Georgia domestic violence: Tbilisi murder raises fears

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Media caption,

"Manana" (in silhouette) told the BBC about the injuries she had sustained from her husband

When a university lecturer was shot dead by her ex-husband at her workplace in Tbilisi, it highlighted concerns about domestic violence in Georgia. Rights groups say the issue is under-reported and a recent law on domestic violence has had little effect, as the BBC's Caucasus correspondent, Rayhan Demytrie, reports.

"In his latest rage, he took an electric razor and started to shave my head," says Manana (not her real name). Her dyed black hair is shoulder-length on the sides, but on the crown it is cropped short and grey.

A month ago she found temporary refuge at a government-run shelter for victims of domestic violence. She has been writing a diary about her years of suffering at the hands of her husband. It helps her cope with the trauma, she says.

"He used to beat me in the head, and kick me hard on my back. He often threatened to kill me. He beat me so badly that my spine was damaged, and now I can't walk properly," she says, pointing to crutches resting against her chair.

It is a chilling account of a 45-year-long marriage. But it is by no means unique.

Private matter?

According to research funded by the UN, one in every 11 married women in Georgia is subjected to physical, sexual and other forms of violence from her husband or partner. But rights groups say because victims rarely speak out, the real number could be much higher.

Another survey by the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) suggests some 75% of Georgian women believe the issue of domestic violence is a private matter and should remain within the family.

But recently the issue of domestic violence moved into the public domain.

One sunny October afternoon, 33-year-old English-language lecturer Maka Tsivsiradze was visited by her ex-husband at Ilia University, in Tbilisi. He called her outside the lecture room and shot her dead in the hallway before turning the gun on himself.

Maka's mother told Georgian media that her daughter's ex-husband had been stalking and threatening her for weeks. Maka had reportedly warned the police, but they failed to arrest him.

Image caption,
Psychologists say gender roles in Georgia have changed, with women increasingly becoming the breadwinners

The shooting has angered many in Georgia.

Banging on empty saucepans, with their mouths taped shut and their eyes blindfolded, a group of activists staged a protest in front of the office of the prime minister.

There is no official data, but media reports suggest 23 women in Georgia have been killed by their husbands this year alone. For a small country, domestic violence has assumed epidemic proportions, activists say.

"We covered our eyes because our culture forces us to be blind and to not see the women's problems. We covered our mouths because we are taught to be obedient and not to express our opinions," one of the protesters, Sopo Kilosonia, said in an interview with the Georgian public broadcaster.

Changing roles

In 2006 Georgia adopted a law on domestic violence. But women's rights campaigners say it may not be working in practice.

"This policeman is a man and he is a Georgian man, and when he goes to a family, mentally he thinks that it's family business. He does not sympathise with women, he sympathises with men," says Lela Gaprindashvili, from the Women's Initiative for Equality union.

But Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani says the police are not the problem.

"Victims often withdraw complaints. Now we are strengthening the practice and guidelines, so the police can - notwithstanding whatever the victim says - continue the procedure."

"So that a man knows that beating a women, even in the absence of a complaint, cannot be tolerated by the state."

Psychologist Lela Tsiskarashvili, from the Centre for Victims of Torture, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) that works with victims of domestic violence, believes key contributing factors are the changing role of women in Georgian society and low self-esteem among men - many of whom are without work.

"This shifting in the role of women started in the 1990s because of the breakup of the Soviet Union, because of huge economic and political crisis - men started coping by drinking and women started coping by becoming street vendors.

"Women took up the role of the breadwinner, but the social function of men being the boss in the family has not changed."

Image caption,
A sticker at Ilia University, where a lecturer was shot dead by her ex-husband, says handguns are banned

According to the government, public attitudes are changing. Senior female politicians recently performed in the play Wounded to Death, adapted from a book by Italian writer Serena Dandini.

Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani was among the participants reading letters written by victims of domestic violence.

"We women ministers invited men in uniform who work for the security and public order, so that they see that all women of Georgia are together. We need these men's efforts to fight it because it's not just women's problem, it's the problem of the whole society," she says.

Ms Tsulukiani also points to recent amendments in response to the latest killings that are meant to strengthen the existing law against domestic violence.

Back in the shelter, Manana doubts whether the amended law will protect her. Soon she will have to have to leave the safety of the shelter. And she is convinced that her husband will try to harm her again.

"If I leave this place, I will be the next victim." she says tearfully.