Economic and Social Participation of Vulnerable Displaced and Local Population in the South Caucasus (EPIC)

Gender Equality Situation in Georgia

Georgia became independent in 1991. Since independence, it has made efforts to improve the situation of gender equality. Women’s economic empowerment is seen as one of the main goals to access gender equality and Georgia has committed politically and legally to it. The 2014 Association Agreement between Georgia and the EU also requires Georgia to bring national legislation into conformance with international standards. From 2003 onwards, after the so-called ‘Rose Revolution’ the constitutional reforms of the new, neoliberal government transformed Georgia into a global showcase for the benefits of economic deregulation. The policies as minimum wage and unemployment benefits and infrastructures like labour inspection were regarded as Soviet legacy, thus, fully abolished.

The deregulation of the economy did not result in economic growth; Therefore, since 2013, under the framework of the new social-economic development strategy of Georgia1 the country made several steps for the improvement and harmonization of labour and employment legislation with European standards. As a result of this strategy, the unemployment rate dropped from 23.6% in 2013 to 17% in 2020. However, challenges persist in area of women’s economic participation. The economic development in the country is uneven and is mainly centered in urban areas, particularly in the capital – Tbilisi.

  • Women experience a 10.4 % employment gap, and 17.7 % raw pay gap.
  • Women are predominantly employed in agriculture, which corroborates their larger share as unpaid family workers.2
  • Participation of women ages 15 and over in the formal labour market is lower than that of men and occupations are strongly segregated by gender (with many women employed in care or service sectors).3
  • Ownership of core assets is higher for men than women, with the widest gender gap in ownership of agricultural land.4
  • Women undertake at least 2.5 times more unpaid labour than men.5

The COVID 19 pandemic further exacerbated existing inequalities. The economic consequences of COVID 19 will most probably result in further recessions related to the economic strength of women. According to the study, Rapid Gender Assessment of the COVID-19 Situation in Georgia (2020) women and girls, particularly those who live with disabilities, are unequally affected by the consequences of the lockdown measures and their voices have not been heard in the pandemic response policies. As a result, under the pandemic restrictions, the situation of informally employed women became particularly distressing.

EPIC Approach to the Problem

The project ‘Economic and Social Participation of Vulnerable Displaced and Local Population in the South Caucasus (EPIC)’ is funded under the Special Initiative displacement and regionally implemented in Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan, since 2017. The project contributed to sustainable development goal 5, namely gender equality, during its first and second phase and continues to actively enhance it in the region. Within the third phase the project upgraded its gender approach to Gender Marker 2 (GG2), prioritizing gender throughout all its components as well as dedicating a separate component on women’s’ economic empowerment.

With the intention of supporting economic and social participation of vulnerable displaced and local population, EPIC during its previous phases intervened through the following fields of action: Strengthening capacities of the public sector, increasing employability, assisting micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs), helping beneficiaries to create jobs and empowering vulnerable displaced and local communities to stimulate social cohesion and engagement. EPIC considers a two-fold approach that combines technical skills development with personal/social/ life-skills development. Importantly, gender was considered from the beginning as 50% of the beneficiaries from almost all components of the project were targeted to be women. EPIC aims at economic and social participation as multidimensional and different aspects of participation also benefit from each other – towards a holistic empowerment.

Employability approach

In terms of the economic empowerment, the project initiated an entrepreneurship and employability approach which had a significant impact on women empowerment. The strength of this approach is the focus on personal empowerment, raising self-esteem as well as self-consciousness. The series of group training and personal coaching lasts 5 months and includes also, active involvement of the private sector, job matching and networking. Next to personal development, the training modules also included trainings and guidance on entrepreneurship development.

Results: 110 women found jobs, initiated start-ups and improved employability competences. The in-kind grants have been provided by EPIC.

MSME Support

Significantly, the economic component of the project also encompassed the support to existing MSMEs through development of business competences and provision of business grant schemes. Most of the women, who ran their businesses, became role models for other members of their communities and a source of motivation to become economically active, thus making a multiplier effect at a local level that instigated a positive impact in terms of knowledge generation, empowerment and enhanced business potential. Furthermore, the capacitated MSMEs created new job places and provided employments to other vulnerable persons. Consequently, project economic component activities generated effective results.

Result: 30 women promoted their business potential and created employment opportunities.

Social Participation

With reference to social participation, the project has supported women clubs in five different regions of the country with a variety of capacity development measures, including trainings, workshops and exchanges regarding topics such as gender equality, leadership, self-defense, human rights etc. and with methods such as forum theatre and other innovative approaches. The special focus has been placed on gender-related topics, especially gender-based violence and the violation of human rights. Women have been also provided with psychological support. The members of the women club learn how to overcome unsafe situations and how to help others as well. This was continued throughout the pandemic and was a great support to the women.

Results: As a result, 164 women became more empowered, open, communicative, confident and do not anymore set themselves boundaries to only devote themselves to domestic work but feel empowered to beneficial to their communities too. Importantly, project also worked with young women to promote their potential and stimulate the positive change.

“We should not be dependent on stereotypes and should try to always speak up and express what we dislike. We should give examples to others in order to move on to the future for the better. Even though I couldn’t even have imagined it before, something unbelievable happened to me – I became the head of the Shaumiani Women’s Club, I decided to continue with my education and become a student at the age of 38. That one dream, the fulfillment of which I thought was unimaginable, is my goal today.”

Natia (Shaumiani)

“Before I discovered the programme, I could not open up, I was shy and reserved. The programme and the training helped me to gain knowledge about what is best for my business. Because of the difficult disease that I have, I was doing chemotherapy for 8 years, but this programme discovered me and thanks to it, today I am a successful woman.”

Nino (Jvari)

Publication “Chemi Sakhelia”

This publication “Chemi Sakhelia” (“My Name Is”) is a tangible evidence of the EPIC project’s positive impact on society, especially gender-wise. These real stories of women demonstrate that it is possible to change the existing reality with courage, motivation, and willingness, despite being a woman living in an unequal environment. Thus, the publication aims to serve as an awareness raising and learning tool for IDP and local population, especially among women and youth.

The idea of publishing a document which would unite beneficiaries’ success stories was not envisaged in the beginning. However, while collecting the stories for the reporting purposes, it became clear that the stories of these women needed to be heard and read by more people than just a project team. Considering this, the programme team decided to gather it all as one document and share it with the bigger audience with the aim of increasing the level of confidence, motivation, and participation among women, especially among the most marginalized ones.

The publication unveils stories of nine women of different age, background, abilities, and desires. Most of them are IDPs from socially vulnerable background, living in rural areas and/or IDP settlements. Some of these women have “atypical jobs for women”, like working on the wood, being a farmer, etc., but overall, women in the publication are like every other woman in their communities: they have jobs, have families and friends, different hobbies, but if we look closer, we will see that these women have something special – throughout their lives, they have found the kind of strength, they needed to change themselves and their environment for the better. Despite many obstacles in their lives, they gathered courage to face difficulties and took the steps leading them to success.

Monitoring and Evaluation

The project implemented a qualitative KOMPASS study which provides an in-depth view to record the perspectives of the beneficiaries. The empirical analysis was undertaken using the data maintained from 35 beneficiaries of economic and social components of which 26 were women. Notably, the study once again proved the effectiveness of the above-mentioned activities and their vital role in the life of women beneficiaries.

Nothing about us without us

Cooperation process plays a major role during all the stages of project planning and implementation. EPIC and its partners have carefully adjusted their strategic objectives and operational approach to being gender-responsive/transformative and reflect LNOB as cross-cutting basis. Because of existing patriarchal norms, stigmas, and bias among the local population, mostly living in the rural areas, have been crucial from the start of EPIC to unite around the aim of combating gender related labels by empowering women socially and economically and enhancing inclusion. Together with targeting women and supporting them directly, EPIC actively involved them in designing activities.

The united approach of the programme has reached its peak of visibility during one of the programme’s major challenges, namely during the Covid-19 pandemic, due to which EPIC has launched its response. Together with eight implementing partner organisations, and community involvement, the programme started to implement activities adapted to Covid reality like provision of hygienic kits, transforming activities from physical to online format, providing those in need with laptops for accessing online offers (including schooling), adding the services of psychological support, as well as providing support in the rehabilitation of elderly daycare center.

Three key success factors are the following:
➢ Flexibility towards the unexpected challenges.
➢ Team spirit – sometimes problems are better solved together.
➢ Promptness and willingness to take risks.

1 The Government of Georgia: The Social-Economic development Strategy of Georgia, “Georgia 2020”; available online at:
2 UN Women, Analysis of the Gender Pay Gap and Gender Inequality in the Labour Market in Georgia, 2020; available online at:
3 National Statistics Office of Georgia, Men and Women in Georgia: Statistical Publication, 2020
4 GEOSTAT and ADB, Pilot Survey on Measuring Asset Ownership and Entrepreneurship from a Gender Perspective, 2018
5 ILO, Women at Work: Trends, 2016

All illustrations in the document are part of the publication “Chemi Sakhelia”. They were specifically drawn for the publication by Georgian artist – Elena Kavtaradze.