Sexual favours in exchange for employment, harassment at the workplace, messages containing sexual content – accusations made by women against Zviad Devdariani.
At least 10 women have accused Zviad Devdariani, a human rights defender and the head of the Civil Development Agency (CiDA) NGO of sexual harassment.
Sexual favours in exchange for employment, harassment at the workplace, messages via social networks containing sexual content, undesirable (unacceptable) physical contact – all accusations made by women against Devdariani.
The women prefer to remain anonymous; however, at least two of the journalists who interviewed the women, along with several human rights defenders and the Public Defender know their identity. They later met with the sexual harassment victims and personally heard their stories.
In a statement made on the Public Defender’s official website, she confirmed that the stories she heard from the women contained signs of possible sexual harassment as well as sexual violence.
Devdariani responded saying he rejects the accusations and that he is a victim of intentional blackmail. Devdariani further says that he is ready to prove his innocence and truth in court.
“I confess that my extramarital affair is my mistake, though I expressly reject any claims of violence or harassment!” he said.
Devdariani has been working in the human rights field for years. He continuously works on issues such as violence against women, media independence and the rights of various minorities. Devdariani often participates in TV talk shows, attends rallies or demonstrations by civil activists including those organized by the Movement of Women.
Eight women talked with Tabula internet-magazine about Devdariani sexually harassing them. The Netgazeti website published stories of two of the women who prefer to remain anonymous due to the reactions that their family members and society in general might have.
In one of the stories the woman says that Devdariani invited her to his office and said that
‘in exchange for some favours, he will employ her’, with the favours including sexual contact as well:
“It was already evening, when I reached the office he opened the door then closed and locked it. There was nobody else at the office. He started asking what would happen if he hired me. He said that he liked me so much that he could even divorce his wife – it was shocking. He started to touch me physically and asked for a kiss; I said that I didn’t feel well and I wanted to leave. “Please, do me one more favour – I am mad about women’s feet and if you want to go, take off your shoes and show me your feet.” I wanted to leave so much that I took off my shoes. He started to kiss my feet and I felt very bad. I asked him to take me home and that I will come back tomorrow. He took me home and was talking about his book on the way. He said that he would give me the book as a sign of respect. I just didn’t go back the next day.“
In another story published by Netgazeti, a former employee of CiDA writes that she was also subjected to sexual harassment by Devdariani:
“Devdariani was my head. I was 23 years old then. I screwed up some task at work and he wrote me that he would go with me the next time. “Sit in the car, don’t be scared, I am not going to bite you,” – his tone was imperative. I thought he might fire me from work. I supported my family with my income, so, of course I was very nervous about it. This was when our FB chat started. For 2-3 days he wrote me consecutively. The only thing I am ashamed of is that I almost got caught in an affair; I was really scared that he would fire me. I started to send CVs frantically to leave this job as soon as possible.”
How it all started
The scandal arose when Nino Lomjaria, the Public Defender, recommended Devdariani as a potential candidate to the membership of the Supervisory Board of the Public Broadcaster.
The information was actively discussed in a closed Facebook Group by the Movement of Women (the group contains more than 1 900 women who discusses issues regarding the conditions and rights of women in Georgia. Various rallies, demonstrations and activities are also planned via this group).
Several women wrote in the group that it was unacceptable to elect Devdariani to this position:
“Zviad Devdariani showed misconduct towards numerous women, and one day these women will stand up and speak out about everything,” – wrote one of the women while the other women supported her.
After specific stories emerged, the Movement of Women published an official letter asking the Public Defender not to name Devdariani as potential candidate. They further asked her to study the stories of the women who accused Devdariani of sexual harassment.
Zviad Devdariani rejects accusations
Devdariani renounced his nomination for the position the very next day, though he does not confess to being guilty and believes that he is the victim of intentional blackmail from the Movement of Women who are trying to keep him away from the Supervisory Board.
“We hear groundless accusations of violence and crime. It was not difficult for me to confess to my mistake when I clearly see it and I am always ready for that. If these accusations go beyond general statements, also social networks and groups, I express my readiness to continue any disputes through legal means,” said Devdariani in a statement.
According to the statement, his colleagues and employees at CiDA support him as they do not believe in the accusations set against Zviad Devdariani. His wife also supports him, saying in a FB status update that she believes in the innocence of her husband.
To go to court or not?
For now, none of the women has filed any cases at the court, though human rights defenders and representatives of non-governmental organizations call the women to keep fighting and show their solidarity
The Coalition for Equality, an organization comprised of eight non-governmental organizations, showed their support via a special announcement made to all the women who have been subjected to sexual harassment and call on them to use any and all legal means for defending their rights.
“The coalition believes that exposing sexual harassment and showing corresponding legal response is a very important move in fighting against one of the most popular and hidden forms of the discrimination against women,” read the announcement.
The Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA) NGO expressed their readiness to provide assistance to the victims: “We would like to show our public support to all the women who have been subjected to sexual harassment and will use all the legal tools to defend their rights,” wrote GYLA in their statement.
Society’s reaction: Speak out women!
The story was frequently talked about on social networks. In Georgia where society consists of patriarchal features, women often do not talk about sexual harassment as they receive negative reactions from the people. More often than not there are cases when people accuse the victim not the offender.
The women who told the stories about Devdariani have already been criticized on why they remained silent for so long: “Where have these women been until now, and why were they silent?”
They have also been called “poison-pens” and asked to make their identity public and show proof of sexual harassment. Some of them believe that the affairs the women are talking about are merely a form of flirting and not of violence:
“Based on the ten poison-pens the life of a man is now ruined! Devdariani probably refused one of them and she got mad, wanting revenge!”
“I am pretty, I dress well, though nobody ever dared to try such a thing with me. It looks as if he might have been provoked by these women.”
“Where is the proof? Where were these women before, why were they silent?”
The case around Devdariani is the first where several women simultaneously show bravery by speaking out with human rights defenders and journalists about the issue. The #metoo movement in Georgia has received a lot of criticism and support, saying that the case is a new page in defending the history of women rights in Georgia.
“It has been the third night for women keeping their eyes wide open. We have never had such solidarity. We shall find our voice. Don’t be afraid! Speak out!”
“The men offering work in exchange for sexual favours are bastards and should be cast out of normal society, whether it is Devdariani or some supermarket manager.”
“This is a country where women are killed and abused, where the only accused is a woman! How can the men defending the offenders look in the eyes of their daughters?! They will ask questions and you will have no answers then,” comment made by one of many Facebook users.