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The Women of Georgia

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(The Georgian Messenger, N5, March 23, 1919)

The Women of Georgia

We are children of the Sun, of the fiery Southern God: we never were shut up in harems, nor did we cover our faces with veils: we are used to the bright sunlight; and are not afraid to show ourselves in the light of day, just as we were made. We did not have knights who were renowned for their skill in the tournaments which were held in honor our beauty, but unparalled feats of valor were done in its name.

In the family circle we were honored, free and the leaders. After the husband’s death, the law-giver in the family was the mother: the son was merely an agent for executing her will. The Geogian names for members of the family give an excellent illustration of the role which women play in it. The widely spread Georgian name Nino was originally a proper name, and meant “the goddess”, the protectress of towns. The expressions brother and sister, husband and wife, father and mother, have in Georgian following equivalents: da-dzma(sister-brother), tsol-kmari (wife-husband), deda-mama (mother-father), and so forth. In all of these expressions the name of the woman comes first. At the toast always belonged to the woman, and when the fiery Georgian were quarrelling with each other, the woman threw her headdress (mandili) among them, and the bared weapons were returned to the sheaths. This was not merely a graceful gesture, but an unbreakable law, which is in full force to the present day among the Georgian mountaineers. The tradition is likewise characteristic that Georgia was allotted to the Virgin for the extension of Christianity.

In view of this, St. Nina, the proud Ketevani, and the great Tamara are not chance heroines, nor passive instruments in the hands of history, but true-blooded gems of the first water, who laid the basis for the history of her people.

St. Nina, a delicate, frail woman already in the 4th century makes the difficult journey on foot from Cappadocia to Georgia, armed with the firm consciousness of her duty, by a buring love for her country and with a cross of vine-branches, bound together by her own hair. By her powerful speech and her firm convictions she reduces kings to obedience, shatters the ancient idols, scatters the darkness of ignorance, and, gaining her triumph, funds a new era in the history of Georgia.

The 12th century is considered to be the golden age of Georgia: it was the period of her fullest flower of her intellectual might: at this very time an able woman stands at the helm of the state, powerful and fair both in body and in soul, the great queen Tamara, about whose bright name the people have woven so many marvelous legends.

The captive queen Zeinab leads a conspiracy which she herself has organized at the court of the Turkish sultan, runs the risk of her own life and sacrifices her son, prince George, in order to carry put her bold plan. Many a priestess of the home altar died with arms in her hands during Turkish and Persian invasions. These were the daughters of a free Georgia, who touch with gold not only the pages of our national history but the history of our world as well.

There ensues the second period in the history of the Georgian woman – the eighties and nineties, when in connection with the slackening of the pulse of the nation, the individuality of the Georgian woman paled and faded as well, – namely that cosmopolitan traits were lacking in her make-up. Only in her native soil does she bloom and flourish, only from her native springs can she dip up fresh reserves of strength  and away from them she falls into slumber, like the princess in the fairy-tale, until the chosen prince shall recall her to life.

Georgia, weakened by the loss of her political liberty, at the same time was deprived of her striking women. Their sisters, passively permitted themselves to be borne by the chance breezes, swiftly lost their individuality, and, like Krylov’s heroine, deformed themselves with party-colored peacock’s wings.

At length, along with the beginning of the new century and the awakening of the national self-consciousness, the Georgian woman again finds the golden thread, and soars into the third period of the renaissance in the ranks of the feminine army.

The Georgian lady of nowadays has long since broken loose from the bonds of household education, and has shown herself the equal of the men and even superior to them once she is given an fair choice. Here I have in mind secondary education, which has long since ceased to be a boy’s privilege, and is enjoyed by almost all girls )the peasantry naturally go no further than village schools).

Higher education, too, is no longer a blessing accorded to the favored few, but is coming to be considered something essential and general. The number of Georgian women, both in Russian and in European universities is increasing with every year. In this connection the woman has gained her rights not only among her family, but also in the circles of Georgian society as well: all scholarships are equally divided between men and women students.

Thus, in spite of the fact that Tamaras and Ninas are not brought to the fore by conditions of life in Georgia at the present time, none the less the country has admirable women in all ranks of like: we have popular writers like Ekaterina Gabashvili, Anastasia Tsereteli, Gandegili, Darieli, A. Khoshtaria, who, in addition to their literary and public activities have devoted no little time, both in word and deed, to the women’s cause.

At the head of he single Georgian children’s magazine “Nakaduli” stands not a fictitious, but an actual lady-editor, Nino Nakashidze; there are lady lecturers like Chito Sharashidze, who are frequently invited to deliver talks in provincial towns; there are many popular women teachers, doctors and agricultural affairs; there are women managers of cooperative stores Mme Sanadze in Khoni (in western Georgia), prominent actresses, musicians, artists and the like.

It is thoroughly natural that the activities of the new woman in Georgia has taken on new and up-to-date forms: the individual character of the historical type has lost its sharpness, and becomes a general one of a class. In addition to an active participation in all mixed organizations, the Georgian women have their own women’s associations in Tiflis with branches in all provincial towns. The most popular of these at the present time are the “Ganatleba” (enlightenment), founded on the initiative of the veteran Georgian writer Ekaterina Gabashvili, which has its own women’s gymnasium, teacher’s seminary, professional school, and arts and crafts school: the second, a younger organization, “The Society of Georgian Women”, has gained for itself  a wide popularity not only by its basic activities, but also as a result of their work during the war, where the Georgian women have shown not merely their native kindness of heart, but a special devotion to the cause as well.

In the overthrow of the Russian imperial regime the Georgian women did not remain mere passive spectators of the deeds of their predecessors in 1905. In the ranks of the fighters upon whom the first frenzied wrath of the maddened autocracy descended and beneath the ruins of the fallen state remain not a few dear ones who fell as sacrifice: but here, in the ranks of the triumphal procession, when our country is planting new laurels into the crown of her genius, we women of Georgia are celebrating a double victory – we have lady deputies in the parliament of Georgia, newly risen from her ashes!

Catherine Shiukashvili

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