Anti-Gender Movements and Georgia

The article describes the anti-liberal and anti-democratic discourses prevalent in Eastern and Central European countries like Georgia, Hungary and Poland. The author connects instances of global anti-gender mobilization amid the latest crisis of democracy and the rise of right-wing populist authoritarianisms.

8 მარტი შრომის უფლებებისთვის

For over a decade, researchers have been tracking the proliferation of homophobic and anti-gender discourses in Georgia. This phenomenon has evolved in intensity and content, influenced by both internal dynamics within the country and the broader global trends, including the rise of right-wing populism and populist authoritarianism worldwide. The leaders of Georgia's ruling apparatus engage in the dissemination of anti-liberal messages and the explicit use of homophobic rhetoric in this global context.

Examining the local context, it becomes evident that the rhetoric employed by the ruling political class bears striking similarities to the messages propagated by conservative far-right groups, particularly in the aftermath of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022. The ruling power has increasingly leveraged this tactic in recent times, employing it as a means to both sustain their authority and rally supporters.

In Georgia, as well as in other Central and Eastern European countries, far-right groups center their discourse around key topics such as women's rights, traditions, religious values, children's rights, and issues related to gender identity and sexuality.

Before diving into the nuances of the local context, it's essential to connect the rise of anti-gender discourse and homophobic rhetoric with the ongoing global crisis of democracy. The recent erosion of democratic values is frequently paralleled by the ascendance of ultra-conservative right-wing groups to power, or at least to its fringes. Rather than isolating local processes, it's crucial to analyze them in tandem with other anti-liberal, populist authoritarian regimes. This approach sheds light on the transnational networks and alliances forming between anti-democratic regimes and ultraconservative groups in various contexts.

The Retreat of Democracy and Right-Wing Populism

Political philosopher Charles Taylor, in his analysis of democratic degeneration since 1975, highlights three vulnerable axes for democracy: the waning influence of citizens, the exclusion of specific groups through political tactics, and the heightened polarization of society. In contemporary populist regimes, these waves converge seamlessly, often reinforcing each other (Taylor, 2022).

In exploring the upsurge of populism in the aftermath of the democratic crisis, Taylor delineates various forms of populism. This includes targeting specific groups within society, such as immigrants or newcomers, who are categorized as second-class citizens, or even long-standing members perceived as "aliens". The exclusionary process creates a stark division between first-class and second-class citizens, profoundly fracturing democratic societies. This stage logically extends the first axis of democratic degeneration — the diminishing influence of citizens. "Bad" populism, rooted in exclusion, instrumentalizes citizens' legitimate grievances regarding socio-economic crises, fostering a sense of superiority among them. This occurs even as populist governments themselves struggle to address the well-being of their citizens, especially during ongoing crises.

According to Taylor, the democracies in European nations like Hungary and Poland, as well as examples from Russia, Turkey, and Iran, fall under the categorization of "rigged democracy." In these countries, the democratic system is manipulated to the extent that the primary goal of their regimes is not to relinquish power to opposition forces. Instead, the emphasis lies on securing a perpetual hold on victory and maintaining authority (Taylor, 2022, pp. 34-36).

The article's third and, arguably, most significant axis in the erosion of democracy revolves around defining democracy as "majority rule." This perspective intensifies exclusionary polarization, particularly when groups labeled as "minorities" are not recognized as full members of society.

Authoritarian right-wing populist regimes employ consistent exaggeration of differences, the division of society into the "real" populace and others, and the spread of conflict across the entire social landscape. These strategies are essential for the continuous retention of power. Taylor describes this destructive polarization process as a bloodless civil war, acknowledging the potential for it to escalate into armed conflict (ibid., pp. 38-39).

In summarizing the confluence of democracy's reversal, we observe a decline in citizen influence leading to marginalization of the so-called outsiders and heightened discrimination. This phase transforms into an exceptionally intense polarization within society. The author suggests that in addressing these crises and confronting challenges, a potential solution lies in the formation of new layers of solidarity that transcend existing divisions (Taylor, 2022).

Anti-Gender Discourse in Eastern and Central Europe

The cases of Eastern and Central European countries and their transnational connections stand out among the global anti-gender movements of recent years. The 2021 report from the European Parliamentary Forum sheds light on the funding system crucial for the escalating mobilization of ultra-conservative anti-gender actors across Europe[1]. This report vividly portrays the transnational nature of the funding system supporting deliberate attacks on human rights by anti-gender actors in Europe. Notably, between 2009 and 2018, a staggering $707 million was spent on implementing anti-gender initiatives. During this period, key financial resources for these initiatives came from Russia, the USA, and European countries such as France, Italy, Poland, Germany, Spain, and Austria.

In the examination of Eastern and Central European countries, researchers elucidate the intricate connections between right-wing populist forces and anti-gender actors, identifying similarities across various countries while also considering local nuances. Notably, the recent steps taken by Georgia's ruling team to align with the Hungarian government, especially former Prime Minister Gharibashvili's participation in Hungary's hosting of the American conservative forum CPAC, underscore the relevance of Hungary's own course to our context.[2]

First and foremost, it is essential to provide a clearer understanding of what researchers signify by anti-gender discourse and movement, delineating the specificities and configurations that characterize them in diverse contexts. While this article offers a limited overview, it provides key concepts as well as some pertinent observations.

Pető and Grzebalska (2021) shed light on the challenges faced by feminist civil society and emancipatory politics in Hungary and Poland in their article titled "The gendered modus operandi of the illiberal transformation in Hungary and Poland." The authors assert that understanding the anti-liberal transformation in Central European countries requires a careful analysis of gender politics. They contend that this transformative process is heavily rooted in gender politics, emphasizing that grasping the shift in regimes is only feasible through the lens of feminist analysis.

Right-wing transnational social movements, experiencing significant growth in recent years, grapple with various human rights and equality issues often defined by a shared adversary — "gender ideology." Researchers are in consensus that the mobilization against "gender ideology" transcends local boundaries, emerging as a transnational phenomenon present in Russia, European countries, and USA as well. Despite variations in their agendas — some leaning towards nationalism, or overtly homophobic and racist, while others combat "genderisation" or "genderism" under the banner of family values and child rights protection — all these movements converge on a conservative and anti-liberal stance. Central to their narrative is the conjuring of "gender ideology" as a threat. According to them, "gender ideology" jeopardizes not only the well-being of children and families but also poses a threat to society as a whole,  weakening the foundations of Christian civilization (Korolchuk, 2015, p. 46).

Regarding conservative actors, particularly in Poland, the spectrum of these organizations is highly diverse. It encompasses both transnational and local non-governmental organizations, parliamentary committees of political parties, grassroots groups representing parents' associations, as well as websites and online platforms. These platforms play a pivotal role in distributing relevant information and literature, collecting signatures on petitions, and organizing protests.

As highlighted earlier, the central focus in the anti-gender discourse is "gender" as a concept. When engaging with this discourse, various issues are targeted, in combination or one at a time — women's rights, diverse feminist initiatives, gender equality policies, sexual and reproductive rights, transgender human rights, and more.

This multifaceted confrontation arises particularly when the legitimacy of gender studies as an academic discipline is not acknowledged. According to the actors within this movement, the post-structuralist theory of gender calls into question the traditionally accepted division of society into men and women. Consequently, they perceive it as a threat to the harmonious functioning of the entire societal structure. Those involved in anti-gender movements actively oppose theories put forth by scholars such as Judith Butler and Simone de Beauvoir. From their perspective, the concept of gender endangers both the "natural" arrangement of society and the unity of heterosexual families (Rekhviashvili, 2022).

Rekhviashvili underscores that the continuous discourse on the concept of gender within anti-gender movements serves as the very weapon effectively wielded by movements like the Hungarian anti-gender movement. This movement executed a well-organized anti-gender campaign, presenting systematic and coherent arguments. It presented the ideology of gender as the paramount threat to humanity's survival and an enemy of the nation. Most crucially, it occupied a central role in the government's anti-gender discourse. In essence, anti-gender politics has become an intrinsic component of state policies and practices.[3]

The central emphases and concepts within the rhetoric of anti-gender movements play a pivotal role in shaping the nature of activism that emerges in opposition. In Hungary, for instance, feminist actors responding to the onslaught of a formidable anti-gender movement undertook specific types of feminist activities to refute the accusations directed at them. Rekhviashvili contends that, in order to navigate a hostile environment, feminist actors devised strategies that gave rise to a distinct dominant discourse termed "anti-gender feminism." A key feature of this discourse is its critique of the constructivist understanding of gender (Rekhviashvili, 2023, p. 17-18).

Graff and Korolczuk (2022) explore Poland's anti-gender movement within the backdrop of the 2016 anti-abortion legislation. The authors narrate the history of the potent protest wave, known as the "black protests," mobilizing in defense of reproductive rights. They scrutinize the strategies forged during a feminist mobilization of unprecedented scale. Rather than framing the Polish mobilization solely as a response to the total abortion ban, they portray it as part of a broader struggle against right-wing populism. Coined by the authors as "populist feminism," this term encapsulates the markers through which feminist activists echo the "people vs. elite" binary inherent in populist mobilization (Graff and Korolczuk, 2022).

Ultra-Right /Anti-Gender Politics and Georgia

As per the democracy index, Georgia maintains its classification as a state with a hybrid regime.[4] Certain experts argue that the "Georgian Dream" government can be characterized as a form of hybrid authoritarianism, grounded in the consolidation of power, political accumulation of economic resources, and populism.[5]

Examining the case of Georgia, we can delineate the contours of anti-gender policies over the past few decades by scrutinizing the agenda of ultra-right and anti-gender actors, along with their homophobic rhetoric and anti-feminist discourse.[6] Some authors contextualize the rise of anti-emancipatory politics within the framework of "progressive neoliberalism." Barkaia (2018) posits that the gradual establishment of a neoliberal order in the 90s has been accelerating since the 2000s and has led to the disintegration of society into atomized individuals, the breakdown of social fabric, and a lack of solidarity, disconnecting citizens from each other. The economic order and political ideology implemented in Georgia, exacerbating inequality and material deprivation, paved the way for the mobilization of far-right political supporters. The author argues that the neoliberal development model introduced a singular set comprising human civil and political rights alongside the inviolability of private property, omitting social and economic rights. In this context, the surge in anti-emancipatory sentiments can be interpreted as a reaction to the framework of "progressive neoliberalism" (Barkaia, 2018).

Certain researchers argue that ultra-right groups in Georgia lack an organized, sharply defined agenda and systematic anti-gender rhetoric. These groups are largely "politically homophobic, repeat anti-LGBT propaganda, are radical right-wing, and [...] attack feminists with some frequency" (Gogberashvili and Karapetiani, 2023, p. 17).

Identifying specific leading figures becomes challenging due to the episodic nature and less defined agenda of far-right actors' campaigns. This difficulty may stem from the fact that it doesn't resemble a bottom-up process; rather, its reinforcement is often intricately linked to government-produced political homophobia and its amplification through government propaganda media.

In the context of Hungary, the anti-gender movement targets the concept and theories of gender, while in Poland, the focus is on reproductive rights. In Georgia, the predominant characteristic is homophobic rhetoric, notably activated in the aftermath of government-produced political homophobia. It's conceivable that the features of the anti-gender discourse in Georgia may evolve, diversify, and refine over time. Therefore, a closer examination of the nuances within the discourses of far-right groups, how they change, and which group or topic becomes the target of their attacks warrants increased attention.

Rapid Conservative Turn of the Government

In the context of anti-gender mobilization, the statements made by government representatives are particularly noteworthy. The official rhetoric of "Georgian Dream" leaders, especially after former Prime Minister Gharibashvili's re-appointment by parliament  in 2021, has become distinctly homophobic. This article cannot include all layers and content of the discourse, since this issue requires more observation, in-depth research and analysis, however, it can offer a few examples from the recent period for illustration. In May 2023, former Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili gave a speech at the international conservative conference in Budapest.[7] The speech delivered by him contained a considerable amount of ultra-conservative, populist, anti-gender content[8]. It's worth noting that he openly employed anti-LGBT,[9] populist rhetoric in 2021 as well.[10] When discussing the "March of Dignity" scheduled for July 5, he characterized it as a propaganda parade opposed by 95% of the population, insisting that they should adhere to the will of the majority. By participating in an ultra-conservative international conference and adopting a more "sophisticated" anti-gender, populist rhetoric, the ruling power overtly declared its positioning as an ultra-right, populist force with connections to transnational actors.

The language employed by the government towards participants in the mass protests against the "Law on Agents of Foreign Influence" in March 2023 is noteworthy. The ruling party began enforcing it even before the law was officially passed. An illustrative example is the demonization of young protestors during the March demonstrations, where they were labeled as Satanists, radicals, and young people of uncertain orientation by both the former Prime Minister and the chairman of the ruling party.[11]

In a related context, it is essential to highlight legislative initiatives,[12] such as those from the pro-government party "European Socialists," pushing for the prohibition of so-called LGBT propaganda[13]. Initially, Mamuka Mdinaradze, the leader of "Georgian Dream," expressed support for this bill, citing concerns that the dissemination of "LGBT propaganda" was leading to the rise of specific groups in other countries as well. These statements followed the groundwork laid by pro-government media in preparing anti-LGBT and anti-Western propaganda narratives. For instance, the TV company "Imedi" broadcasted these narratives[14]. However, Mdinaradze later clarified that the government does not have plans to adopt this bill. It's worth noting that a package of draft laws, prepared by the leaders of the "Conservative Movement" and TV company "Alt-Info," a pro-Russian political party close to the government, has already been registered in the parliament. This package proposes an amendment to the law on "Assemblies and Manifestations" to prohibit the "sexual orientation propaganda."[15] Furthermore, in the summer of 2023, the parliamentary political group "Girchi" developed a draft law aimed at eliminating the term "gender" from the legislative space, which also includes the abolition of anti-discrimination and gender equality laws.[16]

The logical extension of the ruling party's conservative turn and openly homophobic rhetoric was the belated adoption, in March 2023, of the 2022-2030 national human rights protection strategy. Notably, this government document fails to address the issues concerning sexual minorities, with the rights of LGBTQI individuals receiving no mention whatsoever.[17]

Looking for Hope

The surge of anti-gender mobilization and the strengthening of far-right populist actors present pressing challenges for feminist and queer movements globally. This movement's transnational character and the shared features of anti-gender content across diverse contexts underscore its connection to the erosion/crisis of democracy. This erosion stems from policies that exclude specific groups and fuel intense societal polarization. Authoritarian populist regimes leverage this polarizing process, creating a division between the "real" Georgian society and the rest to perpetuate their power. The Georgian situation reflects the government's endeavor to mobilize supporters through exclusionary polarization, signaling a discernible conservative shift as its leaders adopt rhetoric reminiscent of conservative far-right groups.

In this context, local feminist and queer movements have encountered substantial challenges. However, it is crucial that these challenges do not become a source of hopelessness. On the contrary, amidst the current crisis, queer feminist activist groups must seek opportunities to forge new solidarities and gain allies both within and outside the country. By considering the tactics developed by feminist movements in countries with populist regimes, the experiences of these movements will aid in developing fresh, effective strategies and approaches to counter populist forces effectively.

The content of the publication is the sole responsibility of the author and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of the Heinrich Boell Foundation Tbilisi Office - South Caucasus Region.

Works Cited:

Barkaia, N. (2018). "Progressive Neoliberalism and Far-Right Politics: Why Should We Look for Another Way of Emancipation and Justice?!"

Gogberashvili, A., & Karapetian, G. 2023. “The Importance of Gender Research in the Wake of Anti-Gender Discourse in Georgia.”

Mikeladze, T.  “The erosion of democracy or the pivoting of foreign policy? Ten Features of Georgia’s Ruling Party to Maintain Power”… 

Pető, A., & Grzebalska, W. "The Gendered Modus Operandi of the Illiberal Transformation in Hungary and Poland." (Translated in Georgian)

Taylor, C. (2022). Chapter 1, "Degenerations of Democracy" (translated in Georgia) from the book: Calhoun, C., Gaonkar, D. P., and Taylor, C. (Eds.). Degenerations of Democracy. Harvard University Press. [Link:]

Graff, A. & Korolczuk, E.(2021) Anti-Gender Politics in the Populist Moment.

Korolczuk, E. (2015) “The War on Gender” from a Transnational Perspective – Lessons for Feminist Strategising, In Anti-Gender Movements on the Rise? Strategising for Gender Equality in Central and Eastern Europe. Edited by the Heinrich Böll Foundation. Heinrich Boell Foundation. Volume 38.…

Rekhviashvili, A. (2022) Feminist Responses to the Right-wing Governance in Hungary: The Emergence of Anti-gender Feminism.…


[1] European Parliamentary Forum for Sexual and Reproductive Rights (2021). Tip of the Iceberg: Religious Extremist Funders against Human Rights for Sexuality & Reproductive Health in Europe.

[2] On October 10 of this year, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán visited Georgia accompanied by his wife. The decision for a joint meeting between the governments of Hungary and Georgia was reached during the official visit of Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili to Hungary in October of the previous year. During this visit, the Prime Ministers of the two countries signed an agreement establishing a strategic partnership. Source: RFE/RL (October 10, 2023), "Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban visited Georgia."

[3] Beyond shutting down gender programs in academia, the Hungarian government took further steps, refusing to ratify the Istanbul Convention explicitly due to its mention of the concept of gender. The government argued that this concept posed a threat to Hungarian statehood. In 2021, the Hungarian Parliament enacted a law that prohibits the distribution of LGBTQ literature to minors. Additionally, it legally barred transgender individuals from changing their gender, asserting that gender does not exist, and biological sex is immutable (Rekhviashvili, 2022, p. 4).

[4]  Freedom House.  Nations in Transit 2023 (2023): Georgia.; Economist Intelligence Unit (2023). Democracy Index 2022

[5] Mikeladze, T. (21 July, 2023). “The erosion of democracy or the pivoting of foreign policy? Ten Features of Georgia’s Ruling Party to Maintain Power” OstWest Monitoring.

[6] The recent research conducted by the Media Development Fund concerns      anti-gender and anti-liberal mobilization in Georgia, shedding light on key actors involved. The study underscores the prevalence of homophobic discriminatory language within anti-gender content, alongside instances of sexist hate speech, misogyny, and derogatory language directed at women, particularly in connection to their social and political engagement. Source: Media Development Fund (2023). "Anti-gender and anti-LGBTQ mobilization in Georgia." []

[7] CPAC, the largest American conservative political action conference, serves as a platform for strengthening connections between the US right wing and Viktor Orbán's government. Source: Civil Georgia (April 27, 2023), Prime Minister to participate in conservative political action conference in Hungary. []

[8] Here are some excerpts from the speech delivered at the conference: "How do forces that oppose the freedom and truth try to achieve their goals? Definitely, by destroying      the traditional family values and coercing false freedoms – through LGBTQ+ propaganda and attempts to legislate gender-affirming procedures for children – bypassing their parents, as well as by forcing so-called "innovations" that will cut people off from their own roots, family, traditions, culture, and history […] we adopted the anti-discrimination law that strictly protects the constitutionally guaranteed rights of our citizens [...] However, we also protect the rights of the majority, for whom the family is a union between a man and a woman; where a woman is a mother, and a man is a father.     " Source: First Channel (May 4, 2023), Irakli Gharibashvili's speech at the Conservative Political Action Annual Conference. […]

[9] In local media and popular discourse, the abbreviation LGBT is commonly utilized to encompass lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. However, in this article, I opt for the more inclusive umbrella term LGBT(I), acknowledging and embracing a broader spectrum that also encompasses queer and intersex people.

[10] Source: Civil Georgia (July 12, 2021), Prime Minister on 'Dignity March': '95% of population opposes propaganda march'.

[11] Source: Civil Georgia (April 1, 2023). Photo story: "For the Freedom of Lazarus" - action in front of the government administration.]    

[12] “The legislative initiatives registered in the Parliament encompass changes to 8 existing laws. Among these, 1 pertains to abortion, 1 addresses the issue of insulting religious feelings, and 6 propose alterations that could potentially infringe upon the rights of specific groups based on gender and sexual identity. The authors of these initiatives include Kremlin parties, organizations, anti-liberal actors, and individual members of parliament.” [Source: Media Development Fund, 2023](

[13] Source: OC Media (2 May, 2023) Queer ‘propaganda’ bill to be submitted to Georgian parliament.

[14]Source:Imedi (12 June)  „Children at the "LGBTQI+" supporting march”.

[15] Source: Radio Liberty (May 3, 2023). "The adoption of such a bill is not considered in the Georgian Dream" - Mdinaradze on the initiative to limit "LGBT propaganda." []

[16]Source: Publika (July 11, 2023). Girchi has an initiative to repeal anti-discrimination and gender equality laws.     

[17] Source: Legislative Herald of Georgia. On the approval of the "National Strategy for the Protection of Human Rights of Georgia (for the years 2022-2030)."