Natali Pataridze, 29, Kutaisi

“Biological sex creates numerous barriers for a woman in our culture. I have personally suffered from it at every stage of my life – from my early marriage to my career advancement, I’ve had to establish myself over and over again, to prove that I am a human with an equal status to men. I was sixteen when I got married and had two girls. Despite this, I always had the ambition to proceed with my education and take care of my career.

This is where I faced the first challenge of being a woman. In a patriarchal family, a woman’s statement that she is an individual and has the right to study, was seen as a rebellion. That was the first time they attempted at stifling my voice. Naturally, violence does not entail only physical force. Stripping an individual of their dreams and aspirations is also violence, isn’t it? The most difficult part was the realization that my parents were not going to back me up when I decided to divorce my husband and attain some space for my personal development. My parents are part of a violent culture that constantly oppresses women and pushes its rules of the game onto them: a woman has to endure everything, she must shoulder the strength of the family; she must sacrifice her personal aspirations to the family, and divorce is a disgrace… Unfortunately, because of financial dependence on my family, I had to repress my wishes for five more years. Yet, at the age of 21, I’d had enough. I left my husband’s family, and started to both study and work. My parents had no choice but to accept this decision, however, they undertook the so called ‘husband’s role’ and kept me under constant supervision. Sometimes I wonder how I achieved this much under the weight of such rigorous monitoring.

I have to overcome additional obstacles due to my gender at work too. Women have to struggle at every stage regardless of their line of profession. Tolerance to women in high positions is especially low. I have been a director of the Culture House and I have had to prove repeatedly that if I am being justly stern and have a reproachful tone, this is not caused by – as they claim – a failed private life and the resulting ‘neurotic disorder’. Often, they do not take my criticism or demands seriously and I need to waste many efforts and offer reasoning in order to persuade them that I am being fair. While with male managers, all this comes naturally. They don’t forgive powerful women. A woman is expected to be weak and any demonstration of determination is seen as an abnormal behavior. There is another extreme, if they see you as powerful, if they’ve equaled you to a man, they will never forgive you a weakness. Sometimes we all want to be down-to-earth, vulnerable, emotional, but if you, a woman, have built an image of a strong woman, they see these emotions as a sign of weakness. As if, you no longer have the right to cry. Naturally, it is impossible to keep your cool all the time. Sometimes, your child’s sickness may affect your mood. These circumstances are seen as your liability and they cease to see you as an authority, so they report to work late, or altogether miss work without bothering to notify you. Because you have lost your authority, you have let your female side show! The fact that I have human emotions gives you no right to discount me as a manager. Men are victim of violence too, aren’t they? The culture sets norms for them as well: they must not cry, must not show emotions, must be rationally pragmatic and the culture never asks, whether they want it or if they can shoulder such a responsibility.

Last year, I had four people under my management who were my friends from the university years. I could tell they did not feel convenient about the fact that they had a female manager and were to follow her instructions. Despite our friendly relationship, they could not get rid of this attitude. On some occasions, when they wanted to miss work they would ask permission from the logistics officer even though he had nothing to do with this issue, and even if I stood nearby and they could ask me instead. But it seemed to be beneath their dignity. My friends left the job soon and I think the reason was their refusal to accept a female manager.

In Georgia, they do not like successful and educated women; they cannot forgive them their wits and independence. The laws are based on the principles of equality and fairness, however, social norms override these laws and oppress those who will not fit into the mold of this culture. We must fight this mentality and I believe we will be able to change it.”