The EU closely cooperates with Georgia to assist progress towards reforms that will help to strengthen the country and improve the living conditions for its citizens. Gender equality is at the heart of this cooperation. Supporting women’s initiatives in different areas, promoting a fair society where men and women have equal rights, and providing opportunities for quality education are key areas of focus for the EU’s support.
In this article, Georgian women share how they benefited from opportunities offered to them thanks to EU-Georgia cooperation. Their stories show how this cooperation is helping to change lives for women across Georgia on a practical level and make the country stronger.
Baia and Gvantsa: the winemakers turning a family tradition into a successful business
“Winemaking had always been our family business, but we used to make it for ourselves and not for commercial purposes,” says Baia Abuladze, a 24-year old winemaker from Obcha village in the Bagdati Municipality. “Then it became an interesting job for the younger members of the family and we took steps to turn our family’s tradition into a business.”
That business was Baia’s Wine. Launched in 2015, Baia’s products are already being sold not only in Georgia, but also in the EU. She runs the company with her sister Gvantsa, and the products they manufacture are famous wine brands in Imereti region: “Tsolikouri”, “Tsitska”, “Krakhuna”, “Otskhanuri Sapere”. Baia’s plans to also revive the production from a ‘lost’ vine that is not used in agriculture any more and has only been preserved in vitro.
Baia has received entrepreneurial support from the EU in the areas of informal education, the improvement of contacts, sales and the promotion of products. “I gave a presentation at the EU-supported conference for women-entrepreneurs and established some interesting contacts. The event was organised in Brussels by the WEgate platform supported by the European Commission,” she explains. Baia also took part in a training course in Ukraine organised by the European Training Foundation, where she learned about the types of assistance offered to women in different countries and the ways they succeed in enhancing their business.
In 2017, Baia's Wine began to be exported to Austria with the help of an Austrian partner that Baia met at the International Wine Exhibition in Tbilisi. In January 2018, she gave a presentation at the international exhibition “Green Week Berlin".
“The Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA) Agreement that Georgia signed with the EU helped our business a lot,” Baia says. “The tax rate for Georgian products exported to non-EU countries is very high. With European countries it is different now. The DCFTA was a good choice for Georgia. We were able to take wine to the exhibition in Berlin without paying any export tax.”
While Baia has been with the company since its inception, Gvantsa joined later and brought a wealth of new experience thanks to the year she spent with the European Voluntary Service programme in Sweden.
"Gvantsa has joined us with new and innovative ideas,” Baia says. “She not only manages our wine production, but is also involved in tourism development. She registered us on TripAdvisor, Booking.com and Airbnb. My sister has introduced the European experience and knowledge she gained into our environment.”
Maia and Lia: the refugees cultivating a new future in agriculture
Lia Kekelishvili and her family moved from South Ossetia following the conflict in 2008 and settled in Tsinamdzgvriantkari village in the Mtskheta Municipality. She is one of the founders of the agricultural cooperative “Gifts of a Forest”.
“Together with other women who also moved from the conflict zone, we decided to start harvesting and processing traditional and organic ‘Askili’ rose hip,” she says. “It is a healthy and vitamin-rich plant. Its extract is used to make tea or juice in Georgia.”
When the women first arrived in the area, life was difficult. “We were refugees,” says Maia Garsidze, another member of the cooperative. “Before the conflict, I worked as a teacher at the village school in South Ossetia. After moving here, we had no funds and no idea what to do.”
Setting up the business was a challenge. None of the women had experience in the area and they had to learn how to gather, dry and sell the rose hip. They also faced a certain amount of resistance. “From the beginning, we weren’t taken seriously,” says Lia Kekelishvili, one of the founders of the cooperative. “People around us kept asking: ‘Will you gain any income?’”
The women persisted and received an EU grant of €25,000. The money allowed them to buy greenhouses and drying shelves, and develop their small business further.
Recently, they obtained a bio certificate that allows them to sell their products to the USA. The certificate proves that the plants they extract from grow in an ecologically clean environment, and 18,000 bottles of rose hip extract have been exported to the USA so far.
The women say that they found a business niche that was previously underestimated by the other village inhabitants. They use the land of other people and the income they make from the business helps their families to survive in a new place. “This business has changed our lives and the lives of our families,” Lia concludes.
Nino Gozalishvili: the ambassador promoting the EU to other young Georgians
Nino Gozalishvili is a Young European Ambassador who aims to share accurate information about the EU and its cooperation with her country with other young Georgians.
"I want to inform people about the vast opportunities present in the EU and let them know that taking advantage of those opportunities is not a distant goal, but one that can be done here and now,” she says.
Since October 2016, Nino has been a member of the ‘Young European Neighbours’ (YEN) network. In May 2017, under the auspices of Tbilisi State University, she implemented the project European Values in the High Mountain Region of Racha. Within the framework of that project, schoolchildren were taught about EU institutions, EU values and Georgia-EU relations during three days in Racha.
"Being part of the Young European Ambassador initiative has made the importance of an open platform for sharing ideas, knowledge and experience even clearer to me,” she shares. “All of this combines to build a common European future."
At present, Nino is currently pursuing an MA degree in Nationalism Studies at Central European University. Her main subject of research concerns National-Populism in democratic societies. Several months ago, she worked on the issue of the impact of soft power in Georgia. The research made her believe that being provided with incorrect or inaccurate information can cause the public to develop the wrong attitudes towards the EU.
"I think that the foreign policy vector of a country should be based on a well-informed and knowledgeable general public,” she finishes. “This is the idea that I am trying to support through my small contributions."
Nana Katsia: the student bringing Georgian and European music education together
Nana Katsia is a music student who specialises in 20th century music research. Currently studying for a doctorate at Tbilisi State Conservatoire, she recently spent one semester at the Academy of Music in Kraków, Poland, thanks to the Erasmus+ programme.
According to her, students at the Conservatoire have limited options when it comes to exchange programmes. Going to study in Poland gave her the chance to learn about European composers such as Schoenberg, Wagner and Messiaen, and use their archival materials in her research.
“It is impossible to analyse the historical and musical impact of a composer’s work from only one perspective,” Nana explains. “Unless you become familiar with the experiences of European colleagues, your scope is too narrow and therefore, the analysis is hindered."
Nino currently works as a coordinator of the Erasmus+ programme in the Department of International Relations at the Conservatoire, and in the Department of Scientific Research. This year, she aims to finish the study she began in Krakow.
"When you are a student, you have to use every opportunity, go to lots of places and become familiar with different sorts of knowledge,” she concludes. “It was a big challenge for me both as a person and as a professional. I can say that I have re-evaluated many things based on having both perspectives."
Dali Veshagulidze: the school accountant leading her co-workers to gardening glory
When Dali Veshaguridze, a school accountant, decided to found a gardening cooperative, her family was sceptical. “They would say, ‘Who will give you a grant, a big sum of €49,000?’”
The answer was the EU’s ENPARD programme. Dali learned about the programme in 2015 and when she and four other teachers from her school founded the cooperative named Nergebi in Zemo Alvani, the Kakheti Region, they obtained a grant from ENPARD.
"After the school classes were over, we would return home and care for our families. Then, by nine o'clock in the evening, we would gather together and keep developing the project until the next morning,” Dali shares. “By the end of 2015, we had already been able to construct a greenhouse. In the first year we learned a lot, participated in various training sessions held in Georgia and became acquainted with people like us in Europe. We were trained in accounting, agronomy, advocacy, marketing and writing business projects."
"We liked very much the principle of cooperation,” Dali says. “If one person was undertaking this work, they would have incurred much more expenditure than five people together. We live in a village, have children and grandchildren, and produce clean products.”
In the first year, the cooperative only grew cucumbers and tomatoes. Now its members produce up to 6 tonnes per season and sell them at the local market, in neighbouring villages and downtown.
Despite the fact that they had started the gardening business, members of the cooperative continued to work at the school. Some of them have up to 20 years of work experience.
They say that today their lives are more interesting and the work they do on the ground serves as a kind of therapy. "Taking care of plants is just as an agreeable process as taking care of family members,” Dali concludes.
These are just some stories of women whose dreams became true thanks to the country’s co-operation with the European Union. Like them, hundreds of other Georgian women and men are taking advantage of the opportunities available as part of EU-Georgia cooperation, across a wide range of sectors, from education to agriculture, business to culture, youth to energy efficiency. With awareness, motivation and determination, Georgians of all ages, men and women, have new possibilities to achieve aspirations that a few years ago might have seemed impossible.
Author: Gvantsa Nemsadze
Article published by local media outlet On.ge in Georgian