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Women of Georgia — Nino Bluashvili, 21
‘Although my father was in the military, we never discussed this topic and I never had any other connection with it in the past. I rarely saw green uniforms at home, either. At first, I was enrolled at the Faculty of Humanities at Tbilisi State University, then I switched to journalism. I was in my first year when one of my friends began studying at the National Defence Academy. I really enjoyed the stories that my friend used to tell me about the academy.’
‘My mother was telling me that I was a girl and physical activities would not be good for me’
‘One day, I came across the academy's Facebook page, which posted videos about military education standards and training. I was so excited by what I saw, I realised my aspiration to be a journalist was over. Even before that, I always thought about being a military journalist. I wanted to work in conflict zones as a journalist. I am a very active person. Then I thought to myself, “why should I observe things I am interested in from a distance, why not be part of it?!” ’
‘I remained silent for another half a year. I was trying to figure out how to talk about my decision to my parents. I had a full scholarship back then, I was about to start my second year. It was not an easy thing to tell them that I wanted to leave everything, and sit the national exams again. In fact, they really found it difficult to accept my decision. My mother kept telling me that I am a girl, and physical activities would not be good for me, especially if I wanted to have a family in the future. My father told me he didn’t have a problem with my decision. He said that he wouldn’t prohibit me from doing it because of my gender, but he wanted me to rethink my decision, wait one more year, and then make a final decision; to make sure that it wasn’t just a phase’.
‘When I started my second year, I was already sure that it wasn’t just a phase — I was sure of what I wanted. I started looking for a job. I had to prepare for the national exams again. I didn’t want to ask my family for money for my education, didn’t want to be a burden. I registered for the national exams without my parents knowledge, and started working at a television company. I collected my pay for three months. I had other offers too, but I left the job after three months and passed the national exams’.
‘My parents saw that I was firm in remaining with my decision. My father told me he wouldn’t prohibit me from doing anything, so I couldn’t blame him in the future. I am in my second year in the academy now, and my mother still cannot get over my decision. Every time we go on a field trip, or when we had firearms training, I come home tired and my mother greets me with an expression — “I told you it would be difficult”. My relatives aren’t excited either, but I’ve heard my father saying he is proud of me a few times. My father, as a former military man, has a lot of colleagues in the field, and I meet them occasionally. When they ask me “are you Gocha’s daughter?” I always want to tell them “no”. I want to achieve everything independently myself. I am perfectly fine doing everything myself. I don’t have any problems with target practice or passing physical fitness tests.’
‘Look, they are women and cannot do this or that’
‘When I started studying at the academy, the first stage was the so-called ‘quarantine’, the basic combat training course (BCT). While taking this course, the men kept telling the women ‘let us help you’. While doing press-ups, they would tell us that we could cheat a bit if we couldn’t make it. The rucksacks we had to carry weighed 15 or sometimes 25 kg. While running or marching we had to wear our rucksacks, and the men would offer to carry our bags. We started to complain: “But why? We are in the military too, we are cadets.” We protested.’
‘Occasionally, the attitudes of the men worsened. We felt like they don’t really like having women around. For example, one of them keeps saying that he cannot swear freely. There was always this negative attitude, because it is the army, and they think that it’s a men thing. They are particularly harsh with women who are a bit weaker physically, and who don’t have good results in the fitness tests. If they see that you are physically strong, and you are good at the tests, they can’t say anything. But if even one woman is bad at something, they treat all the women badly. “Look, they are women, and can’t do this or that.” ’
‘I am a second year cadet at the National Defence Academy now. There are only six women out of 102 cadets in my year, and 16 women in the whole academy’.
‘Our lecturers are military instructors, sergeants, officers, who never treat us differently because of our gender, and of course they don’t have negative attitudes towards us. However, there are some of them who sometimes tell men “look, a woman did better than you”. I don’t like hearing that. But overall it’s not a problem for our instructors. As time passes, year after year, you become part of the group, and the attitude of the men slowly changes. Slowly, you become just another cadet for them, and not just a woman. I want to say that being a second year is better than being a first year’.
‘There should be more women in the army’
‘Being in the military involves very different responsibilities; you have a completely different life. For example, before I was just a student walking down the street, I could do anything I wanted, but today I have completely different responsibilities, and I am proud in a different way’.
‘I have never regretted my decision ever: not while in quarantine, not in the following two years. Our BCT course lasts for five weeks, and during this period we have to go through very difficult psychological training. They can wake you up several times a night, and every time you have to put the uniform on and be ready.’
‘We have access to a phone only on Sundays, and only for five minutes. They stand there with a microphone and count down how many seconds you have left. Those five minutes can become two minutes. You never know in advance. If you don’t go through the training, you cannot become a cadet. 22 men left the academy after the BCT course. All the women continued. It’s hard when they wake you up at midnight, at 1 AM, etc. They wake you before 5 in the morning. We have to wake up at 6 AM anyway and workout. But you get used to it, and you become very organised. I got so used to this life so much that sometimes, when I would go home on weekends, I used to say that I wanted to be back in the academy.’
‘I always say that there should be more women in the army. The Georgian Armed Forces are in need of more women. I don’t just mean women in non-combat roles, I want women as commanders of infantry platoons, which is very rare here. In my opinion, women have a completely different approach and view of work. The female cadets who study with us for three or four years and who are commanders are really strict and are much better at demanding we do our job.’
‘Go home and bake some khachapuri’
‘I want to become a commander of an infantry platoon, but it’s hard to achieve this goal. I want to establish order and discipline, and take this to a new level. The goal of the academy is to create educated officers, and I work a lot to achieve my goal in terms of studying and physical training. I do my best to learn everything i can during fieldwork. You can surprise an officer with your theoretical knowledge, but if you are weak in practice, then in the field you will not be respected. This is why we have a lot of training in our curriculum, so that we have more experience.’
‘There are not many women in the military because firstly, they don’t have enough courage to study here. I’ve heard from many women that they want to do it, but don’t dare to. As for me, from the first day I felt this desire, I started working towards achieving it. There is also a stereotype that if a woman is in the military, she can’t have a family; that men do not like military women; that men are afraid of strong women. They don’t like women that spend lots of time at the academy, training. In Georgia, many believe that women should raise children, and men should be the only breadwinners; that it is bad if a child grows up far from their mother.’
‘My father was in the military and was always busy, but it doesn’t mean I lacked attention. I would love it if my mother was in the military. I want my parents to be proud of me, and not to care only about me getting married and having a family.’
‘I see my whole life in this field’
‘Women have their own attitude to female cadets, too. The first reaction they have when they learn that I am a cadet is they always ask me: “wow, you are a cadet. Don’t you find it difficult?” They think that it would be hard for them, and probably that’s why they ask this question. Usually, people around me like that I am a military person. Being a cadet is a pretty big deal, and many people are supportive. I’ve never received any negative feedback from women because of my profession, but a lot from men and boys. They would tell me “Go home, bake some khachapuri”. I don’t know how to bake khachapuri, I’ve never done it in my life. Sometimes I think men also like military women, but find it hard to admit it.’
‘I am quite a moody person, but when I think of my career, I know for sure that I have to be in the military. I really want to have at least 30 years of military experience. In four years, when I graduate, I will become a lieutenant. Then I will continue studying my master’s degree. Otherwise I will not achieve a higher military rank; this is how the military works. I don’t think there is a soldier who doesn’t dream of becoming a general. I see my whole life in this field’.
This article is a partner post written by Nino Gamisonia. The original version first appeared on Women of Georgia, on 13 December 2017.