Economy, Politics, and COVID-19: Women in Georgia

The world is constantly trying to be more peaceful, fair, and equal. 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is a global initiative that supports a more peaceful and just world by committing to achieving sustainable development by 2030 world-wide. One of the sustainable development goals (Goal 5)  intends to achieve gender equality and empower women and girls all over the world. Empowering women and girls implies strengthening and expanding women’s abilities to contribute to the economy; participate in political decision-making; having ownership and control over their lives and bodies, etc. Consequently, women’s economic and political empowerment is a priority for people and organizations fighting to strengthen these ideas.

Although considerable progress in advancing women’s empowerment is vivid, many countries struggle with acquiring necessary approaches, carrying out effective actions, and adopting needed practices to ensure gender equality on all levels. Different societies try to become more sensitive to gender inequalities and commit to initiatives that bring progress. Georgia is one of them.

The Case of Georgia

It is safe to say that Georgian society has definitely become much more sensitive to gender inequalities. A comparison of two documents – comprehensive research completed by UNDP in 2013 that examines public attitudes of Georgians toward gender equality, and the one completed by UNFPA and UNDP in 2019 that sheds light on the present status of gender relations in Georgia – shows that now more women and men agree that the goal of gender equality had not yet been reached. In 2013 and more than half of both women and men said they thought gender equality had already been achieved, whereas, by 2019, 63% of women and 54% of men agreed this goal had not yet been reached.

However, there are certain aspects of women’s lives, for instance, women’s leadership, political participation, political engagement, business leadership, and careers that continue to depict problematic societal attitudes. Gender norms and structural obstacles in terms of women’s participation in public life and career are prominent factors hindering the achievement of gender equality. The section on ‘Women and Leadership’ in 2019 research conducted by UNDP and UNFPA depicts attitudes and views towards women’s political participation, women’s careers and leadership, as well as domestic dynamics and offers valuable insight about issues and barriers women face.

Women and Politics

Acknowledgment of women’s capacities and abilities to lead has been increasing. However, this notion is mostly progressing in light of the fact that women themselves are acknowledging their expanded abilities in leadership while the patriarchal views of men in this regard are changing much slower. In contrast with the research conducted in 2013, it is clear that women today are more substantially engaged, mindful of the current barriers, and prepared to change the norm. This shift is especially evident with regards to politics, a clearly male-dominated field, where a major interest for more involvement of women is seen – today 60% of all respondents and 72% among women assert that inclusion of more women in politics would profit the country.

Even though the progress in certain aspects of the perception of women’s life or roles are noticeable, there are considerable hardships that remain. About 4 of 10 men disagreed that when a woman is equivalently qualified as a man, she can do the same work equally. As mentioned previously, women’s increased involvement in the domain of politics is highly supported but, almost 1 of every 2 respondents asserted that men make better political leaders than women. According to 2013 research, 61% of respondents shared this belief. This proportion was reduced to 49% of all respondents in 2019, mainly due to a shift in the beliefs of women respondents. Even though the transformational shift in attitude towards women’s political leadership capacities is an indication of progress, data shows that there’s still a lot to be done with people, especially men who are convinced that women’s working abilities are inferior.

The figure combines the percent of all men and women respondents who reported “Strongly Agree” or “Agree” for each statement. The reported percentage implies that the remaining percentage responded with “Disagreed” or “Strongly Disagreed” with the statements. For instance, 37 percent of women responded agreeing with the statement that men make better political leaders than women. This implies 63 percent of women disagreed with the statement.

The qualitative part of the 2019 research has revealed certain aspects of life that women perceive to be the hardest barriers and obstacles preventing them from pursuing a more active political life. Most of these aspects are connected to women’s responsibilities in the household. Qualitative research with women revealed that they perceive the burden of domestic work and care work in the home as a major barrier to greater engagement in public life. Men’s attitudes toward women’s work—outside of unpaid domestic work or agricultural work—are also perceived to be quite negative and acts as a deterrent. Participating in politics is seen as a “luxury” few women can afford.

“Women, who can manage to do everything at the same time, have strong personalities: they have families, care for their children and work. But there are only a few who can manage all these. Such women will always be leaders, but not everyone can do that, that’s why there are a few of them there.”—Focus group of women

These results call for the necessity of transformational shifts in gender roles as well as household dynamics that include dividing and distributing housework fairly.

Household Dynamics

As per the examination insights, family work is distinctly segregated by gender, as women do the cooking, cleaning, and childcare tasks in immense numbers. 3 of 4 people asserted that women nearly always carry out essential childcare tasks. Nonetheless, the examination additionally uncovered that most, by far of both, women and men are in favor of the law qualifying women for maternity leave just as men are to paternity leave. The comparison of conclusions of research carried out in 2013 and 2019 give substantial ground for declaring that caregiving tasks are solely women’s responsibility. The number for this statement dropped by 12% for men, and by 22% for women.

Thoughts about decision-making in the household have also shifted positively. In 2013, 87% of men and 70% of women agreed that the ultimate decision-making power in the household belonged to men, while in  2019 these views have dropped to  68% of men and 34% of women. This discovery is yet another proof that the job of a provider is no longer mainly assigned to men, as financial and economic conditions have driven more women to provide for their families.

Younger women overwhelmingly disagree that women’s main duties are to their family rather than to professional aspirations. Over 84% of women aged 18–24 years disagreed with the statement that women’s main responsibility is to take care of their family. Among younger men, i.e., of those between 18 and 24 years of age, 52% disagreed with the statement.

As observed in the comparison of data of 2013 and 2019, it is vivid that traditional gender roles have an impact on the ways decision-making dynamics are built within a household. Additionally, more women and men are advancing their belief in a more fairly distributed household tasks, as well as equitable ownership over decision-making.

Women and Business

It is noteworthy to mention that considerable changes in the perception of gender roles in business leadership have occurred. While in 2013, 58% of respondents declared that men are better leaders in business than women, by 2019 this share had dropped to 39 percent.

Simultaneously, 85% of women and 58% of men declare that women need to deal with a larger number of barriers in their professional development than do men. Women referred to their obligations in the family as the greatest hindrance to more prominent commitment in economic activity and public life. Most respondents think women are equally fit as men in taking part in public life—however, a greater number of women tend to think so than men. Compared to 2013, when only 33% of all respondents said men and women were equally capable as business leaders, in 2019, 55% of all respondents think that both women and men acquire equal capacities to be business leaders.

However, hardships about the perception and acknowledgment of equal competences in work and life between genders remain. After finding a job, women are perceived to have greater barriers to career progression. This suggests that there are still more obstacles for women to advance and succeed in their careers than for men. Nonetheless, progress in the perception of gender-related issues, as well as increased awareness about gender disparities in economic activity, political participation, household dynamics, and public life seem to be promising for better future results.

Effects of COVID-19

As we all know, the world is in the middle stage of a global health pandemic. Among other disastrous impacts, Coronavirus will affect global sustainability and put the financial, economical, and social stability of people in danger. Georgia is no exception. Even though some analyses and predictions have been made about the extent to which the Georgian economy will be harmed, it is still too early to perceive the scale of damage it will bring. PMCG presents optimistic and less pessimistic scenarios about the Georgian economy. In case the optimistic scenario happens, Georgia’s real economy is expected to shrink by 4.3%. In the case of the less pessimistic scenario, the Georgian economy is expected to decrease by 8%.

Economic stress on families due to the coronavirus outbreak, among other things, carries enormous potential for putting women at a greater risk of violence. Research shows that about 1 in 5 women has experienced economic partner violence—and about 1 in 3 men report having perpetrated it. Economic partner violence includes women having their earnings taken away by their partners, being prohibited from work, or being expelled from the house.

Another alarming component is emotional violence. 1 in 4 women has ever experienced emotional violence at the hands of their partners. When asked if they had perpetrated any of multiple forms of emotional intimate partner violence—including belittling or humiliating their partner in front of others, threatening to hurt someone close to their partner, or refusing to sleep in the same room—25 percent of men reported having done so at least once in their lifetime. In times of crisis, including during an epidemic, there is a growing trend towards violence against women. In the current pandemic, cases of domestic violence have increased globally by a third. The number of women victims of violence has also increased in almost all countries. Organizations working on violence against women and domestic violence in Georgia point out that more women have recently turned to them for legal assistance in dealing with violence than at any other time. This creates a substantial ground for assuming that economic hardship and stress from loss of pay and work may also concurrently increase the prevalence of emotional, physical, and economic violence against women partners.

Other implications are that, depending on the impact of the pandemic in Georgia, which is still to be determined, the recent change in perception about the women’s entry and success in the workplace may be at risk of being reversed, as a result of the economic and workplace disruptions posed by Covid-19 shutdowns.

The aforementioned attitudes that confine women to the household in a caregiving role are already quite prevalent in Georgia and may become further hardened in the face of economic scarcity. Even though a potentially positive implication might be that fathers potentially have more time and opportunities to contribute to childcare and build emotional bonds with their children, it is still likely that the burden of routine childcare tasks and household work will massively increase and disproportionately affect women.

While the whole world and Georgia wait to have more information about the long-term effects of the pandemic, one definite conclusion can be drawn about the shift in gender relation attitudes and behaviors of women and men in Georgia. According to the researchers, in Georgia, inequitable attitudes and behaviors persist alongside new openness and potential for change towards equality. Comparisons between data from 2013 and 2019 highlight promising changes, but continued attention and resources are needed to maintain and accelerate that progress.