The mountainous municipality of Tianeti in the Northeastern part of Georgia is home to 14,000 people living in 87 villages throughout the region. It’s a region which, like most other Georgian regions, is rich on historical monuments, hospitable people and an inviting hiking friendly nature. It’s also famous for its Khinkali – one of Georgia’s famous delicatessen. The town of Tianeti is every autumn hosting a Khinkali festival during the public holiday ‘Tianetoba’. But what makes Tianeti stand out is the fact that this is the only region in Georgia with a female Gamgebeli – the head of the municipality.
EUMM’s Field Office in Mtskheta met with the Gamgebeli of Tianeti, Ms. Lela Kitesashvili to understand how she views her role as the first female Gamgebeli in Georgia and what she can do to empower the Georgian women in a post-conflict society.
This story is one of our “Women’s Profile” interviews with influential women active in different sectors in the Georgian society.
EUMM: How do you see your role as the only female Gamgebeli in Georgia?
- It is an honour to have been elected to Gamgebeli and to represent my region. I try to do what I can to empower and support women to take on responsibilities and leadership positions. Women have a lot of knowledge and leadership capabilities. Also, I believe that women tend to focus more on the greater good and less on personal gain when conducting their duties. Therefore, I have pushed for a gender balanced local administration. Also improvement of social welfare and services are high priorities on my political agenda.
I am also bringing up the gender aspects in my meetings with the civil society and media. Since 2016, there is also an appointed gender advisor in the administration reporting directly to me. However, I must admit that I would like to see more of my fellow sisters taking up leadership positions in political institutions. The current discussion to make gender quotas mandatory in the Georgian parliament would constitute a positive step in the right direction to achieve gender equality which would benefit the whole Georgian population.
EUMM: Have you faced any challenges in your role that are related to your sex?
- So far I haven’t faced any major challenges holding this political position. Rather the contrary, I feel that I have strong support from both men and women around me. I have never felt any resistance or discrimination among my male counterparts due to my sex. I feel equally respected.
EUMM: Do men and women have different needs?
- Men and women are different and that has naturally also an impact on our different needs. We view things with different eyes. For example, women who are taking their children to the kindergarten everyday will experience the poor road conditions, making it more difficult for them to get there in time and would therefore raise the issue with the local authorities while men in many cases wouldn’t see the need for it.
EUMM: What role do women have today in Georgia’s post-conflict society?
- It is important to remember that both men and women went through difficult times during the conflict in Georgia. Our men were more directly involved in the conflict and after the conflict many men had to leave their families to work abroad in order to support their families financially. This all together put a heavy burden on the women who had to take all the responsibility for the daily family life. However, in today’s post-conflict society women are more self-confident and independent. In many cases women are also the main income taker in the family. This is not just good for the balance but also has a positive impact of the social well-being for both men and women.
EUMM: What are your thoughts about European women?
- From my perspective and based on personal experience, I consider the European women to be well-educated, independent and with a great self-esteem. These are all positive characteristics. In addition, Europe has many strong and influential women involved in politics who are role models both for the next generation of European decision makers but also for us. To bring in more women in the mediating process and in decision making positions both in Georgia and in the world would contribute to more long-term stability, development and peace. We women can keep peace better!
Ms. Lela Kitesashvili was elected in 2014 by the constituency in Tianeti region on a ballot from the Georgian Dream Party. She faced five male candidates during her electoral campaign and won the second round with 67%. Out of the current 73 Gamgebelis and majors in Georgia, she is the only woman. Her mandate runs for four years.