Guliko Khangoshvili, 56, Pankisi
„I am a Kist woman. I grew up in the Pankisi Gorge and finished middle school here. As I wanted to enroll at a medical university, I went to Tbilisi and graduated from a high school there with honors. In those times graduates with honors had to pass only one examination to enroll at a medical university. I selected physics but I got “4” and failed. Next year I had to get married. I had been engaged for 2 years and it was already time. I was 21 when I got married. I did not give up my plans to study medicine though. I decided to try next year again. Ironically, the entrance exam was scheduled for 3 August and on 2 August I had my first child. I was going to the exam anyway but the doctors did not let me go.
Later I became a dental technician and worked at making dental prostheses for years, first in Tbilisi, then in Akhmeta. Finally I decided to go back to Pankisi and take care of our household.
In 2008, a community center opened in Duisi. I taught cooking and other skills to Chechen refugee women. Then I took charge of the Women’s Club. Kist women would get together, read newspapers and discuss problems in the Gorge openly. We all came to the conclusion that rights of women in Pankisi were often violated. The women had problems in families. They were often victims of violence but they did not even realize that.
With support from the Regional Development Fund, the Kist women decided to set up the Women’s Council to provide advocacy for the women living in Pankisi.
The Council of Elders has operated in Pankisi since ancient times: male members of the council have solved all issues in the Gorge. The local population is basically governed by the council. No woman was allowed to speak before the Council of Elders. The decision was to be made by either her brother or father. Women’s rights were violated because a women’s voice could not change anything. Therefore, we decided to set up the Women’s Council to help women protect their rights. The council would mediate between the women and the Council of Elders to better communicate women’s problems to male members of the council.
The Women’s Council of the Pankisi Gorge was founded in 2011.
We visited all the villages of the Pankisi Gorge to select the members of the council. We wanted to select elderly reputable women, who would have courage to speak up, would have experience and their words would have the weight and power in the Gorge. However, as it was difficult for the elderly women to walk, we reduced the age for council members to 40-45. This was the first time a Women’s Council was set up in Pankisi. This was something unprecedented for men. Initially they resisted but we were rather diplomatic and flexible during the negotiations. We persuaded them that they would also benefit from the presence of this council.
I would never have imagined before that we, women would sit next to men at the meeting of the Council of Elders. Initially, we had to visit their families and use our kinship. We talked to these men, who in turn persuaded other men. They probably thought at first that our initiative would fail and agreed hoping that the council would soon fall apart. After that, we made a list of 25 females and submitted it to the Council of Elders. They made us remove some women from the list and finally we agreed on the list of 15 women.
One of the most complicated cases settled by the Women’s Council, was the case of a divorced Kist couple living in one of the villages. According to the traditions of the Kist community, when a couple divorces, the wife goes back to her father’s house, while children stay home with their father. In modern environment, families do not like this kind of solution because it is not that easy to take care of children. But they respect their traditions and do not go against them individually. In this particular case, the wife went to her father. The couple had three children. The mother was not allowed to see her children. The children’s father was sick. When the time came to take the eldest child to school, there was nobody in the father’s family to pay attention to him and take care of his education. So this woman applied to our council for help. We try to involve in such cases reputable women from the village the victim comes from. The committee of women specially set up for the case, studies the case, and draws up and submits a report to the Council of Elders. Then we organized a meeting of the Men’s Council together with lawyers, who explained that the Georgian law would solve the case in favor of the mother. After this case, the mother returned to her husband’s place and has lived there since. We also provide monitoring of cases; we visit women later and find out whether their rights are violated or not.
The Woman’s Council also deals with cases involving violence against women. We have already taken several women away from their abusive husbands to the asylum. In the Kist community, women’s right to property are restricted, especially in the families who do not have a son. The property automatically is transferred to a male relative. We have held a training session for women in Pankisi to make them aware of their property rights granted to them by the Georgian law. By the way, one of the women managed to register the title to the property of her abusive husband. Although the property was registered under her child’s name but she is the one who manages it.
Kist men have come to my house for several times to ask for my support in the conflict with women. We never support any of the parties unfairly and we explain this clearly to everyone. I am proud that women have their say and we use this opportunity to protect our rights fairly.“