Reaching the age of majority fundamentally changes our lives in many ways — finally, we are able to open our own accounts, drive a car, start a business and, of course, vote. Exercising the right to make one’s own legal choices draws a stark line between childhood and adulthood.
Nino Tsaava, a 21-year-old international relations student from Tbilisi, joined the ‘Shall We Go to Vote?’ campaign to help motivate new voters to cast their first ballots in October’s local elections. She is calling on her peers to not only use this freedom but to use it wisely.
Not much time has passed since Nino became a voter herself. Reflecting on that benchmark, she recalls “when I turned 18, I voted in my first elections. But to tell you the truth, I wasn’t quite aware of the importance of the act. But I do remember what I felt in that moment: a mixture of uncertainty and pride.”
Nino is an enthusiastic advocate for youth activism, seeing it as indispensable to the country’s welfare and democratic development. She is one of 25 youth leaders that the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) selected to carry out the education campaign.
“Young people are a progress-oriented force, have a better perception of future, demand new solutions and changes to devalued rules and norms. Focusing on the future is crucial for the development of the state, which is why young people’s active participation in elections is so important,” asserts Nino.
People aged 18 to 29 comprise a fifth of Georgian voters (Georgian Central Electoral Commission. 2020). Last year, more than 80 percent of young Georgians declared their readiness to vote in the parliamentary elections; however, only 38 percent of young voters were familiar with the electoral environment and programmes (International Republican Institute. 2020).
The ‘Shall We Go to Vote?’ campaign, carried out with support from UNDP and the Government of Sweden, is designed to fill these gaps, especially in rural areas. Young trainers will help their peers learn about the foundations of democracy, the electoral system, the competencies of the central and local governments, forms of citizen participation and the media’s roles in elections. The training will place a special focus on promoting gender equality in politics and governance and on protecting the rights of minorities and persons with disabilities.
“To me, the right to make a choice is not only a civil right, but the most precious and fundamental personal freedom, indispensable human value,” said Tamar Siradze, a twenty-year-old trainer from the Guria region in western Georgia. “My grandmother wanted me to become a doctor, but I have chosen to study law — and here I am, teaching others about the importance of using your right to make a choice according to your own will.”
The upcoming elections in Georgia stand out among other local elections held in the last decades. With recently adopted gender quotas on party lists, they provide a chance to promote diversity and equality in governance, to vote more women into office and to elect representative, competent, efficient, and accountable local authorities who will address a range of pending social and economic issues.
Even though Georgia was one of the first in the world to give voting rights to women in 1918 — and elected five women to its first democratic parliament that year — gender imbalances in Georgian politics have been a persistent challenge in modern Georgian history. Women’s participation in elected local government bodies is hovering at 13.5 percent after the last elections in 2017. Further, all but one out of 64 elected mayors are men. This glaring disparity has been casting a shadow over the Georgian political environment for several decades.
Educating voters is one of the ways to promote gender equality in politics and support Georgian women to vote and be elected.
Tamar is convinced that her and her peers’ engagement in the campaign will help first-time voters to make more confident, informed and fact-based choices at the ballot boxes in October.
“To educate ourselves and other young voters is fundamental. As a result, each of us has thought through and realized the role and importance of elections to us as individuals and to the country as a whole,” she stresses.
When asked about a key message to her peers, she gives a short and simple answer: “any personal choice is yours and yours alone to make.”
Both Tamar and Nino hope that the 200 young people who joined them and their peers’ training will carry this message back to their communities across Georgia to motivate people to make their choice and have their say on election day.