“Change Your Opinion” – Destroying Gender Stereotypes in Georgia

A couple of months ago a number weird stencils started to appear in the streets of Tbilisi and other cities of Georgian making gender discriminative and quite stereotypical statements including “Women should not be in politics”, “Girls don’t need higher education”, “Only men should provide for family”, “Woman is not a leader”, etc.

From the very beginning it became apparent that it was not some dubious group of chauvinists spreading their hatred through wall or street art. It was apparently a kind of a campaign promoting gender equality, but was the message clear enough?

Before discussing the given campaign further, I would like to describe the attitude of Georgian society towards gender equality in a nutshell. Georgian society has been strictly patriarchal across the ages, although the situation is in the process of advancing in terms of gender equality. Number of reliable researches shows the persistence of gender inequality in Georgia, including alarmingly low prevalence of women in politics and violence against women (1 out of every 11 women has been a victim of verbal/physical abuse from his husband/partner), which to me sounds pretty dramatic.

I don’t intend to write a lot about facts and figures from different sophisticated sources; I want to bring an example from my friend’s personal experience, which displays that yes, gender inequality is still here and yes, people still suffer from so –called “problem unawareness”. A friend of mine is a 25 year old Georgian female and at the age of 18 she was kidnapped. In case if you have not heard of it, Georgia was and at some point still is the society where the concept of “bridenapping” is accepted and practiced by certain social groups. She was “bridenapped” by a young man of her age, claiming to be deeply in love, who intended to force her to marry him. To cut a long story short, thanks to responsiveness of girl’s parents and her personal capacity to endure the toughest 2 days of her life full of threatening and brainwashing, she survived. Her folks found her in a god-abandoned village in western part of Georgia and brought her home safe and sound. As for the kidnapper and his accomplices, who committed a criminal act, they also returned home with scars on their souls, tortured by the evil witch, who could not appreciate the act of true love. Yes, that’s it. End of Story! No one went to police, no one was punished, no one paid for what they had done; except for the girl of course, as she could not sleep for months and developed disturbing claustrophobia, which she still has, by the way.

Back in my parent’s student times bridenapping was almost an everyday case. You know what happened next? The girls’ parents denied their daughters of coming back home, as they most probably were not virgins anymore; girls had literally nowhere to go – unfinished college education, no sources of income, no place to stay, no friends or relatives standing by their side. And they got married to the criminals, they lived with the people they did not love, raised their children, washed their dirty laundry, cooked their meals and watched husbands cheat on them because, still, they had nowhere to go. And society thought and still thinks that it was right, people cannot be punished for committing “acts of love”, man does not deserve to go to prison just because he wanted to marry a woman he was in love with; even women used to agree with this statement, they still do.

Bridenapping is not a frequent case now, but in regions and scarcely even in big cities, it still exists and the attitude has not changed significantly. Maybe women are not being kidnapped and enslaved by men anymore but according to United Nations Population Fund in Georgia 65% of males and 53% of females agrees to the statement that “women should tolerate verbal (with lower percentage on physical) abuse by her husband, in order to maintain the family integrity”. And the saddest part is that it’s the women themselves, who make this legit.

Getting back to stencils – after a little while the stencils were painted over with a phrase “crash the stereotype”. Soon it was revealed that the campaign was initiated by UNDP Georgia and implemented by the movement “Change Your Opinion”, aiming to alter the societal attitudes and opinions linked to the gender specific distribution of roles and responsibilities. Their work did not end at the point of repainting the stencils. A number of women empowerment events were held in the country shortly afterwards, including paint bombing of gender stereotypes, open discussions on gender topics, youth conferences, gender equality awards, photo exhibitions, etc. I, as a common citizen of Georgia, appreciate the work they have done and are doing for a number of reasons:

  1. They have exposed the fact that gender inequality is still a burning issue in Georgia – those who disagree can take a look at Georgian forums, Facebook pages and other social platforms. The social groups criticizing the work of “Change Your opinion” and encouraging women to stay in kitchens are vast and fierce;
  2. They did deliver the message and more importantly they delivered it to women, still unaware of consequences of self-stigma;
  3. They are simply a group of cool social activists, who initiate open discussions including both pro and contra groups; this is a step forward in terms of gender equality – dialogues like that might not change much but at least they make sure that people, no matter feminist, chauvinist or misandrists “come out of closet”, leading to increasing social awareness and problem identification, which is the first and basic step of real change.

Let’s simply wish them luck in whatever their future plans are!


So who are they?

Wow. “Bridenapping”. :frowning: Thanks for sharing.

These Change Your Opinion people are clearly future builders in the STF sense. They have an idea of the future which is their own, and they take action to forward it. Do you have more details about them? Who are they? Students? Doctors? Religious people? And what is it they do? Do they build shelters and assistance programs for bridenapped women? Do they do communication and advocacy? And with what results?

re: Wow. “Bridenapping”. :frowning: Thanks for sharing.

Thank you for the question Alberto. As I mentioned in the article the “bridenapping” nowadays is not a frequent case; in the regions where the tradition still exists most of the victims actually are forced to get married to the kidnappers. As for the Change Your Opinion activists, they are not a group of people belonging to any particular professional or religious group. They are young gender activists from different social groups, including students, journalists, different NGO representatives, etc. Change Your Opinion basically focuses on social awareness raising through trainings, social events and open discussions. Their facebook page hosts more than 40.000 users who can engage in intensive discussions regarding gender issues, fill the surveys, participate in opinion polls, etc. 

Change Your Opinion was founded in December, 2013 so it is a bit early to discuss the sustainable results of their work, although one thing is clear: they opened the eyes of many Georgians, who claim that gender discrimination is no longer actual in Georgia. The campaign involving the stencils with gender related statements was noted and discussed by wider society, bringing about both positive and negative reaction. They have made it clear for vast number of Georgian citizens that gender equality should be a top priority for a developing country.

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Yes, [Beqa Gogolashvili], I did not miss the point. Still… wow.

About Change Your Opinion: would you have a link to them? I have tried to search for their Facebook page, but the FB search engine is terrible, and their name is probably in Georgian anyway, so it does not make sense to search for the English translation of their name! 


Beka, this is great! Please see my update on Georgia, I haven’t included you guys yet, but that’s because I just saw this post (been crazy busy…). But do comment, and please feel free to suggest any ideas you might have!

Shift happens: perspective is everything…

Beka, Nana. Thank you for sharing this story. I’ve been reading the different stories that have come in and tried to synthesis clear feedback for us to be able to move forward together. Have a look and maybe leave a comment? http://goo.gl/rSK863

Beqa, Nana, super happy to have heard your stories and to learn that there is an outfit like Change Your Opinion in Georgia!  As Alberto pointed out- this type of ‘future making’ NOW is what counts and these types of groups, when networked to others who do similar work stand to change things far more effectively and faster than laws and strategies and policies may do (or better yet, inform the way policies are designed).  in UNDp wedo a lot of work with gender inequality (“Change Your Opinion” – Destroying Gender Stereotypes in Georgia - Spot the Future - Edgeryders) and in our region particularly the situation is appalling to we’re excite dto have a chance to do some work with you!!