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The Body Shop Georgia slammed for stories to empower women, written by men

One of the authors behind the short story collection has also been accused of sexual harassment by women in the European country

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Inge Snip
29 July 2021, 10.59am
Founded in the UK, The Body Shop now has around 3,000 stores in more than 70 countries
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Finnbarr Webster / Alamy Stock Photo. All rights reserved

The Body Shop cosmetics chain in the country Georgia has been slammed with criticism after it published a collection of stories to empower women, written by men as part of their ongoing “women empowerment campaigns”. Women have also publicly accused one of the book’s authors of sexual harassment.

Outrage over the publication lit up Georgian social media after The Body Shop presented its book ‘Love Yourself’ – a series of 13 short stories about women’s experiences, all written by seven well-known male authors – at the city hall in the capital Tbilisi, on Monday.

The Body Shop Georgia initially responded by defending the book, stating that its stories “were written by men to imagine themselves in the place of these brave women”, and that “more women writers” would be involved in future releases.

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In a second statement released a day after the book’s presentation, the company added that it regrets “that one of the ideas of the project, for men to write these stories, did not turn out to be the right way to convey our message”.

This is unlikely to satisfy critics, however. Georgian filmmaker Elene Margvelashvili told openDemocracy that she was shocked the book’s stories could be commissioned, written and printed “and until seeing the negative comments, no one realised that it was not serving women empowerment”.

Georgia – which borders Armenia, Azerbaijan, Russia and Turkey, at the intersection of eastern Europe and western Asia – is known for its ultra-conservative politics and staggering gender inequalities.

According to research from UN Women, violence against women is “widespread” in Georgia, where almost a third of men surveyed (and a quarter of women) said “wife-beating is justified” in some cases, and nearly half of all men (and a quarter of women) said a wife should obey her husband even if she disagrees with him.

One of the stories’ authors, Toresa Mossy, wrote on Facebook that he was qualified to write about women’s experiences as “it's a familiar topic to me when you're being bullied because you're too skinny for a man, too weak”.

He would continuously try to pressure me into having sex with him, even though I told him I wasn’t interested

But criticism of The Body Shop’s book intensified online after two women publicly alleged – in interviews with Georgian newsrooms On.ge and Netgazeti – that they had been sexually harassed by another of the authors, Giorgi Kekelidze.

One of these women, Tao Chalidze, accused Kekelidze of “stalking” her “vigorously” for more than two years. She said she blocked him on social media and on her phone, but he would show up at her workplace unannounced.

“He would continuously try to pressure me into having sex with him, even though I told him I wasn’t interested,” Chalidze told On.ge. “I was so disgusted by his actions, that even today my body shivers just remembering him.”

Another woman, Sofia Kenchiashvili, told On.ge that for years Kekelidze had demanded she send him “erotic photos”, including when she was pregnant. “He would continuously ask me on Messenger how I was, and I knew the second question would be ‘Where is the photo?’ It went on for years,” she said.

In response, Georgia’s deputy public defender, Ekaterine Skhiladze, told openDemocracy that officials are “ready to study cases of [alleged] sexual harassment if victims are willing to submit application to our office”.

On Facebook, Kekelidze said he is a human being who makes “mistakes”, but that he feels “sick to my stomach that my flirting could have been badly interpreted or caused unintentional harm,” and apologises if this has been the case.

Kekelidze has not responded to openDemocracy requests for comment on this article. In response to Netgazeti earlier this week, he said that he was not yet ready to make any additional statements beyond this Facebook post.

Founded in the 1970s in Brighton, England, The Body Shop has thousands of stores around the world promising ethical and sustainable beauty products. In Georgia, a local pharmacy company operates the brand under a franchise agreement.

While The Body Shop Georgia has said it wants to continue publishing stories and to “convey our message [of women’s empowerment] more clearly”, it has not yet responded publicly to the accusations of sexual harassment against Kekelidze.

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