Recognizing Women: Caring for the Vulnerable

CNEWA recognizes the contributions of women to our mission in solidarity with the poor and vulnerable throughout the world. Today, and for the rest of March, we are highlighting the stories of women in CNEWA’s world, as told in ONE magazine and on our blog through the years.

The St. Barbare Mother and Child Care Center in Tbilisi, Georgia, works to ensure that women and children are not left behind in Georgia, where women, particularly mothers and wives, are held to deeply patriarchal ways of life.

Below is an excerpt from ONE’s June 2021 story “Oasis for the Vulnerable.” The full article may be accessed here.

Fatima worked as a housekeeper for a Tbilisi hotel before COVID-19 paralyzed Georgia’s hospitality sector, putting thousands of people out of work. With nowhere to go, the unemployed, single mother left the Georgian capital with her three children for Gori, about 55 miles west of Tbilisi, to live with her father. Then, her brother was released from prison and moved in, too.

Fatima is no stranger to domestic violence or to moving in times of crisis, having been displaced by war in Abkhazia, a breakaway region in Georgia’s northwest, 30 years earlier. To protect her children from her brother’s increasing abuse, they fled to a Gori police station. The authorities made phone calls and found them a spot at the St. Barbare Mother and Child Care Center in Tbilisi.

Fatima recalls the welcome she and her children received when they arrived.

“We were hungry and Caritas prepared us a supra (feast) and gave us clothes,” Fatima says, as her emotions begin to overwhelm her. “My family is one big tragedy, but this is my little paradise.”

An aura of safety, warmth and compassion permeates the center — one not often found in state shelters, where people tend to be treated as numbers. St. Barbare’s beneficiaries — single mothers who are often victims of violence — receive sincere, personal attention.

Founded in 2017, St. Barbare’s helps women manage the crises and challenges of single motherhood and transition into new, independent living. The project works alongside the Georgian government, which chooses eligible beneficiaries. The state has no budget to operate such programs and depends on organizations, such as Caritas, to help Georgia’s neediest citizens.

The center can accommodate up to 15 beneficiaries at a time for a maximum one-year stay. Staff includes a full-time, round-the-clock babysitter, so that no one is ever alone, as well as a cook, psychologist, social worker and pediatrician. Gvantsa Bakradze, the center’s program coordinator, says it is not easy to prepare single mothers for independent living within a year’s time.

“It’s hard to leave, everything is here: a roof, food, childcare,” Ms. Bakradze says. “We have to nurture self-motivation; no one is going to take care of you forever.”

In Georgia, family values are deeply ingrained into a patriarchal concept of “tradition” that typically goes unquestioned. When the fabric of the family unit is broken through poverty, violence and substance abuse, women, who are expected to care for the family, bear the greatest burden.

According to a 2017 U.N. study, one in seven women in Georgia are victims of domestic violence. Yet, nearly a quarter of women surveyed believe wife-beating is justified under certain circumstances and that a woman should obey her husband even if she disagrees with him.

“We have a girl here that was married off when she was 16 and abused by her husband and his family until she ran back home with her baby, where she was abused by her father,” Ms. Bakradze recounts.

The girl, an ethnic Azerbaijani, is now 20, uneducated but learning Georgian and manicuring through the center, although she shows a gifted talent for cooking, which Ms. Bakradze and her team are encouraging her to develop.

“On Nowruz (Persian spring equinox festival), she prepared a dish of sweets and delivered it to everyone. It was wonderful!” says Ms. Bakradze.

“We have Christians, Muslims, atheists under one roof and we celebrate everything together. We do things like Christmas and Easter twice — both Catholic and Orthodox — and people love it. Everyone cooks together,” she adds.

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