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[Voice from Marneuli] Women of Georgia — Shalala Amirjanova, 19

14 February 2017

 

Shalala Amirjanova (Nino Baidauri/Women of Georgia)

Women in Georgia very often lack a voice of their own. Their opinions, feelings, dreams, aspirations, and achievements can be conveyed by others, often the men around them. The Women in Georgia project gives a voice to these women, allowing them to tell their own stories — in their own words. The project collected 150 distinct stories from women throughout the country. Over the next few months, OC Media will bring you a selection of these stories, translated into English and Russian. Below, in her own words, is Shalala’s story.

‘My Name is Shalala. Shalala means waterfall in my language. I am the only girl among my former classmates who isn’t yet married. Last year, I graduated from school in Marneuli one year early, after skipping a grade. After this, I enrolled at Ilia State University in the School of Arts and Sciences, with a major in sociology. When I began my university studies, I studied only Georgian language for the first year. The next year I continued studying the standard subjects.’

‘I put my success down to my mother's influence, that I have lived freely and that society can’t oppress me. Both my mother and my grandmother graduated from school, then from university; then they got a job and got married only after that.’

‘But this was only nudge; I understood by myself what was better. Because of my family, until I was in eighth grade I only knew how to say Hello and How are you in Georgian. In our community, everyone speaks either Azerbaijani or Russian with their families.’

‘I was in the eighth grade when I first interacted with Georgians, during a training programme at the Marneuli Youth Centre. We met Georgians earlier, in the first grade, but for us they were ‘them’ and vice versa. We went to Tbilisi for five days as part of the Marneuli Youth Centre training. I will never forget that period. I had a birthday during that time, and when it turned midnight, when people I had only just met, participants of the training, organised a surprise for me, then I thought for the first time that the ‘others’ are just like me, or even better. Then I thought to myself that ethnic identity brings way more problems than good. I also remember how difficult it was for me and my Armenian girl friends to become closer, because there is a memory somewhere that we are their enemies, but when you get to know a person, you understand that things are much easier. Those Armenian girls are now my best friends. This is why I think that integration and human relationships can solve that conflict.’

‘During the training I spoke in Georgian for the first time. Although I had memorised everything and made presentations before, It was not until then that I had more interest in studying Georgian and to study sociology in Georgian.’

Shalala Amirjanova (Nino Baidauri/Women of Georgia)

‘I used to visit various villages in Marneuli to conduct training sessions in Azerbaijani. My topic was violence against women in the family. But interest towards this topic is very low. Families do not let girls to attend the training, as many of them believe that as soon as a girl graduates nine grades, she has to marry.’

‘The last bell rings in the ninth grade of school for the girls in our community, as they get engaged and marry after the ninth grade! One of my classmates married during ninth grade. She didn’t want to; she cried, but she was assured that it was what was best. In the end, there were only two of us girls who graduated from school.’

‘Girls are usually controlled by their parents. Most parents believe that the sooner they can hand a girl over to a new patron, the husband, the safer she will be. They describe a bright future for the girls once they are married: that the husband will be rich, will have a huge house, she won’t lack anything, that the parents will support her, and that they will never need anything. In reality, marrying off their daughter is a huge burden for them. They must often take a loan of $15,000 or more from the bank in order to furnish the groom’s house, a loan they will be repaying for the rest of their life.’

‘I remember one of my friends called me and invited me to her engagement party. I was astonished because I knew that she didn’t even plan to marry. She told me — Shalala, there’s no point, they’ve just drunk the sweet tea. In our community there is a tradition: when the parents of a girl and a boy make a deal, the girl’s parents will invite the boy’s parents to their house. If they serve sugar with the tea, this means that the deal has been agreed. The girl never participates in this deal.’

‘What do girls get out of this proposal? That there is nothing interesting in their life, apart from Turkish soap operas. I always say that in Marneuli, there are only three types of entertainment: Shawarma (Kebab), furniture shops and Zapchasti (spare parts shops). Still, it’s good that we have a Smart supermarket now.’

‘In the villages, it is a catastrophe. Do you know what the only entertainment for teenagers is? Weddings. Oh and, who will organise the best wedding, who will wear the best dress, who will have a better feast. You sit there in the wedding and think to yourself — ‘I wish I was in the place of the bride’ — because, hey, we don’t have any other entertainment. If you are engaged, you are busy visiting Tbilisi with your fiancé once a week; but it is a trap too.’

‘I am 19 and people are surprised that I am not married. Relatives who come to visit me, they never ask, oh, how are your studies Shalala? They just keep asking — Shalala, you graduated from school, you are studying in university; when are you going to marry? What else do you want, you have even visited the US!

‘I visited the United States in November. I was perhaps lucky, because amazing people, like my mother, supported me. The UN Association in Georgia (UNAG) nominated me to the US Embassy for one of their projects. I won the competition and even I didn’t believe that I was going. My relatives would meet with my brother and ask him how he could let his sister go to the US. They kept asking my mother, why she was allowing me to go; they didn’t know that my mother was also crying from happiness with me when I got the answer in the post.’

‘Now SOCAR (an Azerbaijani oil company) is paying for part of my education, and part I pay for myself from my salary. I work at the community radio station in Marneuli, making reports. Before I study I want to visit villages and conduct training. I am about to start training within UNAG’s Promoting Integration, Tolerance and Awareness project. Maybe I can make magic happen.’

‘I also started to study English. I want to study my Master’s degree abroad. My future is to protect the rights of women.’

© 2017 Social project “Women from Georgia” implemented by the women’s initiative group “A Woman’s Voice”. (Project by: Maiko Chitaia; Ida Bakhturidze; Nino Gamisonia). Photo by: Nina Baidauri; Salome Tsopurashvili. The project is implemented with the support of the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the financial support of Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA). #womenfromgeorgia

We thank all the women who have contributed their life stories.

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