In Georgia, cultural values and social mores remain deeply traditional, tending to be strongly influenced by religion. In this socially conservative environment, women and minorities are easily marginalized. One would not expect, then, a female clergy member of a minority religion to have much influence on the nation’s conversation about human rights. But that is exactly what Embassy Tbilisi’s nominee for the 2014 Secretary’s International Women of Courage Award has achieved. Despite being a woman working in a predominately male religious field, and a religious minority operating in a society dominated by one faith, Bishop Rusudan Gotsiridze of the Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia bravely confronts and challenges accepted cultural practices by advocating for gender equality and for the equal protection of all of Georgia’s minorities, including religious and sexual minorities.
As a woman holding a position of leadership in a church, Bishop Gotsiridze occupies a unique and respected role, challenging the perception of the role of women in society. In Georgia, women continue to lag behind men in terms of social and economic equality and violence against women remains a problem. Bishop Gotsiridze contributes frequently to gender equality, anti-gender-based violence, and other women’s initiatives. In addition, she serves as a gender consultant for Mercy Corps in Georgia, is an expert on gender and religious minority issues for the International Center on Conflict and Negotiation, and was the coordinator of a United Nations Population Fund project to combat gender-based violence in Georgia.
Despite being a representative of a religious minority, she skillfully acts as a trusted mediator between religious groups. Minorities, and in particular religious minorities, have been historically marginalized. With her church, Bishop Gotsiridze has spearheaded a number of efforts to promote tolerance and equality in Georgia, including the establishment of interfaith dialogues that have successfully worked to protect the freedom of religious expression in Georgia, especially for the Muslim minority. Furthermore, she serves as an elected member of the Public Defender’s Office’s religious council, an interfaith body charged with advising the Public Defender on religious issues. Her willingness to advocate on behalf of issues not directly related to her, and yet still find a way to engage in meaningful dialogue with the religious community and the Georgian government, demonstrates why Bishop Gotsiridze has become an influential advocate, and is why she is a winner of the 2014 Secretary’s International Women of Courage Award.
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