120 Years of Struggle for Equality

or something is cooking in Barbare Jorjadze’s Room

Ida Bakhturidze Barbare Jorjadze's wall portrait. Photo: Daro Sulakauri/UNDP
Ida Bakhturidze Barbare Jorjadze's wall portrait. Photo: Daro Sulakauri/UNDP

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Starting from March 8, 2017, Barbare Jorjadze’s Room in the National Library of the Parliament of Georgia will become a favourite place for those interested in feminism and gender equality.

Named after the first Georgian feminist and female writer of the 19th century, the author of feministic articles and a best-selling book of Georgian cuisine, the Room will provide access to information as well as a space for meetings and discussions. Its resources will include a digital library of Georgian female writers, opinion-makers and scholars from the 19th and 20th centuries.

Barbare Jorjadze’s Room will be the first at the National Library named after a female author. Its establishment was initiated by a feminist group which includes the researcher, Lela Gaprindashvili; women’s rights activist, Ida Bakhturidze; and the writer, Tamta Melashvili.

The arrangements of Barbare Jorjadze’s Room are still in progress with assistance from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Women’s Fund of Georgia.

While Ida Bakhturidze, the feminist activist and one of the initiators of the idea, arranges books on the shelves, Anuk Beluga, a Georgian feminist artist, creates a mural on the walls to showcase Georgia’s advancement towards gender equality throughout the last century.

“Barbare Jorjadze’s Room is a symbol of a female and feminist voice in education and public life. On the other hand, it is a tribute to Barbare Jorjadze herself, the acknowledgement of her achievements. Barbare was the first woman who entered Georgia’s public space as a feminist thinker. She was fighting for the rights of women but the only thing people seem to know about her is that she wrote a cookbook,” Ida Bakhturidze says. 

Anuk Beluga creates a mural on the walls of Barbare Jorjadze's Room. Photo: Daro Sulakauri/UNDP
Anuk Beluga creates a mural on the walls of Barbare Jorjadze's Room. Photo: Daro Sulakauri/UNDP

In her article "A few words for young men", which was published in 1893 and is considered a manifesto of Georgian feminism, Barbare Jorjadze spoke of education and equal access to information for men and women.

“It is time for men to reject their arrogance and jealousy, to provide their sisters with equal learning opportunities to enable younger, modern women to act and be accountable for their acts. And women of the new generation will not fear any activity or job and will make their contributions to any cause,” she wrote.

In Barbare Jorjadze’s Georgia, women were limited in their rights to education and property, let alone business or politics. It took almost three decades, the world war and revolution to open doors for women to the first Georgian parliament in 1918 which listed five women out of 130 MPs.

In today’s Georgia, 120 years since Barbare Jorjadze’s time, women outnumber men in universities – in 2016 women made a little over 60 percent of all graduates, but their representation in business and politics is still low.

15 percent (23 seats) in the Parliament and 12 percent in local governance – these numbers are still far short of the 30 percent recommended by the United Nations as the minimum critical mass for women to have a real impact in decision-making bodies. All 12 directly elected mayors are men, and only one out of 59 directly elected local chief executives is a woman.

Female entrepreneurs, though quite active in recent years, sadly are facing the same problems. Only 36 percent of newly established companies were founded by women in 2015, and only 32 percent of the top officers in Georgia's companies were women in 2013.

According to the UNDP’s research in 2013, 54 percent of Georgians think that men are freer and more independent in their choice of future. Barbare Jorjadze would have agreed with that, though reluctantly and with great sadness. But today’s young people – students and scholars who will be visiting her newly opened room in the National Library, may want to have a strong say in changing this reality.

“Barbare Jorjadze’s Room tells a visual story of an invisible and often underestimated work Georgian women have been doing for the development of the nation’s social mindset,” the artist, Anuk Beluga, says. 

The Room will open on 8 March, International Women’s Day, as an alternative space to challenge gender inequalities and bring the light of education to the areas still in the dark. 

March 2017