Georgian Rugby Unites to End Violence against Women and Girls

By Japharidze, Irina | UN Chronicle, September 2016 | Go to article overview

Georgian Rugby Unites to End Violence against Women and Girls


Japharidze, Irina, UN Chronicle


In 2010, unusual billboards appeared in the streets of Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia. From the billboards, stars of the most popular sport in the country--rugby--called on society to engage in efforts to end violence against women and girls. Since the issues of domestic violence and violence against women and girls were taboo in Georgia and not openly discussed, the message was unexpected and even shocking. It was especially surprising to see rugby players, usually perceived as representatives of one of the most violent and masculine of sports, speaking out about it.

The innovative advocacy campaign followed the establishment of a partnership between the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women) and the Georgian Rugby Union. When rugby players learned about the disturbing situation in the country concerning violence against women and girls, they immediately expressed their readiness to help solve the problem. Thus the idea for the first joint project was born. In March 2012, tens of thousands of fans attending a match between the Georgian and Russian national rugby teams at one of Tbilisi's largest stadiums were the first to hear the announcement: "this game is dedicated to the United Nations Secretary-General's Campaign UNiTE to End Violence Against Women".

At the time, a major part of Georgian society perceived violence against women and girls, and domestic violence in particular, as a "family matter". People thought that society should stay out of it. In 2009, 78.3 per cent of the population shared this view. (1) Victims were reluctant to report even severe cases of violence. That situation has changed. According to a study conducted by UN-Women in 2013, only 25 per cent of Georgians surveyed still believed that domestic violence was a family matter, while 69 per cent thought that it was a crime. (2)

Along with the relevant government agencies, international and non-governmental organizations, media and other actors, the public awareness-raising campaign conducted with the participation of Georgian rugby players has made a significant contribution to changing attitudes. Because rugby is beloved in Georgia and rugby players are the most respected among the country's athletes, the example they have set for other men and boys has been profound.

The billboard appeals were followed by videos starring rugby players condemning violence against women and girls that were viewed by millions on television and social media. The goal of the campaign was to raise awareness among men and boys about violence against women and girls and to promote zero tolerance for such acts. As the next step, Georgian rugby players began meeting in person with young men and boys throughout Georgia. The discussions typically start with sport and the unwritten rules of the game: rugby is a gentlemen's sport founded on the principles of equality, mutual respect and support. Rugby is a big family, where everyone is equal; equality is the lifestyle for all players. The rugby players then convey the messages of the campaign promoting zero tolerance towards violence against women and girls. The meetings usually end with rugby training and the distribution of rugby gear branded with the campaign messages.

The meetings with young men and boys are always packed, and often adults and elderly people attend, too. Sometimes, mostly in regions of Georgia where the problem is especially acute, participants initially disagree with the rugby players. Ultimately, however, they begin to reflect on the message and speak out.

"Everyone loves rugby and respects rugby players in Georgia. That is why it is important to use the authority of and respect for rugby players to help shape values of the younger generations for a fair and equal environment for all, free from violence", says Lekso Gugava, a member of the Georgia National Rugby Union Team, nicknamed "the Lelos".

Apart from the regular meetings with young men and boys, it is now a tradition for the Lelos to devote several international matches per year to the cause of ending violence against women and girls. …

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