Who Creates Puspussy — a Safe Space Where #Womenprotection Is Taught

ფოტო: ვახო ქარელი/მედია აპრილი

“Shoulders spread, back straight, head up, walking and sitting confidently – we have to use our body language and voice firmly and convincingly for it to be one of our weapons,” explains Nati, co-founder of Puspussy. Natali adds: “For example, someone is sitting in the public transport with legs apart, taking up more space than necessary and squeezing me – it has become a natural situation for me to fully take up my space and to indicate with my body language that his space should be enough.”

“Puspussy – your safe space” – this is how the organization, which works on empowering women and creating a safe space for sharing knowledge and experiences, presents itself.

It is already the 4th year that the activities have been planned and implemented, more than 2100 women and girls aged 16+ have been trained. Puspussy was officially founded in 2021 by Mzeo Kandelaki, Anika Tizliarashvili, Salome Zhvania, Teona Dalakishvili, Natali Goginashvili and Nati Khvadagiani.

Mzeo tells us that initially the idea of ​​creating a safe space for women came to feminist friends in 2019. The goal was to bring women together, share accumulated knowledge and experiences with each other, work on different ideas and projects or simply socialize, which would empower girls and women.

“Often, girls and women do not have a personal space, their own room, where they can either be alone or work, and therefore, we imagined Puspussy as a more physical space,” Mzeo tells us.

However, soon the pandemic started and the first projects had to be carried out online. The initial supporter was the Women’s Fund, and the meetings were held on Zoom. A page and a closed group on Facebook have been created. Collective care online meetings were planned to support mental health, which became even more important during the period of Covid and isolation. Information was shared about various events and opportunities, including training programs and job openings. The goal was to help women to improve or acquire different skills, especially digital, because then everyone switched to online work and it was a big challenge for most of them.

ფოტო: ვახო ქარელი/მედია აპრილიMzeo Kandelaki. Photo: Vakho Kareli/Aprili Media

“This space was only available for girls and women 16+, where we could express our opinion or ask various questions without judgment in a friendly and supportive environment. Also, receiving the information or the experiences that we are not able to do comfortably and safely in other situations”, Mzeo tells us.

It was during this period that Natali joined the team. At first, she attended self-care and collective care meetings as a participant, then became a volunteer, and finally a member of Puspussy.

“A friend advised me that there is such an interesting, safe space where women and girls are doing stuff. 2020 was probably a period of very difficult experiences for everyone, suddenly many things changed and it was very important for me to discover this space. The mindfulness and yoga sessions I attended online were very helpful. Then I also attended the project management course. At that time, I had already started working in this direction, and I was so fascinated by this course that I decided to have a closer relationship with Puspussy and share my knowledge,” Natali remembers.

At first, Nati was also involved in Puspussyi’s activities as a volunteer. A friend told her that the organization was looking for female trainers in various fields, after which she offered Puspussy trainings on women’s labor rights.

“The space was so comfortable for me that I offered Mzeo to use my resources for the development of Puspussy and I volunteered at first. Then we registered as an organization, I also became a member of Puspussy, and we have continued various activities together since,” says Nati.

Nati Khvadagviani. Photo: Vakho Kareli/Aprili Media

Aprili Media was interested in why the organization was named “Puspussy”. The answer is:

“Puspusi (a Georgian verb) is associated with a pleasant, harmless activity, mostly by girls and women. This is where one of our slogans came from: two pussies equal Puspussy”.

Today, the organization works in several directions:

  • Mental health, delightment, self-care and collective care, which includes yoga, mindfulness techniques and personal development practices (self- mentoring, coaching );
  • Non-formal education, where women have the opportunity to get free basic education, new experiences, master new professions;
  • Self-defense-women-defense course, where women are taught how to protect themselves from various types of violence and increase self-confidence.
  • Raising awareness on sexual and reproductive health and rights.

“As a result of Covid, most people have moved online and we have done digital skills training sessions. One of them was a programming and coding course with the slogan “coding women”. Also, a graphic design course, for which an unprecedentedly large number – about 1500 women registered, 300 of them completed the course and we gave certificates. Later they wrote to us that they started working in this direction. Economic empowerment of women is one of our long-term goals,” says Natali.

In the closed Facebook group, they also had polls about what courses women would like to take and tried to take into account the interests of the audience.

“During that period, the most demanded courses were programming course, graphic design course, social network management and digital security course, content marketing, freelancing and e-commerce. We tried to contact women specialists in the field and plan together 1-2 introductory sessions with new fields or more in-depth courses of 4-8 sessions. We provided our participants with basic education, with all the necessary materials and resources, so that they could continue their self-development if they were interested,” Mzeo says, adding that for some trainers, the Puspussy platform was even their first experience of interacting with the audience, because it is important for Puspussy that every woman has access to knowledge and experience. And sharing.

“At Puspussy meetings, we told our audience that if they had the knowledge necessary for others, if they wished, we would help them plan the training and it would be a starting training experience for them, which would also help them in their professional activities.”

Natali Goginashvili. Photo: Vakho Kareli/Aprili Media

Online meetings have had positive aspects, including the fact that many women have been able to get involved, both from the regions and immigrants from other countries. In addition, short, 10-15-minute summary videos of the sessions were also recorded, which were uploaded to Puspussy’s YouTube channel, and anyone who wishes to, can watch these recordings and have constant access to them. Along with collective care and strengthening digital skills, other Puspussy trainings covered, for example, project writing, budgeting and management, HR consulting for career development, women’s labor rights, women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights, basics of financial accounting, introduction to photography, driver’s license theory, etc.

Despite this, the idea of ​​creating a safe physical space remained valid, especially since they wanted to create a self-defense course for women from the beginning. They say that it is true that we have a developed martial arts culture in Georgia, and many awareness raising projects and sessions are held too, but the possibility of psycho-emotional training along with physical training for women by teaching practical knowledge and skills has never existed before, so the course is innovative.

Photo: Vakho Kareli/Aprili Media

“Various forms of violence against women are quite high in Georgia. That’s why we decided to gather a team of psychologists and self-defense instructors and together with them develop a short and effective 2-day basic course that girls and women would take and have the most necessary knowledge on how to protect themselves in various crisis situations,” says Mzeo.

In Puspussy, it is said that the first day of the women’s protection course is led by a psychologist, who teaches the participants to recognize the types of violent relationships at the initial stage, ways of communicating with the alleged abuser and methods of response. In addition, they do various practical exercises to increase self-confidence, strengthen the inner voice and verbal defense techniques. On the second day, they discuss situational examples and potential risks that exist for women on the street, in transport, in clubs, bars, even in the online space. After that, the specialist explains to the participants what they can do to reduce the damage as much as possible in case of such a danger.

Puspussy emphasizes that the purpose of the courses is not to fight, but to defend oneself, so that a person can recognize and avoid danger and/or avoid dangerous situations; to learn how to behave in transport if they are touched against their will; to whom it should be addressed; how to ask for help; to be able to identify the red signs in the relationship, recognizing the so-called red flags, etc.

“For example, in the case of sexual harassment in transport, we must first expose the perpetrator and repeat his behavior verbally, in the form of a statement. It should not be in the form of a question, because it will definitely deny. When it comes to asking for help, when we generally ask for help, people often avoid responsibility, they are in the role of listener or bystander, waiting for someone else to act. That’s why we choose one person from those close to us and personally ask for help. In many cases, this is more effective,” says Nati.

Photo: Vakho Kareli/Aprili Media

The next session is about Krav Maga techniques — about 15 of the most necessary and effective techniques have been selected, which, as they say in Puspussy, everyone can do.

“We teach the participants how to behave if there is still a threat of physical attack, for example, how to find an opportunity to escape if they hold our hand and don’t let go; How can we resist being held by the hair or tied; How to properly use pepper spray, which is legal in Georgia, be it on the street, in a club, in transport, at home or elsewhere. The principle of Krav Maga is to find the opportunity to escape and then run,” says Natali.

Nati adds: “It is important to remember that we are not attacking back. The most important thing is to avoid the danger as soon as possible and run away, leave the peace”.

Both days of the women-protection course are led by women. The main reason for this is that participants, including women who have experienced violence, prefer to have these types of activities only in the company of women.

“The high rate of gender-based violence is due to various factors, including stereotypes, various stigmas about sexual education, harmful prejudices and expectations from women. This increases women’s vulnerability to various types of violence in any space. But it is not someone’s fault that they experience any type of abuse. This is one of our main points,” says Natali.

This is the third year Puspussy has offered a free women’s course to women and girls. Initially, it was available only in Tbilisi, but within the framework of the project implemented with the support of the Embassy of the Netherlands, it was also held in the regions (Gori, Telavi, Kutaisi, Batumi, Zugdidi). In total, 250 women took the women’s protection courses. In the future, they would like this course to be more adapted for people with disabilities, as well as to include non-binary and trans people.

Photo: Vakho Kareli/Aprili Media

The Puspussy co-founders are currently hoping to find the necessary financial resources for the free self-defense courses for women, because having this knowledge is of primary importance for all girls and women, and many applicants for the course are still on the waiting list. In addition, there is Puspussy Fund and those who wish to support the organization can participate in the strengthening of Puspussy (account number for those who are interested: GE24TB7776336020100006)

At the same time, they are planning corporate cooperation with various organizations. There have already been cases when organizations have asked for a self-defense course for female employees. In the future, they want to give it a more formal look if organizations decide to finance these courses for their employees.

Another plan they have in Puspussy is to create a guide for parents, teachers and educators to help them talk to their children about sexual and reproductive health in a simple and understandable way, at what age is the best time to share information, in what language, etc. The organization says that this idea came from one of their training participants:

“Last summer, we had a three-day course on sexual and reproductive health, which was taken by about 60 women. We were told that adults understand this information, but we have a hard time communicating with children and young adults, and they wondered how to convey this information correctly. Among them were mothers, school teachers, kindergarten teachers, caretakers, older sisters, etc.,” Natali recalls.

An electronic version of the guide will be available soon and will be free to all, and Puspussy course participants will also receive a printed version for free.

For several months now, Puspussy has had an office – as they call it, “opussy”. The organization is ready to share their space for free with women who will be able to work there, use the space for meetings, etc. For this, you need to contact Puspussy in advance and book a place (Facebook, Instagram).

In addition, for those people who have already completed the women’s protection course, there is also a small hall in the “opussy”, where it is possible to improve the techniques already learned.

“It is necessary to practice these techniques so that they become embedded in the body’s memory. It is important to always take care of psycho, emotional and physical strengthening. We provide the participants of our course with a resource, which they must train in order to be as self-confident as possible, to be able to mobilize better in different situations, and if they still get into a dangerous situation, they will come out with less damage,” says Mzeo.