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[Photo] Empowered Women in Georgia

Empowerment of women is one of the key topics of societies around the globe. It is relevant not only from an ethical and moral perspective. It activates one of the largest sources of untapped human capital  we have. Portraying this topic visually through the eye of a man was a fascinating opportunity with unknown outcome. The idea was developed together with the famous and award-winning National Geographic photographer John Stanmeyer who led an international workshop on visual storytelling in Tbilisi.

In summer 2016 my Georgian co-author, Magda Mariamidze, and I met and interviewed incredible women of all social classes as well as men. The work was truly rewarding and full of personal insights about human fears, hopes, and ways to find happiness. We saw the empowerment of women and the changing role of men as connecting pipes. A zero sum game, where one wins and the other loses, cannot be successful. Sustainable empowerment of women requires parallel development of the men’s role – together, not against each other. We hope our portraits of empowered women motivate others to follow these examples in order to live the life they want and not automatically the one they are borne or forced into. This will be beneficial for the society as a whole.

Georgia has fundamentally changed during the post-soviet era in political, economic and cultural terms. This includes the role of women which is an important pillar for sustainable development of a free and modern society.
Women play an important role in Georgia’s modernization process. Tamta and Nino are two of them. They are experts in one of the best wine testing laboratories in the Caucasus region, located in Tbilisi. The lab is sponsored by Germany, Georgia, and the Association of Georgian wine producers. It is run by women only – a result of the hard and purely merit based selection process conducted by its sponsors.
Changing a seemingly “pre-determined” path of life is possible, but needs courage and strength. After an irreparable loss of trust, Nani decided to leave her husband. She was 8 months pregnant at that time and divorce was socially not excepted. Nevertheless, she did not hesitate to follow her heart and raised the child alone. She became a distinguished doctor and specialist for reproductive medicine in Tbilisi and has not regretted her decision ever since.
Natali is a successful hostel owner in Tbilisi. She literally had to fight to re-gain control over her life after being stalked for years by a male neighbor.
A few years ago, a barely known neighbor decided to marry Natali. After her refusal, he stalked her for two years and even threatened her with a knife. The police was of no help. One evening, when the man attacked her again, she decided to fight back and beat him up with a large, heavy metal stick. Only then he stopped and she was free again.
Natali is fearless now and walks her dogs at night even in full darkness. The horrible experience with the stalker taught her a lesson: you can always change your life to the better if you are willing to give up something in return. If you are not afraid of the possible consequences of your actions, you are free like a bird. Natali knew she might go to prison for hurting the stalker. But in her view this was better than continuing the imprisonment she had felt at home before.
Like in many other countries, business is still dominated by men, but Georgian women are catching up. They tend to be more flexible and creative finding new job opportunities. Tamara , owner of a restaurant chain in Tbilisi, borrowed money from her wealthy husband to become an independent business women. Before she worked as a photographer.
Tamara’s employees are getting along well with each other and feel like friends. Here they celebrate a farewell party for a colleague that will move to Italy. They like working for Tamara, because she is both a good manager and a nice person.
Nasi is a self-made entrepreneur selling Khachapuri at Vagzali Market in Tbilisi. After her husband died 20 years ago, she decided to start her own business to provide for her kids. Getting married again just to find another bread winner might have been easier. But Nasi preferred to be independent.
Nasi’s success is driven by hard work, sales talent, and teaming up with like-minded women. She and her female business partners have their own khachapuri bakery at Vagzali Market. Every woman has a specific role: managing logistics, production, and sales. They are well-known in the market and have a large base of regular customers.
Empowerment of women is also on the political agenda in Georgia. Besides sufficient resources and effective implementation, their success depend on men understanding that strong women are no threat, but a valuable asset for the entire society. The participation of women in the Geneva peace talks is only one example.
Georgian men are not generally against the empowerment of women. The more directly they can see the benefit, the more supportive they usually are.
Eka is responsible for finance and accounting of a honey producing cooperative in Shukruti. This “start-up” is a successful example for empowering women with positive side-effects on men. It was initiated by USAID and the Women Information Center in Tbilisi to provide career opportunities for women in the country side. The 17 female owners do not only contribute the their families’ income, but created further jobs for men in the region.
Mediko (77) is a former teacher and now enjoying her new career as entrepreneur. She and her partners had to learn how to produce honey and to run a business at the same time. Their success is tangible with an outcome of several hundred kilos of delicious honey per year. The next challenge is now to develop a distribution network.
Manana is the president of the cooperative, her husband Saso an employee. Women and men cooperate well in the production of honey with mutual respect and the objective to prosper the business. This demonstrates: empowerment of women works particularly well if it is equally beneficial for men.

Michael Heidecker is an international entrepreneur and photographer living in Hamburg, Germany. Magda Mariamidze is a professional translator and assistant for journalists, photographers, and business people coming to Georgia.

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