There are only 23 women in Georgia’s 150-seat Parliament. Only 2 out of 15 ministers are women. Out of 2,058 officials elected during the 2017 local self-government elections, only 277 were women. No self-governing town in Georgia has a female mayor and among 59 municipalities only one, Ninotsminda, is led by a woman.

With these numbers, Georgia holds 114th place among 144 countries in terms of women’s political empowerment, according to the Global Gender Gap Report prepared by the World Economic Forum in 2017.

Even though the current makeup of the Parliament has the highest ever rate of 15% of women as a result of 2016 elections, the dynamics of the past 25 years show that the growth of female representation within elected bodies is very slow. At the current pace, it is highly unlikely that the country will be able to achieve the recommended “critical mass” of 30%-40% female representation without adopting special measures.

In 2014, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women urged Georgia to adopt temporary special measures with a view to expediting the achievement of essential equality between men and women, including the adoption of legislative quotas. The EU Association agenda for 2017-2020 also includes an obligation to take steps directed at increasing women’s representation in the decision-making process.

In 2017, the Task Force on Women’s Political Participation submitted a legislative petition concerning the adoption of amendments to the Law on Political Associations of Citizens signed by more than 37,000 citizens. According to the petition, mandatory gender quotas were to be adopted both for national and local self-government bodies. The initiative concerned only the candidates included in the proportional party lists and envisaged the introduction of a 50% quota, which would be a temporary mechanism.

Although this legislative proposal has been voted down in March, the Parliament considers drafting a new bill on gender quotas and discussing it in the future.

In February, several weeks prior to parliamentary hearings, Indigo asked First Vice-Speaker of Parliament and Chair of the Gender Equality Council Tamar Chugoshvili and UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in Georgia Niels Scott, to present their viewpoints about women’s political participation and the temporary special mechanisms.

Indigo: Mr. Scott, you worked in Georgia in the late 1990s and then you came back in 2013, what difference did you see in terms of gender equality?

Niels Scott: A lot has changed in Georgia during these years. Today Georgia is the region’s leader in democratic reform and economic transformation. This progress is impressive. However, big success creates big expectations. One of those expectations is that Georgia will achieve equally impressive results in terms of strengthening democratic values and promoting sustainable development based on human rights. I believe this interview confirms that Georgia is going in the right direction – society is discussing these topics and agrees that more needs to be done in that direction. The Parliament of Georgia is discussion the ways of increasing women’s political participation. Twenty years ago, this was a lesser priority for the Georgian public. Today everyone speaks about gender equality – MPs, politicians, people in the streets, farmers and market vendors. This is already a good sign.

Indigo: Based on the complexity of the issue what is the correct combination of measures needed in order to achieve success?

Niels Scott: Achieving gender equality is associated with substantial reform which affects every single aspect of public life – legislation, economy and fundamental values. Gender equality impacts notions of what is right and what is wrong, what is fair and what is unfair. Of course, it must be strengthened by law and Georgia already has such a legal framework, including the Law on Gender Equality adopted in 2010, and the amendments made to the Labor Code and Constitutional provisions. However, if we look at the results of the recent years, including those noted in the surveys conducted by UNDP and the Swedish government, we will see less optimistic tendencies: the low participation of women in politics, gender pay-gap, women’s lower access to finances and alarming statistics of gender-based violence. Georgia already has a legal framework, but gender inequality still exists. In order to achieve equality, legislation and policy should be improved further and the adopted laws should be embraced and observed.

Indigo: Increased participation of women in politics – what real changes will that bring?

Niels Scott: If Georgia adopts gender quotas, this will increase the number of women participating in the decision-making process and will improve Georgia’s positions in the relevant international indexes. But to be honest, achieving high scores in international ratings is not the main goal. More important is what lies behind these scores. The difference in average pay between women and men is 35% in favor of men. Economic losses sustained as a result of this and other inequalities are very high. According to the World Bank, if men and women participated equally in the labor market, Georgia’s GDP would grow by 11%. International experience demonstrates that equal participation of women in politics contributes to resolving social and economic problems.

Taking it into consideration, I’m sure that the adoption of legislation on gender quotas will bring about one of the most important changes in the country’s life for the coming years. It will influence political and social factors. It will have an impact on the belief of each and every one of us that we are building a fair and successful society.

Back in the 19th century, Barbare Jorjadze wrote: “Maybe, at least now, our men would abandon their arrogance and envy, and give their sisters equal education and direction…” I think we all must tailor Barbare Jorjadze’s words to ourselves and say that we must all work to establish equal opportunity.

Tamar Chugoshvili

Indigo: What will change in the case that the draft law concerning gender quotas is approved?

Tamar Chugoshvili: The future Parliament (in 2020) will still be elected under a mixed system: one part of the parliament will be comprised of majoritarian MPs, and 77 MPs will be elected based on the proportional party lists. According to this draft law, every second candidate included in the proportional lists of the parties must be a woman, which, according to rough estimates, means that this measure will ensure about 30% of women’s representation. From 2024 when we adopt a fully proportional system, every third MP will be of a different gender. The same principle will concern local self-government bodies. This measure is considered by many as a quick and effective way to support women in their push to become more actively involved in the decision-making process.

Gender quotas protect women from political isolation and are an effective tool for achieving gender equality. I'm sure that the adoption of legislation on gender quotas will bring fundamental changes in the country's life in the immediate future.

Indigo: Is it possible that these regulations could be circumvented?

Tamar Chugoshvili: There are countries that have an obligation to fix gender quotas, but in fact this doesn’t happen. This is the case when, for example, enforcement mechanisms are inefficient, or when parties can avoid fulfillment of that obligation through paying a small fine. Our draft law envisages quite a strict enforcement mechanism – if the parties fail to observe this rule, the Central Election Commission will not register them at all. The draft law takes into consideration one more risk-factor due to which such regulations didn’t work in some countries – if a female MP leaves the Parliament, she must be replaced by another woman MP. In case a male MP leaves the Parliament he will be replaced by a male MP.

Indigo: Who supports and who opposes these amendments in the Parliament?

Tamar Chugoshvili: As I understand, there are supporters of this draft law in all the parties that are present in the Parliament. There are also lots of MPs in the parliamentary majority who support this bill, all of them are present in the Gender Equality Council. However, at the same time, there are MPs in various factions who oppose this draft law.

Indigo: You are also the Chair of the Gender Equality Council in the Parliament. What are some of the recent achievements of the council?

Tamar Chugoshvili: First and foremost, the council’s activities have made issues of gender equality more relevant in the Parliament. These include issues like violence against women, women’s political participation and so on. In different words  gender equality is actively discussed at the Parliament. Secondly, there are amendments to the legislation that we adopted in recent years. Last year we ratified the Istanbul Convention concerning violence against women. We amended more than 20 different laws, and mechanisms used to combat violence have become more refined. The legislation became stricter, more streamlined and nowadays, the state has much better legislation and mechanisms for preventing and fighting violence against women. We also adopted a law that enables the victims of violence to receive free legal consultation or legal support. The existence of such services is very important. Currently, the executive branch is working on further developing this service based on the legislation we adopted.

Lastly, in 2017 we did the first and most comprehensive research on all areas of gender equality – such as violence, discrimination, economy, political participation etc. That research was done in a very competent manner and this year, we’re already using it to help establish state policies concerning women.

Thus, the creation of a better legal framework is the most important result that can be achieved by the Parliament. The Council has played a role in that and I’m sure it will do an even a better job this year.