Ms. Rusudan Gotsiridze is a 2014 International Women of Courage awardee and the first female Baptist bishop in Georgia. She is an advocate for women’s rights and interfaith dialogues to support religious minorities. This blog post is a part of a series highlighting and celebrating women leaders in our network during Women’s History Month.
Who is your female inspiration, mentor or hero figure?
I have often been asked who my role model is, and I always have a hard time answering this question. I was brought up in a Soviet country, in a dissident Protestant family, in a heavily patriarchal culture – both in church and society. We rarely saw prominent woman political leaders. Even more, I remember how surprised we were to see Nancy Reagan beside her husband when they visited Moscow during the Cold War. That was the first time we saw Mikhail Gorbachev’s wife Raisa Gorbacheva. Before, wives of (male) leaders had not appeared in public. I was a young adult when I first saw a woman at the pulpit of my church. Equality in the Soviet regime, just like many other things, was myth.
I do not think my inspiration was one specific woman. The idea of equality itself was the most powerful motivation. I started searching for stories of women who made changes, who were in the forefront of movements for equality. The very first woman I felt connected to was a young Cappadocian girl named Nino, who preached Christianity in Georgia in the 4th century, and converted the Queen and King of the country to the religion of love and peace. The story is not that powerful all. Though it was St. Nino who brought Christianity to this land, she was not considered a proper figure to establish and consecrate the church. A male clergy from Byzantium was invited to do that job. Later, when I did my research about women’s ordination, I discovered the story of Mary of Magdala, a woman who was chosen to be the witness of the resurrected Christ, but somehow was portrayed as a sinful woman, as a prostitute by the church tradition.
The stories of these two prominent women, their strength and the unjust treatment was something that would give me motivation. I had a feeling that I owe a lot to these women.
What does ‘leadership’ mean to you?
Wherever you go you are taught that you lead by serving, you lead by example. It is a universal model of leadership indeed. Jesus would wash his disciples’ feet while conducting a leadership training for them. But serving does not always have the same meaning when it comes to women’s leadership. We find new ways to communicate the message of equality and love in deeds.
How do you give back, or build connections or roadmaps for future women leaders?
I do not think that I am the one who should be giving roadmaps to future women – in fact, the opposite is already happening. It is young people who lead me, it is they who give me strength and it is young women and girls who will pave the way of the future. The only thing I can do is to give an example of a person who is open to that future, to the changes and new ways of being.