Today is the last day of the Global 16 days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence. As a regional gender mainstreaming focal point for Middle East and Europe Region, I would like to reflect on the importance of empowering women and girls through our work. I am Georgian and I am based in Tbilisi, Georgia.
I come from a family and culture where violence against women is the norm. To better understand what that means, imagine a situation when a woman is abused verbally and physically by her husband on a regular basis. Instead of supporting her to get out of the abusive relationship, everyone around her tells her to bear with it and be more soft and gentle with the husband, to potentially find a key for changing her man’s behavior. As a result, the relationship does not improve, it only gets worse and might end up with the victim being beaten to death. Femicide, the act of killing women and girls, is one of the most extreme forms of gender-based violence. In a recent report from UN Women, gender-based violence in Georgia is higher than the world average.
When we hear of GBV testimonies or see statistics about its prevalence, we might think that it is up to these women to end abusive relationships and that the problem lies in their mindset (so called “victim mentality”), but do not rush with conclusions. From personal experience I can tell that my mother is the strongest woman I know. She refused to fit into the submissive role from day one, and yet it took us two decades to find freedom, joy and peace I believe this is all because there was no social support system which would support her decision emotionally, socially and financially.
I saw clearly that gender-based violence creates a vicious cycle where neither women nor men are able to fulfill their true, God-given potential, so I decided to make equality my life’s mission and purpose.
Understanding gender equality work
Various studies confirm that when gender inequalities are addressed, the whole society benefits. So if the solution is so simple, why isn’t the world more invested in fixing it?
One explanation is that gender equality work is very complex and requires specific expertise, so the knowledge is not available to everyone. From my experience, we need to keep in mind that there are two key approaches for addressing gender inequality issues, both are necessary though, so they cannot replace each other:
Gender mainstreaming is about being aware that in most situations, women and men are not treated equally and in order reduce this gap, the root causes of inequality need to be considered in all aspects of our work.
For example, when designing literacy and education projects, we need to ask ourselves – do girls have the same school access as boys? If the answer is no, ask again – why? Maybe they do not feel safe on the road, maybe they are busy doing chores at home. With this in mind, the next questions should be – how can we address these problems to ensure that girls will have the same schooling enrollment and attendance as boys? However, if the answer is yes to the primary question, then let’s ask further if they are having the same schooling experience, as it would ensure the same quality of education.
Gender targeted programming
Gender equality is not a crosscutting theme for consideration, but the goal itself. Issues such as gender-based violence, child marriage, female genital mutilation, and others cannot be solved through mainstreaming efforts alone. They require targeted programming, funding and dedicated gender expert’s support.
On the last day of the Global 16 days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, it is truly inspiring to see the interest in this year’s campaign in my region. We had hundreds and hundreds of social media followers reading and sharing our daily posts on gender-based violence. This gives me hope that by next year we will have even stronger voices for fighting against unfair treatment of women and girls, and a nation of advocates who refuse to take off their ’gender lenses’ even at home.