I went on maternity leave for my first child and we moved to Russia for a year. My husband didn’t like it there so we came back to Georgia. I wanted to find work, but there was nothing for me, and then I had my second child. It was hard for us to live off one salary, my husband’s salary. I looked for work everywhere; I even applied to work in the fire department.  My current director was my family’s acquaintance; she is the wife of my father’s friend. She heard that I was looking for work, she knew me well since I was one of her previous students. We were very close. She offered me a job remembering my efforts as a volunteer when the centre first opened up. She’s also a very strong and smart woman. We talk a lot with each other and often I have the impression that what she is saying could come straight from my soul. The things that I want to express she formulates them so clearly into words. Before I started working at centre, I wanted to be like everyone else because it was hard for me to be different. But my director really helped me. She said: “be yourself, don’t change because you belong to the strand of people that are able to move forward and reach their goals, this is your personality”. When I started this job, I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t know much about gender equality, feminism, tolerance and integration. I was working and learning at the same time. My director helped me a lot in the beginning. I’ve always wanted to help change the mentalities of people around me. I also want to help people in whom I see some sort of potential, I want to help them move forward and achieve their goals. This is what I do with the young people that I work with. Often I see that they want to do something special with their life, but they seem to encounter a lot of obstacles, and sometimes those obstacles are their parents. I really want to improve the situation in Ninotsminda and in the villages, because for women life does not come easily. Life here is full of stereotypes, but people think these stereotypes are traditions. For example, a woman should only be concerned with her children, cooking, cleaning and nothing more. Education and work is considered not important for women.

 

"You can’t control an adult woman the same way that you would a young girl."

I can say with certainty that out of all the young people who attend our trainings at the centre, none of them will fall victim of an early marriage. We talk a lot about this issue at the centre. Marriage is a very important step in someone’s life and you need to have enough maturity to be prepared for it - young girls here get married as soon as 14 years old. Even if you are 18 or 19 years old, you can’t know if one person is right for you. You might feel like this is your person, but you might be wrong because at that age you are only feeling it with your heart and your hormones. In our region, especially in the villages, it happens often unfortunately. It’s happening less because people are starting to understand the importance of higher education. But if a family doesn’t have the money to send their children to university, they have them get married and that mostly concerns the girls. Some men prefer to take young wives because they can control her more easily. She will not have a lot of experience and won’t be able to stand up for herself. You can’t control an adult woman the same way that you would a young girl. Unfortunately in Georgia, even if there is progress, it is very slow and limited.

 

Of course women are integrating the job market, but domestically things have not changed. There are exceptions, families that practice gender equality, but the majority of families are holding on tight to their traditional gender roles. You can’t change an adult person, so the work needs to be done around youth. Maybe then they will raise their children in a new way. I am almost certain it will be like that. When I look at the current youth, I can see that they are different. They are freer than our parent’s generation and ours. And this means that, with a little bit at a time, things will start to move forward. But it is also necessary to reform the current school system, because our schools are still stuck in the Soviet era.

I don’t think I really consider myself a feminist because for me feminism somehow implies that you don’t respect the male gender. I am for gender equality.