Georgia: “12-year-old girls are married off”

In Georgia, women’s sexuality, men’s violence against women and child marriage are all highly controversial topics. The women’s rights organisation StudioMobile uses documentary films to initiate discussions and break taboos – work that is met with opposition and threats.

Liana Jaqeli, Marine Margalitadze, Tamar Lejava, Natia Vardosanidze, Sophio Chkheidze and Lulu Kalandadze from StudioMobile address sensitive topics like child marriage by making documentary films. Photo: Emma Söderström.
Liana Jaqeli, Marine Margalitadze, Tamar Lejava, Natia Vardosanidze, Sophio Chkheidze and Lulu Kalandadze from StudioMobile address sensitive topics like child marriage by making documentary films. Photo: Emma Söderström.

“Many Georgian women believe it’s their duty to have sex with their husband, even when they don’t want to. It’s tragic!,” says Liana Jaqeli, film producer and founder of StudioMobile-Accent on Action, one of Kvinna till Kvinna’s partner organisations in Georgia.

With its documentary films, StudioMobile wants to strengthen women and girls’ sexual and reproductive rights. The films have been screened in villages in the Georgian countryside and broadcasted on national TV. Women’s rights organisations across the country use the material to change public opinion.

Protests by the Orthodox church

The organisation’s studio is housed in one of their members’ homes, an apartment on the outskirts of the capital Tbilisi. Here, Liana Jaqeli and the others from StudioMobile edit films at night, when the child of the mother who owns the house has gone to sleep.

The films cover topics that are controversial in Georgia, such as men’s violence against women or women’s sexuality. Many of these topics are entirely absent from public debate in the country.

In the past, representatives of the Orthodox church and other conservative actors broke one of StudioMobile’s cameras and demonstrated outside the broadcasting company’s office after one of the organisation’s documentaries had been aired.

“I’m certain that Orthodox organisations would attack us if they knew where we met and worked,” says Tamar Lejava, screenwriter and board member for StudioMobile.

Breaking taboos by provoking viewers

It is clear StudioMobile’s documentaries provoke people. But that is exactly the point.

“We know this approach works. Film is the most effective way to initiate discussions and break taboos. It makes people identify with those who are affected by a problem,” explains Liana Jaqeli. She adds that many of those featured in the organisation’s documentaries also develop a better understanding of their own situation .

During filming, one young man featured in a documentary about lethal violence against women talked about he had started feeling remorse and guilt for not being able to stop his parents from marrying off his sister when she was 15.

“We simply took away her school backpack and married her off,” he can be heard saying in the film. His sister was forced to quit school, had three children and was subjected to violence by her husband. He killed her when she was just 23 years old.

Child marriage common in Georgia

At the moment, StudioMobile focuses on child marriage. According to Liana Jaqueli, many Georgians mistakenly want to believe the problem only occurs in minority groups in the country.

In reality, child marriage takes place across Georgian society, from urban to rural areas. One in six women in Georgia is married off before turning 18. And these statistics do not even reveal the whole picture, as they only cover registered marriages.

Although marriages with children under the age of 16 have been prohibited by law, many such marriages still take place in accordance with traditions – and without registration. A new law prohibiting marriage under the age of 18 will probably also be circumvented.

“Girls as young as 12 or 13 are taken out of school to be married. They are forced to have sex and become pregnant. This is sexual violence against children, and it occurs throughout Georgia. The law is constantly broken and no one gets punished. That is why it is important to change attitudes,” says Liana Jaqueli.

Limited resources

Besides facing threats, StudioMobile’s members also struggle with a heavy workload and limited resources.

“We’re just so tired. We work all night long and are always available. It’s stressful and painful to think we might be left without any funding. That’s why we’re so happy to cooperate with Kvinna till Kvinna: they share our vision on what it takes to change society,” says Liana Jaqueli.

Currently, StudioMobile is in the middle of making a new documentary.

18 October 2012