Tamar Matcharashvili, 56 years old, Tbilisi

I was born with bilateral hip dysplasia. It’s not a kind of problem that would make a person disabled if the right medical approach was taken, but thanks to our “traditional” cradle, this is exactly what happened to me. The joint has the ability to heal itself and if instead of a cradle, I was put to a normal bed and the joint wouldn’t be tightly restrained, I would be a completely healthy person. However, I’ve always been a very active person and had the opportunity to make decisions independently, thanks to my mother. Perhaps it helped – I felt like a full-fudged person in the community without any complexes.
In general, if we talk about the attitude towards people with disabilities, from 2003 till today, not much has changed. We founded the first non-governmental organization – ‘’House for Harmonious Development of Children’’ in 2003 together with like-minded people. We opened an inclusive studio and held a big concert at one of the cultural centers, where children with typical development and with disabilities participated together. The concert was a success, we, the organizers were very proud, but when I looked around, everyone in the hall was crying. Then and even now, pity towards people with disabilities overpowers everything else – admiration, pride, appreciation, respect, and so on.
Finally, my place in human rights activities was determined in the war of August 2008. Three friends formed an initiative group in a force majeure situation and helped IDPs from the conflict region, especially women and girls with disabilities. In 2012, I founded ‘’Woman and Reality’’ to make a bigger contribution to protecting the rights of women and girls with disabilities in Georgia.
Despite many steps forward, a lot of work still has to be done. A lot of work is needed to change attitudes and to make the attitudes positive. For example, people often don’t know how to help a person with disabilities, and sometimes, with additional care, they even make them feel awkward. I understand that you may never have to live with a person with disabilities and don’t know their needs in detail, but if that’s the case, it’s better to wait and if necessary, the person will ask for help themselves.
Often even the media coverage of disabled persons only serves to instill pity – the reporters only let disabled respondents talk about rights, adapted environments, and conventions. Are all disabled people supposed to be activists? Shouldn’t they let them talk about anything else than challenges in this field? The only exception when they talk about achievement is Paralympics. In reality, we are “women with limited abilities”, not “ability-limited women”, as we are often called. Womanhood is our identity, and limited abilities are only an additional feature. We, as a society, are very far from accepting disabled people, so it’s necessary to display us from another angle so that we’re more than just targets of pity.
One of the causes of lacking adaptations for specific needs is the lack of solidarity and support from people with typical development. Take female women’s rights activists with typical development – when doing their jobs, do they always think of disabled women and their needs? For example, in Georgia, female activists work really great against domestic violence and they have really good results, but do they know, how many disabled people live with an abuser and how many of them had needed physical separation? Or, do we have fully adapted shelters for abuse victims?! This is related to the problem of conscious acceptance. I think we need solidarity that goes both ways and women with disabilities should also support other groups. This tribe is not a small force – according to official statistics, there are 44,000 disabled women above 18. From them, only 4-5 people fight for their rights and such fragmented requests can’t change reality. Thus, the tribe of disabled women should strengthen so much to become a force to be reckoned with. Women with disabilities aren’t able to present their problems as part of the agenda.
Despite the UN disabled people’s rights convention being in place in Georgia since 2014, local or international responsibilities that regulate women’s rights aren’t reconciled with the above-mentioned convention even today. Even political documents or action plans that directly regulate women’s rights don’t consider disabled women and girls. So, the systematic problems, that were there before the convention, remain the same.
Disabled women aren’t part of decision-making on any level. I’m not even talking about central or local government – we don’t’ even have voting power in commissions or councils working on disabled people’s rights. Women aren’t even involved in managing organizations for disabled people, except when a woman is a founder, because even in the tribe there’s gender-based sensitivity. If we want to see disabled women in positions of power, even in local self-government, we must start working on it today. This problem is intertwined with access to education. I requested statistics from the Ministry of Education – I wanted to know, how many disabled women above 18 received education. Do you want to know what the number was? 18 disabled women, including higher and professional (college) education. The social welfare package in this country is completely bogus, and, in my opinion, the program protecting the socially vulnerable shouldn’t be bound to disabled status. Let’s take employment as an example – if a visibly disabled person is employed in the public sector, they receive both their salary and their compensation. But welfare for significantly disabled people was canceled in 2013 when only 103 disabled people were working in the public sector. This standard is completely bogus and even the public defender has determined there were a few cases involving discrimination. The state, instead of encouraging the employment of disabled people, kills all motivation and hopes for social integration in young people. Often, disabled people have to say no to temporary employment in fear that the state will cancel their welfare check.
We went through a very hard process to include access to sexual and reproductive health in the 2014-2016 governmental human rights action plan. It turned out that they didn’t even consider that disabled women would need those services. I remember clearly that when, on one of the working meetings, I voiced my opinion on this issue, nobody supported or even opposed me – they were completely oblivious to what I was talking about and how were reproductive and sexual issues relevant to disabled women. I had to expend a lot of effort to explain why this had to be added to the action plan. In addition, we had to voice our concern multiple times about how the government screening program isn’t accessible to disabled women. Women using wheelchairs are in a higher risk group of cervical cancer and the government’s response shouldn’t be that it’s possible for disabled women to take a pap smear in the regular gynecological examination chair. I’m convinced that if disabled women were present in the Tbilisi City Hall council for disabled people, this issue would be resolved and the government would buy at least one gynecological chair.
Other than the lack of ability to receive adapted services, the medical personnel isn’t ready either – they don’t know how to service a disabled person in a way to avoid damaging them or making them feel insulted. Sometimes, disabled women’s rights activists have to act like bad provocateurs – we tell women what rights they have, but we can’t offer them adequate service, because such services simply don’t exist in our country.
Meanwhile, we wrote in the 2018-2020 governmental action plan for human rights that, according to the evaluation results of the strategy for 2017-2030 and the three-year plan of 2017-2019 for the healthcare of mothers and newborns, if needed, a project for corresponding changes must be prepared and approved, which we don’t have to this day. Because of a lack of gender-segregated statistics, the needs of disabled women and girls aren’t visible anywhere.
To sum up the problems: first, comprehensive research must be done on disabled women’s needs, to correctly and objectively evaluate all the challenges that today prevent disabled women and girls to receive education, to be economically independent, and to receive different sexual and reproductive healthcare services on par with others.
Author: Ida Bakhturidze
Photo: Nino Baidauri
Translation: Mariam Kajrishvili
The project is implemented with the support of UN Women and with the financial support of the Joint Fund for Sustainable Development Goals, within the UN Joint Program – “Transformation of Social Security for People with Disabilities in Georgia”.
The views expressed in the publication are those of the author (s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations Women or the Joint Foundation for Sustainable Development.