Mariam Topchishvili, 18, Gori
„I heard about the feminism project first in the Gori Youth Center, which was one of the UN projects implemented by the center. I heard this word during several meetings. Initially, I did not know even the meaning of the term. I just felt those problems that were associated with gender and feminism at school, around me and to some extent, even in my family. Later, as part of the same project, several theoretical workshop-training courses were run and I realized that I was rather interested in those issues. It came to us to expand activities of the gender sub-club. Actually I embarked on my feminism activities starting from that period.
To tell the truth, initially we did not have so open and detailed discussions about the topics. We just tried to include gender issues in the agenda of different workshops because we were not sure how the public would respond on the one hand and we were not ready ourselves to talk about the issues that openly on the other.
It was November 2014 when we started thinking about feminism activities. That year, several cities marched a protest against women killings, including Gori. Many people joined the campaign. It was then when we found out that many people shared our views. Right in this period, the Women’s Fund announced a grant competition. We created an initiative group called “Young Feminists” and decided to focus on the topics. I think now that it was after launching this project, when I confidently called myself a feminist. Before that time, I did not consider myself to be a feminist as much as other did.
As part of the project we were supposed to visit 5 regions of Georgia. When we met young people there, we better realized big problems we faced in this regard. The project aimed to identify local problems together with young people. Those problems seemed so disastrous to me that we needed to get together after each workshop to discuss ongoing issues. We found out that in some schools (and I know those schools) girls are not allowed to go without wearing dresses (!). This is not the case when the school has a uniform. Moreover, class teachers discourage girls to stand with boys during breaks and talk to them. If they see that, they call them and tell them that this is not a proper behavior for a girl. Moreover, girls are not supposed to take up any sport, soccer for example, and so on. To put it shortly, we heard a lot of such stories and found out that the school was the source of those problems we protested against and tried to resolve. I personally, found school problems rather painful and got rather emotional when I witnessed them with my own eyes.
For several times, parents came and took away children from the training course. I do not say anything about the cases, when several boys left the training course in protest without explaining what they had found so unacceptable. We were subject to aggression as well. For example, one of the parents came and told us that she did not wish her child to listen to this, adding that she would have big problems if her husband learned about that. Naturally, the student was a girl. We even started thinking about stopping the project fearing that our activities could prompt violence. To put it shortly, we were rather confused and started thinking about how to keep on our activities. After completing this project I knew precisely that I wanted to focus on these problems and their solution.
Young Feminists went ahead with the same activities in Gori after the completion of the project. Welfare and Development Center, a partner organization of PITA, one of the projects of the UN Association in Georgia, has provided the biggest support to us. They support any initiative concerning gender equality. This is a big comfort for us. I would like to thank them through this interview and tell them that without their support we probably would not have been able to be involved in this activity.
Things have changed but I think that the process has been slow. When I first told my classmates I was a feminist and I wanted to give a seminar on these issues, they did not believe me, some of them even telling me I could not be one, because their stereotypes about feminists were completely different from who I was, i.e. I am rather calm, hardly ever become irritated, I talk calmly, therefore they wondered what kind of feminist I was. Some of them did not know at all what feminism was. When I say now that I am a feminist, they understand me better. The environment in which I work has changed a lot, including my friends and family. My family did not oppose me or did not think it was a problem when I said that I was a feminist but I realized that they were a bit uncomfortable and were afraid how the people would respond. The situation has radically changed now, my mother as well as other family members strongly support me and like what I do because I share all the stories I come across with my family. I want them to see that the problems really exist. Guess what? Each person identifying herself as a feminist changes at least her environment and I think that this is already a big thing.
During the training courses we found out that 99% of young people did not know anything about Georgian feminists and we decided to focus more on this topic in the future. Therefore we have recently made a so-called video-installation, i.e. using dummies and lights we tried to “bring to life” several feminists, who would tell women stories to the visitors. The project was innovative, but we still found it difficult to draw interest of young people and involve them in the project. We all are rather pleased with the final outcomes. Moreover, many people have come to see this feminist installation.
We have two long-term plans. We would like to find some space to make exposition about Georgian feminists at least for a small period. We would like show the exposition to school students. Our second plan is to found an art center in Gori. We have a rather big territory with a small garden in the city center, which was turned into a waste dump. Young Feminists group members were also among those who launched the initiative. We submitted an application to the City Hall to hand over this building to us so we could refurbish it. They actually transferred the building to us. It was in a disastrous condition and full of rubbish. We have already cleaned it. We have made some repairs at our own expanse, but we do not know how much time it will take to refurbish it because we are not sure about whether we will have some financial support or not. Gori Women’s Choir, which has given a charity performance for us, has helped us raise some funds. We used these funds and donations made by one of the NGOs to clean the building and repair the roof. Now we are trying to raise some funds from different foundations and embassies. I know exactly that this is our long-term project. We would like to create a space, where any young person may come and we will help her however we can. The building will also house an art center. It was a good idea to join art and feminism. This has made it easier to pass new information to people.”