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Female Labor Force Remains Stagnant in Georgia

By Mariam Tabatadze
Friday, August 1
Despite the rapidly growing Georgian economy, with the exception of a recessionary period due to the combination of the global financial crisis and the August 2008 war, employment of women has remained largely stagnant. In a country where traditional roles for women remain widespread, women are often discouraged to seek employment, either as a result of internalized patriarchal notions, or more often, due to external constraints from their domestic obligations. Though data on these issues is largely sporadic, the World Bank database presents an interesting opportunity for analyzing the female labor force of a country that aims to adopt European values.

It appears that the percent of females above the age of fifteen, who choose to participate in the labor force has risen only two percentage points in the period between 2000 and 2012, from 55 to 57.4 percent of the general female population, which is a miniscule number for a period of twelve years. Of particular interest is the period between 2010 and 2012, when the Georgian economy grew at an average of 6.5 percent – the male labor force increased by almost double percentage points than the female participation rate. This could be an indicator that the benefits of GDP growth in Georgia are relatively skewed towards benefitting the male labor force. In other words, during a period of economic prosperity, when firms start to hire new recruits, their preferences may be for hiring male employees over females.

Perhaps one of the most interesting data points is the ratio of female employers as a percent of general employment within the country. It has risen by only 0.1% in a decade; from 0.4 percent in 2000 to 0.5 in 2010. Such a low number of female employers may be a contributing factor to the lack of new female recruits during a period of economic prosperity.

There are a few noteworthy positive trends, namely the percent of female top managers increased significantly from approximately 20% in 2008 to a 32% in 2013. If the trend continues, Georgia could have female top managers in half of its firms within the next few years, given that the economy keeps its steady growth. Another positive trend is the drastic rate of increase in the percentage of female legislators, senior officials and managers. The latest data available in the World Bank database for this category is from 2007, but it shows a significant increase to 37% from the 19% reported in 2000.

It is worth mentioning that this latter category is most likely to be influenced by normative pressure from international and nongovernmental organizations. While private sector hiring remains largely under the discretion of individual firm owners, public sector hiring can be subject to closer scrutiny from civil society groups and activists inquiring about gender balance at the workplace.

On the one hand, such positive pressure and Georgia’s desire to advance itself towards EU standards may have contributed to the rise in the number of female legislators and senior officials providing professional women more opportunities in the public sector. On the other hand, the increased number of female decision-makers in the public sector may result in the formation of policies oriented towards creating more balanced hiring practices and better conditions for female employees in terms of maternity leave, flexible working hours and non-discriminatory wages.

While policy-makers continue to nudge employers towards more gender balance in the workplace, it is imperative that the culture and perceptions of working women change within the Georgian society. A recent UNDP study, “Public Perceptions on Gender Equality in Politics and Business,” published in 2013 shows, that the views regarding traditional gender roles remain deeply engrained. Not much has changed in terms of gender stereotypes throughout the years and even more alarming, is that there seems to be little disagreement on this topic among generations. A large majority, 88 percent of the survey participants thought that the breadwinner of the family has to be the male, only 54 percent thought that politics is appropriate for women and 46 percent agreed that women have a difficult time owning businesses, because of domestic chores.

Campaigns such as, “Dad, Read Me A Book” initiated by UNFPA to increase fathers’ involvement in family life, serve an important role of redistributing family chores and the responsibility of raising a child more equally among men and women. Mirian Jugheli, one of the initiators of the campaigns says, “[we] aim to raise awareness on male involvement in family matters, in particular by sharing stories of Georgian fathers.” Female labor participation cannot increase, and the economy cannot achieve its full potential, if traditional notions of gender roles prevail. It would be a tremendous loss to continue to waste the talent and intelligence of Georgian women.