South Caucasus: Empower People – Empower Structures: Joined forces for Gender Equality

Good local Governance in the South Caucasus (GG-1)

Gender Relations in the South Caucasus
All three countries in the South Caucasus are deeply entrenched with traditional structures and attitudes towards what constitutes as adequate behavior of a man or a woman. Religion is a key driver in perpetuating gender stereotypes under the premise of safeguarding the family from gender ideologies. Even though legal framework conditions vary across Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, gender equality is legally guaranteed in all three countries and international conventions such as the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) have been either ratified or signed. However, implementation is poor and women’s representation in positions of decision-making power remains low. According to the Global Gender Gap Report of the World Economic Forum (WEF) 2018 out of 144 countries, Armenia ranks 115, Azerbaijan 137 and Georgia 119 in political empowerment.

Good local Governance in the South Caucasus – making Gender a Priority
The Good local Governance Programme is a regional programme including the countries Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. These countries do not have closely knit relations among one another. Especially Armenia and Azerbaijan have difficult relations due to the unresolved Nagorno-Karabagh conflict that makes cooperation difficult and a highly sensitive matter.
In the previous phase of the project, promoting gender equality through empowerment of women in local politics has already been a pillar of the program. Successful activities such as the mentoring program DAYAQ (Azerbaijani for “Support”) for women in local politics across Azerbaijan is still going strong. On top of that, an annual regional conference for women in local politics to enhance their leadership skills continue to take place.
Through the Good local Governance module in the South Caucasus (01/2017 – 03/2020) awareness among our partners has increased that the three countries share similar challenges and barriers thanks to regional exchange on Gender Equality. Especially the women’s feedback after the regional conferences of the previous phase clearly showed a demand to tackle more structural and cultural barriers in future activities. The women highlighted the need to have governance systems at all levels that have the capacities to allow for structural as well institutional change to promote Gender Equality.

Entering uncharted territory
The first step towards institutional change was made, when the Georgian legal framework was changed in October 2016, making it mandatory for municipalities to introduce gender focal points and gender councils. In absence of a clear description of the institutional set-up and mechanism or job description for gender focal points, a Georgian delegation went on a study visit to Berlin and Brandenburg to learn from the German experience. Afterwards, job descriptions for gender focal points and manuals on the establishment gender councils have been elaborated with the support of GIZ and have been endorsed by the political partner as a national standard.

The experiences made during this study visit were shared at the 2017 regional gender conference among the three countries of the South Caucasus, highlighting the importance of gender focal points at sub-national level. One of our project’s outcome indicator uses storytelling to monitor the positive impact and trickle-down effects of the regional exchange. This gives us insights to the success story of one of the Azerbaijani participants from the 2017:
“Informally, I played the role of gender focal person, since I was engaged to support social issues a lot. The Georgian experience on gender focal persons – presented by Natia Kapanadze from the NGO Women Information Centre – was a good opportunity for me to get a closer look at the functionality of gender focal persons and their responsibilities. It was also useful to hear what works and what does not. Since then I set up a new format as the gender focal person in our municipality and started to advise our council on planning issues and how to better mainstream gender needs. I am aware now that there is no gender-neutral area. As a gender focal person, I successfully initiated, developed and slowly implement an action plan with specific actions and resources for gender awareness and women issues. One good example is the recently established cooperation with NGOs to stimulate educational activities for citizens in the municipality about gender equality and issuing adequate publications aimed at promoting gender equality in local politics.”
– Ms. Gunel Mammadova, Deputy Chair of the Gakh City Council
On the other hand, with the new legal developments and requirements in Georgia, the country had the chance to learn from the good practice DAYAQ provided. Inspired by the DAYAQ mentoring programme, in two of the nine regions in Georgia, networks of women in local politics and administration were piloted in 2018. In 6-months intervals, the women went through 3 – 4 training sessions on topics such as “Human Rights/Gender Equality”, “Need Assessment techniques and tools how to reflect needs in local plans”, “Leadership and public speaking, advocacy and networking tools” and first steps in approaching gender-responsive budgeting (GRB). The success of the first piloting phase resulted in further training cycles in 2019. From April 2020, in the new module “Good Governance for Local Development (GGLD) in the South Caucasus”, it is planned to establish training networks in more regions, aiming to connect the women across the country.
In Armenia a new networking format has been successfully piloted and implemented “Women’s Empowerment Fireside Chats”. Women in local politics and municipal administrations can exchange in an informal setting with women at the top of international organizations, such as the USAID Head of mission in Armenia or the GIZ Country Director. The aim is to create a platform for informal dialogue on equal participation of men and women, to share experience that participants face in their role as female managers, and to exchange ideas on how to better showcase successful role models. The intimate format allows to discuss sensitives issues such as sexual harassment. Given the positive feedback, Firesides Chats in 2019 took place in remote regions, to reach and engage more women.

In order to capture the positive impact of the activities, another outcome indicator measures the efficiency and relevance of activities supported by GIZ through pre-self-assessments and post-self-assessments 6 months after the last training. By the end of 2018, 75% of the participants consider their role in local development processes as strengthened in the above-mentioned activities in Georgia and Armenia, with an increasing trend.

Taking on a big fish – Gender-Responsive Budgeting (GRB)
2018 proved to be the year when Gender within the framework of the programme activity would take off and go for the ‘big fish’ in the pursuit of Gender Equality: GRB at sub-national level. Money makes the world go ‘round, but without the gender perspective, for some, it might go around slower or even not at all. However, while researching experiences with GRB in GIZ’s implementation, we came across a certain hesitation, since it seemed to be a mammoth task.
GIZ gladly supported its partners in taking on the challenge of bringing GRB and (municipal) programme-based budgets together with the long-term goal to use public spending for the promotion of Gender Equality. In order to maximize results and cross-country learning, a gender network within the programme was established: Each country team has an advisor dedicated to promoting gender-relevant activities in their country, plus one at regional level dedicated to regional exchange. In a strong spirit of cooperation national trends, developments or elaborated documents are exchanged and discussed on a regular basis.
The process was initiated when in June 2018 the regional Gender conference with women in local politics and administration took place and the topic of GRB at sub-national level was “tested”. In the following months, all three countries have picked-up the topic according to their framework conditions. Yet, the regional conference itself already prompted significant change:
“Sharing experience with the ladies from different countries was interesting and innovative for me. After I attended the regional conference on GRB, I realized that quantitative data should be segregated by needs of men and women. After the training I started the inquiry in 23 administrative units”. Two priorities have been identified through the inquiry: early marriage and domestic violence. Based on the knowledge gained on gender budgeting and budget planning, Marina invited local government and non-government sector representatives to discuss the gender budget related issues in Gurjaani municipality. She also invited media to the event. “Initially the attitude was totally unserious, male members of the council were joking and laughing at this issue [GRB], this was a novelty for them. At the last meeting the attitude was changed, the room was full, and the discussions were serious. I would like to thank GIZ, as the training increased my knowledge and skills, so that I could manage the process”.
– Ms. Marina Sirbilashvili, Chair of Gender Equality Council Gurjaani Municipality
Armenia was the first country in late 2018 to have a training on GRB for municipal financial experts in Yerevan. Afterwards, a study visit to Austria took place to learn from one of the leading countries worldwide on that matter. As a result, in 2019 the first four pilot municipalities are already including the gender perspective in their programme-based budgets and more are to follow. The experiences are currently being collected to prepare guidelines on GRB on municipal level. Trainings that address the specific national needs are crucial, as is clearly shown in the story of a man, who once was strong skeptic towards the idea of GRB and now a driving force for GRB in Armenian municipalities:
“I was absorbing information like a sponge, and the discussions with peers from other countries made me realize that in fact we do need GRB in our municipalities. I don’t know why, but in Armenia we perceive gender mainstreaming as a concept related to a social third-gender. But I believe that men and women should have equal rights, and when we study the GRB methodology and terminology, we understand that the budget spent on both should be equal. […] In our society, especially in our community debates between men and women are not yet well perceived, our communal mentality still leads to misperception of women who express ideas, which contradict men’s logic. In this context, the implementation of various projects proposed by women will lead to the change of mentality and prove that women do have the same rights to voice their needs and make suggestions.”
– Mr. Gevorg Yeghiazaryan, Deputy Mayor of Ashtarak municipality
Azerbaijan followed with a study visit to Vienna as it is the self-proclaimed “City of Women” to learn more on institutional mechanisms for gender equality. The study tour was closely followed by a training on GRB for ministerial representatives to create awareness for the topic. In an unprecedented manner, the State Committee for Women, Children and Family is persuading the Ministry of Finance to pursue the topic of GRB. To draw from experiences in the region and with the support from GIZ, Azerbaijan invited a Georgian delegation for an exchange on Gender Focal Points and respective institutional mechanisms as well as on GRB.
Shortly after the regional conference, GRB was included in the municipal training networks in Georgia. Out of 69 municipalities, 51 have a gender action plan and 23 could successfully lobby for the allocation of necessary financial resources from the municipal budget. Additionally, after hearing from Armenia of their good experiences in Austria on GRB, they followed suit and gathered information relevant to the Georgian framework conditions. Right now, guidelines are being elaborated on how to integrate GRB into programme-based budgets.
Meanwhile our Partners of all three countries asked to learn from Ukraine’s experience, since Ukraine is internationally leading on the roll-out of GRB at all governmental levels since 2014. A joint study tour to Kyiv is taking place in December 2019 with participants from central as well as sub-national level.

Empowered people – empowered structures: stronger together
Combining the approach of strengthening women in local politics and administrations with structural change in institutions reflects an important learning process. Gender Equality cannot be achieved solely by strengthening women, if the institutional setting is not equally prepared for change. It puts unnecessary expectation and pressure on women to initiate transformative change and risking to label Gender Equality a ‘women’s issue’. One-sided empowerment might even generate hostility in societies anchored in traditional gender roles. As the learning process and approach to promoting Gender Equality in current programme show, if institutional structures and women are both simultaneously adequately strengthened, a virtuous (instead of a vicious) circle of mutual empowerment can be established.

This knowledge has been translated into the new GGLD Module. Now one outcome indicator measures the success of strengthening gender-sensitive governance at sub-national level.
The bottom line: the drive of our partners in the South Caucasus to promote the Gender Equality at sub-national level with support of GIZ has only one way – forward.