Tamta Kakhaberidze, 18, the village of Kirnati, Khelvachauri Municipality
“When I was a child, I had light long curly hair, and people used to gasp: “How cute, she looks like Barbie”, or “Look at this Rapunzel”. Needless to say, I used to be glad. I wanted to be the hero of the fairy tale I had last read so sometimes I was Cinderella, sometimes Rapunzel and sometimes the Sleeping Beauty. I don’t remember how old I was when I first read the Snow Queen, but I remember the impression it had on me. I realized that I did not want to be Rapunzel, the Snow Queen, or the Sleeping Beauty. All I wanted was to be Gerda, the main hero of the fairy tale the Snow Queen. I liked this girl because, unlike other fairy tale heroes, she was bold, determined, strong, and she overcame many physical and mental hindrances to save her friend. In the stories I had read before, the girls had fascinated everyone with their beautiful hair and eyes, were sold for half the kingdoms of the princes or they were locked up in the tower waiting for their prince charming. In this story, however, the girl was the one taking action, going against odds. I realized that I related more to Gerda. I wanted to be like her.
I started thinking about feminist movement and gender equality at the age of 13-14. In hindsight, I can remember a few instances when I clearly felt I was being treated more unfairly than boys were. In the third or the fourth year at school, our teacher banned girls from wearing trousers. I revolted against this decision, I felt mistreated compared to boys and demanded a restriction for the boys too. Even though I loved dresses and often wore them, and even though I was intimidated by the teacher, I deliberately wore trousers for the next few days. My protest came as a surprise because I had always been an excellent student, the teacher’s favorite.
It affected my relationship with my mother as she was a teacher too and I had put her in an awkward position. The winter was harsh so they had to abolish the ban soon. However I remember this incident as my first realization that I was discriminated, and my first objection to it.
My sense of protest intensified when I started reading stuff and watching TV shows about feminism. The breakthrough, however, came when a girl in my class got married when we were in the 9th form. I was a student of the media-school of the newspaper “Batumelebi” then and we were asked to choose and cover controversial issues prevalent in our region. When I mentioned the problem of early marriage in my group, it turned out that many of those who went to the media-school together with me, had heard of similar cases. It turned out to be an extremely big problem in our region. The Adjara region is next to last in the ranking of Georgian regions according to the early marriage statistics. This realization worked like a trigger for me.
I can only share what I know from my practical experience. I was a member of “Batumi Youth Center”, where we held awareness trainings in various parts of Adjara for schoolchildren, most of them of my age. My topic was gender equality and girls’ education. I always meticulously prepared for these meetings because this topic usually caused a heated debate. We were frequently told: “You come here (Khulo, Shuakhevi, or Keda) from the city and teach us gender equality but we have our rules here!” The attitude was often rather hostile to me personally. I told them I lived in the village, I lived right there next to them, but they were unyielding.
Probably because I was very young I did not realize the early marriage problems, but after my classmate’s marriage, I started to pay a closer attention to it. Every year, a few girls get married at an early age from my village. Even the statistics of my village alone are alarming. Frequently, the girls are not forced into marriage. The parents decide that “the boy is decent” and the girls agree to marriage. The biggest problem is that the girls don’t want to study and, through marriage, they get a nice pretext to abandon studies, and the parents are happy for it. The girls marry on their own accord and the parents encourage them to do so.
My family has been another extreme. Studying has always been a priority. My parents made me put aside everything else and focus on studying. I could always get away on the pretext of studying and be idle at home all day long. My friends, I think have household chores to do when they get home, some work in the garden or the field. It is their daily routine. For me, there was no such obligation and if I did anything, I did it voluntarily. On the contrary, the parents would scold me to study for exams.
A few years ago, a new project “Dad, read me a book!” appeared. I am happily following it. It is a very sensitive issue because, as usual, we are short of caring dads. When I was reading fathers’ letters, I realized that I had never had this problem. My father had always read books to me. What drove me to learn something, to read a book, was the expectation that I would discuss it later with dad. I guess I was lucky.
I was an exception from my friends when we were planning a trip or an event together. They had to worry if their fathers would let them go. They were usually close to their mothers. I used to wonder why mothers told them to “go ask dad”. It was unaccepted that mothers downplayed their own authority like that. I have never had a problem with dad. Mom was more of a conservative. If I needed parents’ approval of something, dad was usually the first I went to.
My father may not understand and accept what I do or used to do but he knows that I must make my own decisions. He also understands that I am a different individual, I have different goals, a different taste and he respects that.
I believe school is one of the main institutions that reinforces gender stereotypes. I’ve always got into trouble at school for differing from my teachers’ viewpoints. However, as my mother was a teacher too, I tried to tone down my attitude a little. At the age of 13-14, when I became more active, I realized that my village did not offer enough opportunities to actualize my potential. I started visiting Batumi and participating in various activities. I came home late. The village found it “suspicious”. In the beginning, I was anxious about public opinion and annoyed at being asked all the time where I had been all day. I used to tell them that I went to see my aunt. Telling them the truth – that I was going to a training in an organization – meant thousand more questions like “What organization?”, “What training?” I was reluctant to explain it all because I could not find a common language with them anyway. They told my mother I may not return home one fine day, that I would put clothes instead of books in my bag and leave forever. They thought I went on a date. Even if I had gone on a date, so what? Why was that a problem? Gradually, I got used to it, but having everyone talking and gossiping about me was harsh to bear in the beginning. Having watched me for four years lead this lifestyle, they finally left me alone.
I have always tried to discuss my reaction to various issues to the people of my age, to explain things, to listen to their opinion, to debate but I have given up. On the village bus, where I’ve often faced sexist attitude, I have thought reacting was in vain. My peers would laugh in my face when they heard the words “feminism” and “gender”; however, after a while they all knew that I was a feminist. They would come up to me and ask: “How do you see it as a feminist? What does it look like from a feminist point of view?” Yet, most people sneered. Only a few of my friends were respectful of my choice.
I want to emphasize distinction of books in bookshops based on gender. There are departments for “Books for Girls” and “Books for Boys”. How could anyone assume that there is a book for girls and there is a book for boys? The girls’ department is full of books in pink covers – “How to Dress Princesses”, and others. I am living with my cousin at the moment and I have to explain to her little children on a daily basis that pink is not necessarily a “girl” color, that a girl can become a pilot, that a boy can iron clothes, etc. They ask why I think I know better than the authors of those books. “It’s written in the book, how can it be wrong?!” I’m not sure if I know any better than the authors of those books but I believe it to be an important problem and it bothers me very much.”