Forming a Community around Gender Equality

17 Jul 2015

 Celebrating Gender Equality Awards 2015. Photo: Vladimer Valishvili/UNDP

On Monday July 6th 2015, the fourth national Gender Equality Awards took place in the capital city of Tbilisi, in a bright conference space in Rooms Hotel. As I walked into the packed event the feeling among the attendants was electric. It almost seemed that you could taste the forward march of gender equality in Georgia through the sheer perseverance of spirit of the people in the room. In attendance were prominent business leaders and entrepreneurs committed to advancing gender equality in Georgian workplaces, and top Georgian politicians, including for the President of Georgia, Giorgi Margvelashvili. 

My modest Georgian was not enough to understand most of the speeches, but the impassioned voices of those at the event transcended any language barrier. 

Shombi Sharp, the Deputy Head of UNDP Georgia, summed up the general sentiment of the evening concisely with his remarks that “the message [regarding the importance of gender equality] is very clear. If women and girls, who represent half of every countries possible human potential are not provided that ability to achieve their aspirations free from discrimination, free from violence, free from other aspects that limit full gender equality then development in all of its aspects will be impeded.” 

To me, as a woman from the United States – where women still make on average 77 cents for every dollar that a man makes for the same position and female participation in elected office is still low – the call for action on women’s empowerment resonated strongly as something that is a global issues that needs to be addressed before full equality can be reached. 

UNDP’s research from 2013 on gender perceptions in the Georgian society reveals that the majority of Georgians support traditional gender roles for both men and women. Both business and politics are viewed as the natural sphere of men. But successful and active women at the Awards were apparently far from accepting such a status quo. It was heartening to witness the happiness and laughter of the attendants as they were able to mingle and connect with others who shared the same values. 

As the Swedish Ambassador Martina Quick noted in her remarks: “It takes time to change old patterns. And even more importantly, [development] takes people who are able and willing to make an effort to change old patterns.” 

From where I was sitting it was exceedingly clear that the number of people willing to change old patterns is gaining traction. The Awards felt like the coming together of a community of people ready and willing to take on the status quo, with Georgia growing stronger for their efforts. 

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