Change - sometimes it's for the best
With the washing machine whirring gently in the background everything feels on an even keel and very domestic as I sit down to write this. Then from the radio comes the announcement that Pope Benedict is resigning. It’s a bold step to state that, ‘in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes… (I) have to recognise my incapacity to adequately fulfil the ministry entrusted to me.’
Change is the theme here. Change; an ability to let things go, to see clearly when certain systems, cultural, political and social, serve no purpose and are based on a vow made in times past. My own journey with Georgia reflects this theme. I vowed, in 2010, to walk by the side of a Georgian man, who had in turn made his vow to me We were to work together to preserve and cherish the traditions and music of Georgia. This Georgian man embodied all that (or so I was given to believe) was noble and true about the Georgian identity. That vow, now broken, kept me powerless and blind to the possibility of change, kept me sick and ill with grief, the purpose of which, I now acknowledge, was designed to strip me of my power, my voice and my ability to recognise when change needed to happen.
Like an onion peeling and revealing its layers, I can now see that the quest of the Saakashvili and the previous Georgian government to westernise many aspects of Georgian culture quickly has had a detrimental effect on the attitudes towards women within that society. It is almost as if a cancerous and insidious backlash of action against anything which empowers people, if it is compared to some Western ideals, is ridiculed at best and ignored at worst. This has been highlighted significantly over the past few days when the image of a woman with a bloody nose who had attended the protest outside the National Library in Tbilisi, was flashed across TV screens and on Facebook pages. Alongside general condemnation of the violence itself was a judgement, made by some and echoed by others, that women ought not to be out protesting, that it was not their place.
Thank God this woman was there.
She chose to be there because she clearly felt strongly enough to protest and strong enough to add her voice to the opinions of the people on the streets. This is a sign of democracy. There are no guarantees or fail safes when protesting, there is no control, it can be unpredictable and sometimes dangerous. This woman knew that. How does the Georgian culture deal with this shift? The idea that women are now, very publicly adding their voices and actions in protest? If the reaction by many men and indeed Georgian women were to be believed it would appear they are being condemned. I know of many Georgian women who are using their voices to promote change, women from The Women’s Fund who are talking openly about women and sexuality on Georgian television, Georgian Women who are teaching English and who are trying to empower themselves financially and academically by contacting and speaking with people in the west. I know TV presenters, Radio presenters, Academics, Women in banks, in the arts, in the theater, in admin. Many of these women earn more than their husbands. I know women who have been left and abandoned, used and ignored, judged by the church, by their families and by a culture based on a vow made in a time that no longer serves any purpose but to which so many seem to continue to want to hold.
Many Georgian women want to change and want to protest, in as many different ways as there are protesters and like butterflies, who appear fragile, they are actually incredibly strong and are changing. Hopefully they are dragging a reluctant culture behind them. I applaud them.
To those women who are too scared, who feel trapped or frightened and to those women who are choosing to abide by a vow designed to oppress them I say find it in yourself to be stronger, be more resolute, don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater but work together for your future. I would like to, if you will let me, stand by your side.
I only hope that the Georgian society as a whole can experience a cultural shift and, like the Pope, see when it has reached its ‘incapacity to fulfill the ministry’, recognize that the vows made in the past will merely block the road to the future and I hope and pray that Georgia (and us) can act positively and embrace some changes which can only be for the good.
Change is what we all hope for, yet it is something we are oddly reluctant to believe in. I find it impossible to imagine a time when I could feel good singing Georgian music again, when me and my partner can walk hand in hand through Tbilisi or when the country has a thriving, unafraid LGBTQ community. Of course, if someone had told me when I was a child, that by the time I hit my 30s the Troubles in Northern Ireland would largely be a thing of the past, I wouldn't have believed that either. I grew up in a London that was frequently bombed, and the West End was out of bounds every year from November when the IRA started their Christmas bombing campaign. Supermarkets, schools, shopping centres, cinemas – I was evacuated out of all of them at one point or another. I suppose the residents of East Berlin before the Wall came down felt much the same way. I should think Palestinians and Tibetans feel that way right now. My point is that everything changes – we know that because we see it every day in the weather, our own faces, the things we like, the things we eat. But when it comes to the big things, the societal things, the really horrible shitty things, we find it impossible to believe. These things change too; bombings stop, walls come down, bitter enemies become friends and people's hearts are made new and unbroken.
A leopard doesn't change it's spots – some say. Rubbish, I say. If people didn't change, then we would always have to wait until an old generation died out before a war ended, opinions moved on, people wore different styles of clothing or things ever improved. It might not always feel like it, but things improve all the time. Tell me you can't think of one instance when you changed your opinion on something, and I won't believe you – especially if you are an ex anything. Aren't we all ex something? Ex-wives, ex-husbands, ex-lovers, ex-smokers, ex-vegetarians, expats?
I remember a time when change happened really fast in the UK; the time when became ex-homophobic. I don't think it was related, but it came about when the UK took up mobile phone use en masse in '98, I think, or '99. It also coincided with the real end of the Thatcher years, when the grey caretaker PM John Major was replaced by Tony Blair. This was before he became 'Bliar' and I think there definitely was a link there, at least. It was also about the same time that there was an openly gay character on Eastenders. It was that character that caused my sister to finally understand what her brother had been talking about, a couple of years before. Ex-homophobes, ex-racists, ex-misogynists. It almost happened overnight, almost. So what has this to do with Georgia? Simply this; change will come to Georgia and it will come fast – be sure of that. When it does, we have to make sure we are ready to make friends with our ex-enemies.