Pandemic Hits War-Affected Women Hard

During the quarantine, women from villages near the occupation line (Gugutiantkari, Zardiantkari, Khurvaleti, Nikozi, Khviti, Tsitelubani, Mejvriskhevi, Ergneti, Meghvrekisi and Adzvi) used social media to share their emotions and problems. From their conversations it was evident that all of them had faced almost identical needs. 

With the involvement of these active women, the local NGO Karaleti Women’s Solidarity Center supported by the Women’s Fund in Georgia launched a new project in these villages. One woman was selected from each of the ten villages to serve as a mediator to boost female voices.  

Initially these ‘mobilizers’ gathered five women from their villages and arranged online sessions with a psychologist. Nazi Edisherashvili, a woman from Meghvrekisi, spoke to a psychologist about the fact that women were hit the hardest during the pandemic. 

“It is very difficult when there is no shop and pharmacy in the village and you are told that you can’t leave home. We, the women, received the worst psychological hit during the pandemic. I, for example, worked as a nanny and was left unemployed, like many other women. It was especially hard for those women who have 5-6 little children at home and some of pre-school age. A woman prepares meals and takes care of children. She also helps them with homework and distance learning. In the villages along the occupation line the connection is poor and we have to use mobile data. We have also had to support our husbands who were also left unemployed. It is not difficult to guess how the situation affected women,” Nazi told her psychologist.

Irina Petrova was the first psychologist in Gori Municipality who engaged in this initiative remotely and contacted women living near the occupation line via social networks. She described how she guided these women towards coping strategies. 

“We had online, remote consultations from 10 villages. 50 women from each village attended the session, most of them of older age. The sessions were very emotional. Some even said that they could no longer recognize themselves as the quarantine restrictions put serious stress on them. It is natural. These women first went through the war and now Covid-19 is affecting them. It is too much to endure… I advised them to do the things they enjoy doing most of all, plan the day with all family members and recall the times when they were the happiest,” Irina told women4peace. 

Teona Ananiashvili, a doctor from Gori Military Hospital, met with another 50 women living near the occupation line. As described by Makvala Nozadze, a 72-year old woman and resident of Khviti, the main concern for women was the lack of pharmacies in villages.

“I am already having diabetes and when they reported on TV that diabetics should have been especially careful, I started to panic. I thought I was going to die. It seemed to me that I was losing strength. I did not want to see anyone; I thought that if I went out I would get infected. Since there was a driving ban, I could not visit my relatives. I was locked up with my husband, who also has health issues, with no idea what would happen. It was an invisible war after the events of August 2008,” Makvala said. 

After sharing their personal stories during online meetings, the doctor gave advice to these women. She emphasized the importance of following all sanitary rules in order to be protected from Covid-19. 

“The women told me that when they traveled by bus from the village to the city, the driver would distribute facemasks to all 15 passengers. After arriving at their destination, passengers would return the facemasks to the driver, who would distribute the same facemasks to new passengers. It is absolutely unacceptable. Everyone should wear their own facemasks at public places and throw them away in four hours and use a new one. The people seem very relaxed, but the virus did not go anywhere, it is still here. Three of my employees were diagnosed a few weeks ago. Today they are still undergoing treatment in the hospital. The women also mentioned the myths, as if Covid-19 did not exist and the statistics were artificially increased in order to receive funding… But, I want to ask everyone not to believe in false and incompetent information and continue to follow hygiene norms, otherwise I do not wish anyone to see what the infected patients have to go through and how different it is from ordinary pneumonia,” said Teona Ananiashvili.

After listening to the doctor’s advice, the women recorded video blogs about their quarantine experiences and shared them on social networks.

36 years old Natia Makharadze is a mother of two living in Tsitelubani who experienced her share of hardship during the quarantine. 

“As a mother during quarantine, I often had no idea what to cook for my children, because I did not have enough supplies and could not go anywhere to buy food. These online lessons were a separate problem, because there is no internet in the village. Unfortunately, my children were not able to participate and fully attend the classes. We used our phones for classes, but we could not afford to buy megabytes for mobile data every day,” Natia explained in her blog. 

Domestic violence cases also increased in the Gori municipality, after restrictions were lifted more women came to shelters in search of a safe place. Lamara Shakulashvili, from the Gori shelter, explains that women were left alone to face their abusers during self-isolation.    

“Once the quarantine ended, the number of calls to our shelter increased significantly. The lockdown created an excellent ground for domestic violence. If previously women could avoid the conflict by going out in the evenings, now they could not because of the curfew. They literally found themselves locked up face to face with their abusers. We gave them advice via social media and urged them to keep their phones with them all the time and stay close to the front doors of their homes. We think the situation will worsen during the post-pandemic period amidst the hard social conditions,” Lamara explained. 

As a part of rapid response strategy, Gori Municipality has launched another project with financial support of the Women’s Fund. The aim of the project is to provide help for women who are domestic violence victims. Community radio Mosaic in Gori published a video explaining all available services for women in such situations.

The IDP Women Association Consent contacted women living in Gori Municipality during the quarantine period. According to the head of the organization Julia Kharashvili, there was a risk of rapid spread of the virus in the IDP compact settlements so activities were planned with the displaced women in accordance with their needs.

“We focused on women living in compact IDP settlements, because the risk of spreading the virus was high there. We contacted our coordinators in Shida Kartli and quickly identified the needs. It turned out that there were no pharmacies in the settlements; therefore there would be the lack of facemasks. We found women who had a sewing machine and started to sew masks. Soon, the problem was solved. We also learned about other needs, mainly food supplies and other essentials, and informed relevant agencies, which responded very quickly,” Julia told women4peace. 

Overall, the women living in IDP settlements and along the occupation line need even more attention than others because they are particularly vulnerable. Many live in inadequate conditions that lack proper infrastructure, others face domestic violence. 

In an effort to curb such issues, anonymous surveys are currently being conducted in the area to assess the most pressing needs facing these women. 

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