Transparency has long been a problem for Georgia's Ministry of Defense, she says, noting that even the mothers of fallen soldiers, who wanted nothing more than a few visits from “men in uniform,” had trouble getting attention in the past.
Khidasheli believes that while she was minister, she was able to enact real change and turn the ministry into a public institution that was more open for society and the media.
One of her first steps was to bring more women into the defense sector, starting with her deputy, Anna Dolidze.
“I was a female minister and not a lot of women participate in the security field. That does not reflect the reality [in our society]."
Khidasheli notes that, when she came to office, there was only one female colonel in Georgia.
"The whole appeal of the army is that everything is written and planned. If you serve in the army for a certain number of years, if you have received a specific level of education, you deserve a particular military rank. The system intentionally didn’t see the worth of female input, but we saw it and appreciated it."
While she was minister, she launched a program to help promote female officers to higher military positions.
Anna Dolidze started by creating a training program for young women at the country’s Cadets Military Lyceum. In 2016, Georgia became the first country in the South Caucasus to provide co-ed military training.
Khidasheli notes she was also able to make the military more welcoming to other minority groups, including Muslim Georgians.
As minister, Khidasheli made a point of traveling to Pankisi Gorge, a predominantly Muslim-populated part of Georgia that has become associated with a conservative form of Islam.
The myriad reports of Pankisi locals traveling to fight with terrorist groups in Syria have resulted in an atmosphere of distrust: Georgian State Security Services worry about destabilizing forces in the gorge and locals complain about the repressive state policy.
But Khidasheli visited the gorge with her deputies several times and, she says, she was able to build trust with local residents.
Her goal, she says, was to encourage more Muslims to join the military. Khidasheli notes that when she was minister, the military was a “unity of Georgian Christians,” which is unacceptable in ethnically diverse Georgia.
Khidasheli says she was successful at making changes to the military disciplinary code to allow Muslims to keep their beards. Other changes included creating prayer rooms in military units and taking halal – the Muslim diet – into consideration, she says.
Khidasheli notes that before she addressed the issues concerning local Muslims, they had been following an unwritten rule that “they did not have a place in the army.”
She says she wanted to change that.
"We wanted to promote the Georgian army. In addition, we explained that this is an army for their security and not against them”.
Khidasheli says that, due to her policy, 37 people from Pankisi applied to join the military.
The former minister underscores that the only way to integrate people is to “convince them that this country needs them.”
She says that is true in the military – and in the country’s struggles to restore its territorial integrity, something she fears the current government forgets.