Image source: Ninka Khaindrava. First women march against online violence and attacks against women in Georgia
Ninka Khaindrava works for Women's Gaze in Georgia as their communications person. Women's Gaze is also part of the FRIDA network for young women. Here is our interview with her on the work they do and the connections they seek with other people, organisations, women's movements across the world.
Namita Aavriti: Can you tell us about your context and the kind of work you do?
Ninka Khaindrava: It’s sometimes hard to explain our work to others because our website and all our videos are in Georgian, the language that we speak in this region. We are a leftist feminist collective. We started working as an organization only a year ago and before that we were an activist collective. We work with students (girls) in the local city Tbilisi, we also work with women in the industrial towns nearby, and with women’s trade unions. We also run a media platform online and a Facebook page, and lots of girls in Tbilisi city and outside write blogs and news on our platform.
On our online platform we have a special section for blogs and tons of requests to publish young feminists. As the person in charge of communications for Women’s Gaze I often publish many of the writings and submissions. We attempt to incorporate translations, analytical articles and research on our website. We also have videos on our Youtube channel (mostly in Georgian).
If you see then in our newspapers, blogs, video projects and in our video storytelling – immigrant student girls are talking about housing and education problems, the existing labor code and how that effects them. For us labor and health issues are most important.
Image source: Ninka Khaindrava. Shooting story telling videos of migrant student girls
And since everything doesn’t happen online for us, we also have a bimonthly printed newspaper in Georgian that we publish and circulate.
We do everything in our own language. Translating everything is difficult though we want to start translating bits for FRIDA.
Image source: Ninka Khaindrava. Our first and second issues of newspaper in local vegan cafe (it's distributed free)
NA: What are the tools that you use?
NK: Our political agenda is to build solidarity bridges between feminists, especially of different generations or groups. For our protests we often get a lot of support and public turn out. We have connections with people who work in the 'regions' outside the urban center of Tbilisi, in the nearby industrial towns and rural areas, and many of these people are also very active. Broadly stated our political agenda is that we work on women’s labor rights, health care, reproductive health issues and sexual education.
Image source: Ninka Khaindrava. Photo from our meeting in Chiatura (industrial city) with working women's collective
In our group there are mostly student girl members, who are under 30, and this includes the core group and the larger group of supporters. We do everything within this structure, decisions are made together in the core group. In other collectives (there are 5 really strong union collectives) women are usually 40+. Young people come to Tbilsi city to study and they have housing problems and problems with the working conditions. They learn how to self organize, how to participate in local political agenda. We do meetings and discussions - we study from each other.
Image source: Ninka Khaindrava. Demonstration for rights of women on May 1
Image source: Ninka Khaindrava. May 1 Women's demonstration. One of our members is giving a speech and we were one of the organizers of this protest
NA: Are these discussions in labour unions dominated by men ?
NK: When strikes are happening and when women want to speak publicly - sometimes husbands and men don’t let women talk. There are of course conservative discourses. We try to empower women and especially don’t let men into our women-only spaces.
Image source: Ninka Khaindrava. Photo from our discussion circle (women only)
NA: Was it useful to attend the making a feminist internet convening?
NK: I am responsible as the social media manager for my group. So I do all the web stuff. We do get a lot of backlash, we have really strong and conservative powers in charge right now and people are also mostly conservative. Fascist groups are growing and they also have a strong presence online.
What we are trying to do is to create an online feminist discourse. To occupy the internet actually. We are doing this especially for the young Georgians, so that these women won’t get recruited into or intimidated by the fascist discourse.
We get a lot of backlash and trolling on our posts. We get death threats, sexual assaults online, rape threats. Security is also important - I wanted to hear about how in other countries people deal with that. So it was important to come to this convening, to this gathering of so many different feminists, to not feel alone.
Image source: MFI documentation, photograph by Fungai Machirori. Looking at feedback and expectations from everyone gathered at MFI meeting in Malaysia, 2017.
NA: What did you take away from other people’s strategies?
NK: I talked to a lot of people, heard about their strategies and experiences, and also from the trainers/ facilitators. I learnt a lot about which online platforms are more secure to use. And from many people about strategies of how to respond, how what happens after online traumas is really important. What I also learnt was that self care was important - we really lack that in our culture in Georgia, not many people talk about your mental health and stuff like that. Its not a recognized problem.
What I also learnt was that self care was important - we really lack that in our culture in Georgia, not many people talk about your mental health and stuff like that. Its not a recognized problem.
NA: Were there people at the meeting you could connect with, especially people from your region?
Nk: It was a diverse gathering from this part of Eastern Europe. There were people from Kyrgystan, one of the trainers lives in Serbia. This is a rather diverse region, with very different contexts. Sometimes because of the politics some of our experiences are similar. For instance for us the conflict with Russia defines large parts of our local political agenda, and there are at least 2 or 3 other countries that have similar experiences. More eastern Europe countries like Ukraine, Lithuania might be similar, and this largely defines what is going on in that context or country. But I still wish the group was more diverse from our region.
NA: What about discourse around gender and sexuality in your context?
NK: Well, young girls are not conservative and most feminists are progressive. We talk about gender and sexuality without taboos. It’s a taboo and “controversial” issue in Tbilisi as well as outside of it, when we go into the ‘regions’(regions refers to industrial townships, rural areas in Georgia and areas outside the city limit of Tbilsi) then we have to be careful with our language. Especially with our NGO terms, they don’t like the use of English NGO terms and people can get really uncomfortable. The language that civil society or NGOs use can make them seem like an elite group and there is not much trust in them. So we have to be careful with language, what words we are saying, not to scare the people off especially outside Tbilisi. For us this is important to our work because it is here that people are affected the most by working conditions and health care system. The factories are polluting the villages and cities, the labor code doesn’t protect the interests of ordinary people and workers.
The language that civil society or NGOs use can make them seem like an elite group and there is not much trust in them. So we have to be careful with language, what words we are saying, not to scare the people.
Image source: Ninka Khaindrava. Photo of our organization memebers doing newspaper presentation in Kutaisi
NA: What about sex education in schools?
Nk: We don’t have sexual education in schools. It is a really big taboo.
This is why we have campaigns and try to spread information through our websites. We started this a year ago with videos and posters over the main topics of sex education so that we can share information with people in non-formal ways, especially young girls who are our readers. We try to reach to the government, to the health care group in government and try to have meetings with them and with our other supporters and try to push the topic from the grassroots.
We started this a year ago with videos and posters over the main topics of sex education so that we can share information with people in non-formal ways, especially young girls who are our readers.
NA: But when it comes to digital campaigns, the question is also who has access to the internet?
NK: In Georgia access to the internet itself is not the biggest problem. Over one year ago there was a government project to provide internet everywhere in the country, by 2020 90 percent of the population will have access to the internet. A large proportion of people already have internet and devices even though people are poor. But that access doesn’t mean that many of them have the skills to use it safely, and people are hooked on fake news and conservative discourses. Access to the information in mostly defined by how well you know the language, many people don’t know English and majority of the information provided on the internet is in English. Its not what should be described as a problem but it definitely is true and a special factor in our region that no one understands or reads English.
Access to the information in mostly defined by how well you know the language, many people don’t know English and majority of the information provided on the internet is in English
NA: What about the campaigns you do around sex education or gender and how is that accepted in the local context?
NK:You are asking about the political situation in which we work. Here the State and the orthodox church are in a peculiar relationship. The church is controlling almost everything because without the Christian vote the State is unstable. The State is also controlled by the business elite. So the context for the people, especially the lesbian, bisexual, trans, intersex and gay (LGBTI) community and women, is really hard. We have a big gap between the rich and the poor and no middle class. Economically we are really poor, labor code is poorly implemented and has no power over business so that is a huge problem. Everyday some working man is dying on the constructions, there are ‘accidental deaths’ of workers constantly. There was a period when we marched nearly every week asking for safe working conditions and effective labor code.
We try to mobilize the people to march - young groups, trade unions, activists students in university. The police is also quite violent, especially when we are protesting against business.
Image source: Ninka Khaindrava. Our second newspaper about reproductive rights
NA: That sounds very difficult. What about conversations around sexuality or LGBTI people then?
NK: For LGBTI people context is driven by NGO activism, but slowly things are getting better in terms of grassroots LGBTI activism. In the region I think we are the safest country to be a gay man or woman, and even here queer people do get beaten in the streets. In our group we try to incorporate the lesbian, bisexual and trans women also, but then it is not easy to do the work we do.
For those of us who are LBT when we go to the ‘regions’ and work with women there, it gets really hard. You can’t be out to them, because this is a really controversial issue all over the country. We try to cooperate and help them with their issues but if they know you are a lesbian woman they might not stand with you, they might just beat you up and one of our goals is trying to change that.
In the region I think we are the safest country to be a gay man or woman, and even here queer people do get beaten in the streets. In our group we try to incorporate the lesbian, bisexual and trans women also.
NA: But what about lesbian women in these parts?
NK: In terms of visibility gay men are more visible and organized than lesbian women.
We can’t do much there but we do try to help - there is another organization that helps them through legal services, trainings and organizing. We don’t have enough resources to reach them yet.
Thank you so much Ninka for taking the effort to explain and show us more about your work in Georgia.