Armenian women seek deeper involvement in public and political life
By Lena Badeyan
Published October 28th 2006 in A1Plus Armenian News
Armenia has fewer women in parliament than any other country in Europe. Currently there are only seven females in the 131-seat national assembly, accounting for five per cent of its members. Outside parliament, just 15 of the 926 local government heads at village and town level are women.
Now moves are afoot to reverse this situation. A new grouping of organisations called Women Leaders announced last month that they had submitted a set of proposed amendments to the electoral code to parliament which would mean a quota of 25 per cent of seats in the legislature would be set aside for women. Twenty-two parties and around 40 public associations are supporting the initiative.
This is not the first effort to boost female representation. During the 2003 parliamentary poll, women were given a five per cent share of the party lists used in the proportional representation system. However, most were placed near the bottom of the lists, leaving them virtually no chance of getting elected.
“That decision brought no qualitative changes to the parliament, as it was not specific,” said Hermine Naghdalian of the Republican Party. “It did not specify where female candidates would be placed on the lists – and our men were quick to exploit that.”
Only half of the parties now in parliament have women on their lists. Three of the four belong to the ruling coalition - the Republican Party, Dashnaktsutiun and the United Labour Party. The fourth, Orinats Yerkir (Party of Law), recently left the governing coalition.
“It’s essential that the Armenian government assess the situation properly and take the appropriate action to increase female involvement in the decision-making process,” Dubravka Simonovic of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, commented to the ArmInfo news agency.
“For anything to change in the way parliament works, women’s representation there should be at least 30 per cent.”
It is uncertain whether the new initiative will get through, as it is not supported by parliament’s largest faction, the Republican Party, or by another large group, People’s Deputy. The votes of the two combined would be sufficient to vote down the motion.
Some argue that setting a quota is the wrong approach. “I think the process should be a gradual one,” Arshak Sadoyan of the opposition Justice faction told IWPR. “You can’t change from the Asian gender system to a modern European one at a stroke.”
“Specific quotas should not be prescribed by law - it’s an internal matter,” argued Gurgen Arsenian, leader of the United Labour Party faction, while pledging that his party list would contain women in it.
Shogher Matevosian, editor-in-chief of the opposition newspaper Chorord Ishkhanutiun (Fourth Power), said the idea was misconceived, arguing that loyalty to the government, not gender, was the crucial factor in Armenian politics.
“When it comes to the fight for the presidency or any other high position, what happens is what usually happens with the opposition: if a woman is on the opposition’s side, she won’t get in, if she sides with the authorities, she will,” she told IWPR.
Hermine Naghdalian of the Republican Party said that women were passive in political life in large part because of the general atmosphere of disillusionment in Armenia. “In many cases, women do not believe that they can help change anything, or that their struggle and wishes can produce results,” she said.
Gagik Beglarian, head of administration of Yerevan’s central district, illustrates a common sense among male politicians that it is shameful to lose an election to a woman.
“It will be a disgrace to me if I lose to a woman,” Beglarian said after he’d learnt that a woman – a member of the Popular Opposition Party Ruzan Khachatrian – would be facing him in the local government elections last year.
Khachatrian lost and Beglarian scored a convincing victory in the poll. Khachatrian has never recognised the results, saying that her opponent used underhand methods to rig the vote – a style of operation which she says distinguishes male from female politicians.
During the election campaign, Beglarian presented bunches of flowers to his opponent instead of engaging in arguments with her.
“Why does a man’s ambition for public office not surprise anyone, whereas the same claims by a woman come as a surprise?” asked Khachatrian. “Why is no one surprised if a woman wants to be a doctor, but astonished if she wants to become a politician? It is an ordinary profession, an ordinary job. If you have the skill, why should it become the target of ridicule?”
“Give us clean democratic elections, and if women don’t get elected, only then can you say women are uncompetitive,” said Nora Hakobian, chairperson of the Women’s Republican Council. “If women show willing and men try to help them, the situation in the country will improve.” Lena Badeyan, Yerevan Institute for War and Peace Reporting, Caucasus Reporting Service №362 Lena Badeyan is a correspondent for Ayb-Fe news agency in Yerevan.