Georgia’s parliament adopted a bill on Friday outlawing sexual harassment and instituting fines against those found guilty of making unsolicited sexual advances.
With the bill, Georgia’s legal books now have a consolidated definition of sexual harassment for the first time. Sexual harassment is now legally defined as the “unwelcome conduct of a sexual character aiming or resulting in violation of one’s dignity and creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, or offensive environment.”
“This is an amazing victory for women's rights activists in Georgia and the survivors of sexual harassment, who have been extremely brave to come forward,” Tamar Dekanosidze, Eurasaia expert at the nonprofit Equality Now, said in a statement.
The new law will soon be tested.
Just one day before Georgia’s parliament adopted the sexual harassment bill, weightlifter Tatia Lortkipanidze announced plans to sue the Georgian Weightlifting Federation and its head coach, alleging sexual harassment and discrimination.
Last month, Lortkipanidze was blocked from playing at the European Weightlifting Championship in Batumi, a city on the country’s Black Sea Coast. According to the federation, the move came after Lortkipanidze missed several trainings. However, Lortkipanidze said she opted to train on her own after repeated verbal abused from Temur Janjghava, the head coach.
“As for harassment, we were at a sports camp in Rustavi when Janjghava came into a room and asked if I was pregnant […] then he offered to rub a cream into my groin area, which was very offensive to me,” Lortkipanidze said at a press conference held on May 2.
Lortkipanidze told her personal coach, Gela Makharashvili, and Kakhi Kakhiashvili, the president of the Georgian Weightlifting Federation, about these incidents. The athlete says they dismissed her.
A women’s advocacy group, Sapari, is now representing Lortkipanidze’s case.
Baia Pataraia, chair of Sapari, told OC Media that despite being blocked from competing Lortkipanidze — who won a bronze medal in the 2018 European Weightlifting Championship — “was better prepared this year.” The athlete is planning to sue the federation for 110,000 GEL ($41,000), from the Federation’s prize fund.
"The sexual harassment and discrimination case that Tatia Lortkipanidze is bringing against the Georgian Weightlifting Federation and its head coach, Temur Janjgava, will be a high profile test of the new legislation introduced by the Georgian government against sexual harassment," Tamar Dekanosidze, Eurasia expert for Equality Now, told Global Citizen.
"In the previous cases of sexual harassment, the court and the public defenders’ office used a progressive interpretation of the existing laws to establish sexual harassment. Now the courts, the police and the public defenders’ office can directly apply the new amendments. This will affect Tatia’s case and any other future cases to come," she added.
Before the #MeToo movement spread across the globe, such issues were not discussed in Georgia, Tamar said. But this March, Georgia hosted its first-ever march against sexual violence. The women who took to the streets in protest, calling for change, on March 8 — International Women’s Day — could not be ignored.
One in 7 women in Georgia aged 15 to 64 has faced physical, sexual, or emotional violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime, while 1 in 5 has experienced sexual harassment. But most survivors are unable to report cases for fear of victim blaming, stereotyping, and tsystematic discrimination.
The country that saw only eight rape convictions last year and five the year before that, but is now witnessing a gradual change.
“[Activists] have played a huge role in combating sexual harassment and raising awareness. Now the law no longer allows exempting perpetrators from responsibility for this widespread violation of women's rights in Georgia,” Dekanosidze said. “Legal change is one of the most important tools for transforming perceptions.”
The government’s move to outlaw sexual harassment can be attributed, in large part, to the campaigning of women’s right activists and the landmark case of Tatia Samkharadze, the first woman to sue her boss for sexual harassment in Georgia.
A former journalist for the TV channel Imedi, Samkharadze won the case against her former boss, Shalva Ramishvili, in January 2018 and received a compensation of 2,000 Georgian lari (about $740).
“My main aim in 2016, when I came public with my case, was to make [a] personal story, a policy problem and I think campaigning with NGOs has raised awareness to this point and triggered government to take our voice in consideration," Samkharadze told Global Citizen via email. “I believe better future is in hands of individuals and more and more women will realize the importance of defending [our] own rights.”
Tatia Samkharadze was the first woman to sue her boss for sexual harassment.
Now, three years after Samkharadze first accused her boss of misconduct, survivors can now go to court to seek justice, receive compensation, and hold perpetrators accountable. The police can also impose fines when the cases of sexual harassment take place in public spaces. Before the amendments were adopted, legal definitions and coding were vague and only covered workplace harassment without any compensations.
"The fact that Georgia has adopted legal changes is a great victory for every Georgian woman. Even for them, who was not supporting the path activists took to make this change happen,” Samkharadze said.