June 14, 2019 / 3:12 PM / a month ago

Georgian baywatch: First female lifeguards make a splash for equality

TBILISI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Swimmers in distress off Georgia’s Black Sea coast are set to experience a first this summer - being rescued by a woman.

Up to 20 female lifeguards will start patrolling the country’s crowded beaches on Saturday, joining a male-dominated rescue corps for the holiday season, Georgia’s emergency management agency said on Friday.

The agency heralded the move as a massive step forward for gender equality in the conservative former Soviet republic, but the group - all under 20-year-old students from Batumi State Maritime Academy - face an uphill battle for recognition.

Images of several aspiring female lifeguards undergoing training shared online this week sparked a social media flurry.

Many criticized their looks, questioned their fitness, or drew unflattering comparisons with the 1990s TV series “Baywatch”, which often featured actors in revealing swimsuits running in slow motion on a California beach.

“Some people are complaining that these women do not look like Pamela Anderson,” women’s right activist Baia Pataraia, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, referring to the U.S. actress in the cult U.S. show that led to a 2017 movie.

Georgia has passed anti-discrimination laws in an effort to move closer to the European Union, but gender stereotypes and inequality remain deeply rooted, according to the United Nations.

Women earn in average 35% less than men who dominate most top business and political roles, the U.N. says.

But not all comments were negative, with many users wishing luck to the new recruits who said they were ready for the task.

“The challenge for me was to save other people’s lives and break down stereotypes,” Christine Didmanidze, one of the new lifeguards, told local broadcaster First Channel. “I am sure I can do it.”

Reporting by Umberto Bacchi @UmbertoBacchi, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit news.trust.org

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