As elsewhere in the former Soviet Union, Georgians marked March 8 International Women's Day with public displays of respect for women - offering flowers, congratulations or even giving up bus seats to female passengers. But while Georgian women pride themselves on their ability to handle both home-making and careers, some gender equality advocates worry that deep-rooted traditions and cultural mores are forcing women to juggle too many responsibilities.
Forty-seven-year-old Naira Nebieridze has done it all: while raising a child, she danced professionally with the Georgian National Ballet Sukhishvili and toured internationally. Now a grandmother, she works as a Georgian dance instructor in Tbilisi and prides herself on being able to balance her love of dance with what she sees as her duties as a doting wife.
"I am a strong woman, but I love [my] home and hearth," Nebieridze said, noting that while women are free to work, there is a strong Georgian tradition for them to prioritize family and a role as caregivers.
"Tradition plays a very large role in the lives of Georgian women. All men, throughout the world, love when they are taken care of," she affirmed.
Some Georgian gender equality specialists say that the perception that women should take care of housework as well as parenting and a career has deep roots in the country's past.
Nino Javakhishvili teaches gender studies at Tbilisi State University and has written a book on the beginning of the Georgian women's liberation movement at the turn of the 20th century. Soviet policy, Javakhishvili argues, was geared toward capitalizing on women's potential in the labor market to achieve economic goals, rather than on making breakthroughs in gender equality.
"[T]hings were done not because the state was gender-equality orientated or something, but because they saw it is a huge economic growth," she said. "The more women work, they produce more for the country."
Generations of women who juggled traditional duties at home with the new social duty to work were the result.
Today, according to Galina Petriashvili, the president of the Gender Media Caucasus Association of Journalists, women in Georgia have "equal rights, but not equality."
"Rights can be written on paper a thousand times," Petriashvili said in an email interview from New York. "That does not mean they are being realized." Nor does the political will exist to change that situation - a factor which, along with a lack of strong non-governmental organizations, means that the women's rights movement remains relatively weak, said Javakhishvili.
Tamar Sabedashvili, United Nations Development Fund for Women Gender Advisor in Georgia, says that gender equality is still a non-issue for most of the population.
"I don't think anyone would raise this as an issue. The common discourse is that, 'Well, we had King Tamara in the 13th century so we don't have this problem,'" Sabedashvili said. [The word "mepe" in Georgian can be translated as king or queen. "King" is commonly used to underline Tamar's role as one of Georgia's most powerful monarchs. - ed] "[T]he sensitivity; the openness to see gender problems is quite low among men, as well as women."
Issues that in other countries may be seen as discriminatory -- like the unequal division of labor at home -- are not seen as problems in Georgia, she added.
For 57-year-old Marina Kitovari, a biologist by training who now works as a nanny, cooking, cleaning, and looking after her husband are part of the natural balance in a married relationship. "We don't argue about that; it is a woman's work. A man should do the more physical, more difficult work. The easier work, the cleaning and cooking, is a woman's work," Kitovari said. "That is not inequality."
While all Georgian marriages are not the same, the tradition of defining women as mothers, nurturers and caregivers colors most relationships, continued Kitovari. "It is a cult here ? in Georgia, most often a woman is looked at as a mother," she said.
The growing influence of the Georgian Orthodox Church appears to be reinforcing this viewpoint. In his book "Patriarch," Georgian Orthodox Church Patriarch Ilia II writes: that a "woman, in the first place, is a loving wife and a caring mother."
Marina Tabukashvili, one of the founders and general director of the Taso Women's Fund and Memory Research Center in Tbilisi, believes that tradition limits Georgian women's potential to develop as individuals. "[Georgian women] demonstrate their power, their responsibility toward their families and our task is to enlarge the field of their responsibilities," Tabukashvili said.
"We [women] are professionals. We are needed. Our contribution is important so we have to be in there, in the society to do something," she said.
But dance instructor Nebieridze counters that there is no artificial limitation placed on Georgian women today. "Everyone tries to have a family that is provided for and to work less and observe traditions. But there are women leaders who prefer to [work]," she said.
Molly Corso is a freelance reporter and photojournalist based in Tbilisi.