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The leader of Georgia’s newest opposition party, Mamuka Khazaradze, has come under pressure after making sexist remarks about Infrastructure Minister Maia Tskitishvili.
While introducing his political team to journalists on Thursday, Khazaradze criticised Tskitishvili’s performance as a minister.
‘Maia Tskitishvili has no idea what infrastructure is. Maybe she bakes khachapuri [a traditional Georgian cheese-bread] well but I don't know what experience she had in her previous life while she is being entrusted with billions’.
Before entering government in 2012, Tskitishvili, who also serves as a vice prime minister, worked in senior management positions in several companies, including as Director of Cartu Management, a company owned by Georgian Dream Chair Bidzina Ivanishvili.
Khazaradze, who recently unveiled political movement Lelo and its upcoming namesake party, was quickly reprimanded by women’s rights advocates and members of the ruling Georgian Dream party.
She called on young women ‘not to be intimidated’ by statements like Khazaradze’s.
‘An example of every-day sexism’
Later that day, Khazaradze took to Facebook to comment on the public uproar. He explained his choice of words, ‘in case anyone deemed’ them offensive, but stopped short of apologising.
‘This comment didn’t refer to the minister’s gender. I used the same expression when describing last week the activities by the Prosecutor’s Office: “they are cooking cases like khachapuri”.’
Khazaradze insisted he meant only that Tskitishvili was not a competent minister and said that gender equality was ‘important’ for him and his team, citing the ‘many women’ in his Lelo party.
Feminist activist Ida Bakhturidze told OC Media that ‘the most logical reaction from Mamuka Khazaradze would have been an apology’.
‘His latest comment suggests that he doesn't have adequate knowledge or gender sensitivity.’
Bakhturidze also called the unanimous condemnation of Khazaradze’s remarks from members of the ruling party ‘fake’, accusing them of hypocrisy.
She called Khazaradze’s statement ‘an example of every-day sexism’ that was not comparable to the bullying and moral terror that many women in politics, including Eka Beselia, have experienced.
‘[In cases involving government critics] we never saw a similar unanimous condemnation of moral terror or solidarity to the victims from those in the ruling party’.
Eka Beselia is the latest publicly known victim of a series of sex tapes leaked online that have targetted exclusively women, and allegedly gay men, critical of the ruling Georgian Dream party.
On 30 September, she said that even critics within the party were being blackmailed using footage depicting their private lives.
[Read more on OC Media: Four Georgian officials allegedly targetted in new sex-tape scandal]
‘I understand you hate women who dared come out of the kitchen’
Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani was the first senior ruling party official to condemn Khazaradze’s comments.
‘Is this how you plan to come into politics? With this statement, you also offend all those young women who study or already got an education and are probably more educated than you, more progressive than you, and more worthy of trust than you.’
‘I understand that you hate women who have dared to come out of the kitchen […] But you will never get chvishtari [cornbread with cheese] baked by me — because I'm busy.’
Tsulukiani also used the opportunity to complain that unlike those in the opposition or in non-governmental organisations, women in government, including her, do not receive support when attacked with sexist statements.
President Salome Zurabishvili, the first woman to be elected to the role, also weighed in, calling Khazaradze’s comment ‘unacceptable for Georgian culture and traditions’.
‘I wish in the run-up to the electoral race [October 2020 parliamentary elections], we could all agree on minimal ethical norms and on limiting hate and offensive speech’, Zurabishvili wrote on Facebook.
Sexism in Georgian politics
Tskitishvili previously faced sexist remarks during her confirmation hearings as a minister.
During the parliamentary hearing, independent MP Nato Chkheidze, one of 23 women lawmakers (out of 150), ‘welcomed’ the appointment of women to important positions but ‘still thought’ that trusting such an important ministry to a woman would have been a ‘too much of burden on her’.
Georgia ranked 56th out of 188 countries for the number of women in ministerial roles and 139th out of 191 countries for the number of women MPs in UN Women’s 2019 report.
Inga Grigolia, a popular anchor at TV Pirveli, called Khazaradze’s statement ‘enraging’.
Grigolia became the target of a rape joke two months earlier, after a confrontational interview with then-Interior Minister Giorgi Gakharia.
In a comment on a Facebook user’s post supporting Gakharia’s performance in the interview, Rustavi City Council head Levan Oniani wrote that ‘Inga’ ended up ‘being raped without being touched’.
Oniani later denied that he was referring to Inga Grigolia but also apologised to her.
Georgian advocacy group the Women’s Movement unsuccessfully demanded his resignation and expulsion from Georgian Dream.
[Read more on OC Media: Women’s rights advocates demand Georgian official resign over rape joke]
Sexist rhetoric was frequently employed to attack candidates during mayoral elections in Zugdidi in May and presidential elections last autumn, mostly targeting mayoral candidate Sandra Roelofs and presidential contender Salome Zurabishvili.