The Reading Room
Kato Mikeladze at the Beginnings of Georgian Feminism
A hundred years ago, even in the most difficult political situation, when the Tsarist Russian Empire was collapsing and Georgia was fighting for independence, there were fearless women who fought for equality and emancipation of women.
One such outstanding figure was the Georgian female journalist, feminist and public figure, Kato Mikeladze (1878-1942), who graduated from the Faculty of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Brussels, and lived in Paris until 1915. Before that, she studied in Moscow for a pedagogical course, but in 1906 she was forced to leave Russia and go to Switzerland. For financial help, Kato turned to the famous Georgian Catholic philanthropists, the brothers Zubalashvili, with whose help she moved to Paris. Beginning in 1916, she lectured in Georgia about women’s rights and their situation. In 1917-1918, she published a feminist newspaper “The Voice of a Georgian Woman”.
After she returned to her homeland, Kato began to look for like-minded people with whom she would fight for the civil and political rights of women. Broad access to education and the struggle for voting for women became the basis of the struggle, as in European countries. In this regard, Kato Mikeladze is also the founder of the suffragist movement in Georgia at the beginning of the twentieth century. In the 1910s, Kato advocated the political activation of women and thought that a fundamental critique of the existing culture was needed to improve the political status of women.
In November 1917, a session of the National Council of Georgia was held at which Kato Mikeladze was supposed to make a speech but unfortunately Akaki Chkhenkeli, the chairman of the Council, did not allow her to do so (the National Council was a body formed by major political parties and social organizations. In May 1918, the Council declared the Democratic Republic of Georgia as an independent state). Later, Kato published her speech in which one reads:
“We believe that the chivalrous spirit of Georgian democracy and its representatives will carefully review the issue of women, and when issuing laws to which the governments of Russia and Georgia demand the same obedience of women, you will face the fair demand that those laws equally meet the needs of both sexes…Since woman is the same rational and sensual being and doer of evil and good as man, we therefore seek a form of government in our homeland that will better secure personal and national liberty in full solidarity with neighboring nations and the principle of people’s sovereignty in the fullest sense of the word. In other words, managing the country with equal participation of both sexes”. (The Voice of a Georgian Woman, #32, 1917: 3-4).
Under the leadership of Kato Mikeladze, in 1917-1918 the regional network “Women’s League” was founded. According to her, a women should have had full human and civil rights in Georgia, and “for this, first of all, equality of rights is needed. It is impossible for the nation, the people, to preserve their freedom, where there is no legal equality between the sexes. Only those people can interfere with freedom, where there is no slavery, oppression and humiliation” (The Voice of a Georgian Woman, #17, 1918, 1). Kato presented the main program of the fight for women’s rights in the very first issue of the newspaper “The Voice of a Georgian Woman”:
- Considering today’s greatest moment in history and disenfranchisement of women in the modern capitalist system, we aim to restore the political-civil rights of women; and spreading the idea of women’s emancipation in Georgia and joining like-minded people in an organizational manner.
- A women is as intelligent a person as a man and should enjoy full human rights.
- A woman should be given the same vote in elections, and be elected, both in the legislative assembly, and in provincial and municipal government, as every male citizen, who is not disqualified by any vice, or natural defect, or disease.
- The present inheritance privilege of males should be abolished, and each child, female or male, should have an equal share in the property of their parents.
- Mother’s right to her children should be restored.
- The same pay for equal work.
- Civil and criminal law should be revised, and sex privilege and disparity in sentencing should be abolished. The regulation of prostitution and forced searches of victims of depravity should be eliminated.
- The same upbringing and education for both sexes. In order to fulfill all these needs, we consider it necessary to give women a vote and a place in the next Constituent Assembly where the republican constitution will be drafted. (The Voice of a Georgian Woman, #1, 1917, 1-2)
For Kato Mikeladze, the Democratic Republic represented a political organization that best ensured the rights and individual freedom of every person and citizen. At the same time, for her the law (in particular, the republican law) established the limit of freedom. Finally, she concluded that “a free Georgia needs true citizens of both sexes, who understand the need of the people and their homeland, which only an equal civic life can give them. Today, all Georgian women should share this opinion and start with one accord to restore our human rights”. (The Voice of a Georgian Woman, #1, 1917, 2)
By the way, it should be said that the elections of the Constituent Assembly of the Democratic Republic of Georgia were held in February 1919, and the first session was opened in March. Out of 130 members of the Assembly, five were women, including one Muslim.
Georgian social democrats (the Democratic Republic of Georgia was the first social democratic state in the world) were not very interested in increasing women's rights and women's emancipation, and after the Soviet occupation in February 1921, this issue was completely removed from the agenda. At that time, Kato finally settled in Tbilisi, she had to live under Soviet pressure. In the 1930s, she worked at the National Archives and the Museum of the Revolution, and from 1940 Kato supported herself by giving private lessons of the French language. She died in 1942; her grave is still considered lost.