Baia Pataraia, 38 years old, Tbilisi
“Some may be surprised, but I was a very quiet child. I didn’t go outside to play and didn’t interact much with other kids, but I loved doing other things, such as reading – as soon as I learned to read, I read all the books we had at home and started borrowing books from neighbors; I befriended every neighbor with a library at home. I also loved to draw, I wrote scripts, directed plays and my plays were often creative.
I studied well in school – I especially liked math and physics. I was taught physics by the director of the school, who sometimes asked my mother if I had read the lessons in advance. My mother replied that not only didn’t I learn the lessons in advance, but even what I did learn, I should have read during the recession, since I read completely different books at home. I always wanted to work in a creative field. In the final grades, I wanted to be a director of the play, and I also had similar interests before, but this was the late 90s when the whole country went through a lot of trouble and my father said that I ought to have such a profession that my salary would cover both mine and my child’s needs. He never said that I had to marry well and someone would take care of me. His morals were like this: you have to be the best in your profession and have enough money that you won’t have to struggle financially. I couldn’t receive a B at school, I was told that besides studying for school, I had no other responsibilities at home.
My parents asked me to be the best. If it was only my desire, I may not have poured all of my energy into it and study all the time and would allocate more time to myself and my interests.
My mother wanted me to study classical philology, which I love very much at this stage of my life, but at that time I was more interested in theater.
To help decide what my profession would be, a family council was held – I remember my aunt giving a speech and it was decided that I, such a special and well-educated girl, should be admitted to the best university, to the best faculty – International Law. It was an ordinary Mingrelian story. I didn’t reject their suggestion, but I was also skeptical about going into art – I would have a hard time becoming financially independent and it would be a serious obstacle for me.
I was very upset and frustrated when I was admitted to the free faculty and found out that I wasn’t being taught anything at all. I was shocked – I couldn’t understand why I had studied all the time if I was to receive such low-quality education at the university. So, I started studying simultaneously at the Faculty of Economics, I studied law and banking for 4 years at the same time. Back then, GYLA started additional one-year courses for the first time and I went there as well; I also took part in the mock trial of Jessab – I did my best to learn something everywhere and I always had the feeling that I wasn’t getting the education I needed.
I wanted to go abroad to study and decided to enroll in the Central European University in Budapest. When I started studying, I was amazed by how much I could actually learn. I had the feeling that it was the first time I was getting an education in Law. For the first time there, I understood what law was, what this profession was, what the state represented, why the supremacy of law was of paramount importance, and what role justice played in our reality. I wanted to study business law, but I couldn’t get in and but instead got admitted to the Human Rights Law faculty. It was for the best – at the Central European University, I learned how to use law for good deeds.
In 2007, I started working as a lawyer at the Torture Victims Rehabilitation Center. I met Natalia Zazashvili there, who was the director of ”Sapari”. ”Sapari” was founded in 2001 and the organization did great things. It was the first organization that had its first women’s shelter, which ultimately played the leading role in the child safety reform, but back then it was only known to a small group of people. Natalia offered a place to help female victims of domestic violence, for a low salary. I agreed. I saw the beaten women and heard their completely shocking stories, which may even be happening here, in Tbilisi, maybe even in our neighborhoods. I couldn’t believe it – I grew up in an environment where I hadn’t heard anything about beatings and violence at all. I knew it existed, but somewhere far away and suddenly it was all in front of me. This had influenced me so much that later when I was already busy with other activities, I never forgot that this problem was real and no one knew much about it, just like I didn’t at that time.
I’ve never forgotten this, and in all my activities, before protecting women’s rights became my main job, I pursued this line of thinking everywhere – for gender and women’s empowerment.
Natalia was a psychotherapist and she told me that she wanted me to become a type of lawyer that didn’t exist yet, but that she wanted to exist – a therapeutic lawyer. When I first started consulting women, there was one who was going to separate from her abusive husband, they weren’t officially married and she was interested in how the property would be split. I told her, that she wouldn’t be able to do anything about it. Natalia went crazy about the fact, that I just let her go. She told me that I couldn’t say stuff like that to a victim. I explained, that I couldn’t lie to her – my answer was correct according to Law, that she wouldn’t get anything. Natalia told me that I couldn’t speak with the victim like that, a woman who had barely started the fight for herself, to have her last hope taken away. From then, Natalia would sit with me during consultations and gave me feedback when the victim left – she taught me how to talk to them in a way that would strengthen them, how to show them another way, a different perspective, give her hope and support. Finally, she was very happy to raise a lawyer whose work was also therapeutic.
In 2009, after the war, I decided that I needed to start working in the public sector, and I had to take part in building the state – otherwise, I couldn’t have learned how policies are created. I wanted to work with one of the ministers in the executive branch who was carrying out our new reforms. Since I was a Presidential Fellow, I also had a responsibility to serve the state upon my return.
I was soon contacted by the Ministry of Justice, they offered me a specific job, but I wanted another position that I knew was vacant. They agreed and I became the head of one of the divisions in the Department of International Law. I worked, studied, and saw a lot in four years of working there. I took the initiative in women’s issues and had the opportunity to do lots of great things. For example, I wrote Article 126 Prime on Domestic Violence with my colleagues. Also, the fact that the term sexual harassment was written in the Gender Equality Law was my initiative and it was supported by the Ministry of Justice. I had some very interesting plans for transgenders, but unfortunately, I couldn’t finish it in the time I was given. Also, we started a huge reform on drug use, a great strategy was written, it was even approved, but once I left, no one took care of it. The plan was to decriminalize drug use and focus more on treatment and rehabilitation. I worked with both Zura Adeishvili and Tea Tsulukiani. I gained a lot of experience there – I saw how the reform was planned, how a particular government took decisions about their policy, what happened when a minister has no policy or vision at all, and so on. Then Tea Tsulukiani fired me – to be more precise, a contest was held, and someone else was hired instead of me. They fired me in such a way, but I already knew that I no longer wanted to work in the public sector at this point and I devoted all my time and resource to activism.
“Sapari’’ and activism
I was more or less familiar with women’s organizations until 2012, but in my opinion, none of them were feminists – I listened to them and realized that they weren’t feminists. I learned gender relations from the legal point of view and unlike many, I know the true meaning of the word. Lika Nadaria was the only one I heard of that was a true feminist in Georgia, there was no one else. I started looking for feminists and I couldn’t find them. Once, when I was conducting training, I was recommended to see Lia Jakeli’s movie – I called Lia and she advised to invite Eka Agdgomelashvili as an expert. We invited Lia and Eka as trainers and when I heard them conduct a speech, I was so happy that I almost started crying – for the first time I heard what I wanted to hear for so long. Then, I joined the ‘’WISG’’ group, where I met girls who later formed the ”Independent Feminist group” and that’s where my real feminist activism started. I remember the first time I wrote about something – I, as a feminist, think so and so, one of my friends wrote to me, that she saw my ”coming out” on Facebook. I was very surprised; how could they call feminism a coming-out? But back then there was such a time, people were surprised by such things. I joined the ”Independent Group of Feminists” and I think, a new wave of feminism started in Georgia, which the new generation started with their new vision. We held small, but very interesting, noisy, and scandalous rallies and that’s how society got to know me. It was a highly educated, amazing team, but I had the vision and desire for the group to be huge, that feminism would become a thing for everyone and every woman to consider themselves as a feminist – not only just those who knew well what gender meant but the ordinary people as well, who didn’t have specific education in it.
In 2014, when there were a lot of femicide cases, I was furious and wrote hysterically to all the women I knew that were active on Facebook at that time; I wanted to gather them in one place. On October 16th, 2014, we, 45 women, gathered in the GCRT office; there were women of all ages, some of whom had direct contact with feminism or activism, but they were furious with what was happening and then we said that if we didn’t start fighting, femicide would become a normal thing and the government would do nothing about it. That’s how the group ‘’Women’s Movement’’ started and all of the requests that we had back then are fulfilled today. The quota was the last request we had and it came true as well. I think that we have pretty great results for the women’s movement in Georgia in general, but the fight continues.
Baia Pataraia as a character
Being a public person has its pros and cons. The positive side is that you can easily access the media, you can go to the parliament, make a speech, your opinion is sought, whoever you ask for a meeting, they will gladly agree, etc. Many doors are open, but at the same time, there is a negative side – for many people, you are no longer a human being. Baia Pataria is already a character who’s associated with feminism, with being a woman fighter and often, with bad things. They can insult you with ease, swear at you like nothing happened and they don’t even think that there is a real person behind it. But if you answer the same way to them, then well… You can’t do that. When some stranger insults me, I try my best no to take it personally.
Often strangers tell me that they have protected me from someone, but I always answer, that they don’t protect me – they protect the idea that they agree to and believe in. I don’t have personal enemies, but obviously, I have ideological enemies.
Slowly I got used to it, it has an influence on me, but people try to protect themselves and develop protective mechanisms. I know a lot of activists, including feminists, who left activism, due to pressure, altercations, and controversy that accompanies all of this. At some point, people think it’s not worth sacrificing your life, nerves, mental and physical health. I have thought about this many times too, but until I can do something, I will probably continue. I just try really hard to find a way to handle the pressure. Behind me, there’s GCRT and a whole army of psychologists, who never left me, and, when I have a hard time, they understand and are always there to help me. There are many people who fight against you, but there are also many who care about you and empower you.
My name is bound to the women’s resistance and the struggle that is now ongoing for empowering women. This is a patriarchal society, in this society patriarchy works and raises supporters in this way – both women and men, so that patriarchy can be reproduced and exist continuously. The patriarchate has the value system in charge, where the men should be ”masculine”, dominant and oppresses others, while women have to be calm and obedient and play a secondary role in the family, and the decisions should be made by men; a woman must believe in men, respect him and if she doesn’t believe in him, she’ll be punished. People are still raising children with this value system. We’re publicly saying that this isn’t what masculinity is and this is not the role a woman should play; we fight against these rigid roles and people get confused, because they grew up in a different value system, and now some Baia Pataraia comes and preaches something completely different. No matter how patriarchally-minded a woman may be, I try not to oppose her in public, but I don’t do the same in the case of men, because every woman who thinks patriarchy is a good system is a victim of patriarchy itself. I try to leave a path for myself to make those women my allies, and not to burn bridges, because we women need to unite, to strengthen each other and we don’t need confrontations between each other.
What I find most difficult and am not able to handle is when your own people are attacking you aggressively, be it other feminists or other like-minded people. I think criticism is vital, but very often, it turns into bullying. Unfortunately, in activism, including women’s activism, this problem is still unsolved – if something goes wrong and you make a mistake, everybody will step up and move on.
This is the only thing I couldn’t learn to deal with effectively. When people from whom you expect support, protection, and strengthening, who stood by your side in this battle, suddenly decide to kick you. The truth might be on their side, but the form it takes is a problem. Sometimes, I just try not to read many posts and I haven’t read many things that are written, even in closed groups. I really want to stop these destructive attacks against anyone and I’ve seen this against others too; of course, I’m not the only one. If someone does something, there will also be mistakes, and if nothing is done, there will be, accordingly, no mistakes made. You may realize your mistakes sooner or later, but it’s important for criticism to be expressed in a way that a person can take it well.
I’m very interested in philosophy and existential questions – why do we live, what’s our mission, how we can get used to death being imminent, etc. Reading philosophical literature relaxes me… I also love fiction. Recently, I discovered a female author – Zaira Arsenishvili. We don’t have many great female authors, and, as a child, I was always disturbed by the fact that in almost every book, the main character was a man. Of course, I had common thoughts with them as well, but I still felt that the better they described their thoughts, passions, and problems of men, the more I missed the experiences of women.
I always loved to paint but never learned to properly do it. In general, I always know what I can do and what I can’t. For example, I definitely can sew and design clothes, but I know that I’ll never be able to write music, I’ll never try to play on the piano and I’ll never sing, even though I love music very much. For me, it’s completely unbelievable how some people can write music, but I can imagine how they write poems, novels, or how they paint… I draw for myself, I don’t have any complaints, but I feel that if I devoted more time, something could really come out. At this point, this is the way for me to forget everything. However, a recent great discovery for me is mindful meditation. It’s absolutely not possible to control your thoughts, but you can distance yourself from your thoughts and emotions. Knowing that my mind and emotions aren’t me and that thoughts and emotions come and go, but I’m different, much bigger and more sustainable, helped me a lot. To remember this from time to time, and also exercising in this. makes my life much easier.
Being a mother is one of the most exciting experiences for me and I’m very happy to be a mother. In fact, raising a child is not difficult, if you consider two main principles – when a child is little and needs discipline, the little one should be respected as much as someone you hold in the highest regard. You shouldn’t forget this when you’re in the process of nurturing and disciplining him. A child, like any other human being, has a dignity that shouldn’t be violated. You can’t make your children look like you – children are completely unique and you shouldn’t try to change them the way you want them to be. Children should be the way they want to be.
I don’t give many remarks to my son, I only draw red lines which he shouldn’t cross in any circumstance, but these are few. I teach empathy and consideration for others – also for parents, resources, including money, caring for things, loving living things. Teaching isn’t shouting and forbidding things, teaching means sitting down and explaining. A child is a human being, and a human being is an intelligent being. When a child, locked up in a pandemic, feels bored, it’s also good, as it awakens human creativity. The bored child, and actually, an adult as well, starts thinking about how to entertain himself, and at this time his creative thinking activates and starts to invent and discover new things.
He tells me about all kinds of problems because he knows I won’t punish him. He is not afraid of me and this is very important. He knows that I will help, and if necessary, I will apologize as well. If you ask me if we are friends, I would say no – we are mother and son. Parents of my generation are often mistaken and think that a child needs a friend and freedom and in my opinion, this is not right. he will have his own friends. Friendship will probably come when he becomes an adult and until he is a child, he needs a mother and discipline, which doesn’t mean tyranny and restrictions. Children desperately need our support and love, no matter what.
I go to schools very often to meet children. The children contact me themselves and invite me to give public lectures. I’m very happy when I see how awareness has changed compared to when I was in school. They know what feminism means, girls are considering themselves feminists and are interested in women’s rights. For many girls and boys, gender equality is already a natural thing that doesn’t to be proved. They don’t understand inequality and are surprised by it. Another generation is coming, and I believe in them, even though we should help them to make them do more.’’
Author: Nino Gamisonia
Photo: Nino Baidauri
Translation: Mariam Kajrishvili