Women in Politics and Political Texts in Armenia

Women in Politics and Political Texts in Armenia

Creator: Women's Resource Centre Armenia. All rights reserved.

More women than men live in Armenia.  Women make up 52 percent of the population in Armenia. At the same time, women’s political participation is low. Women are underrepresented in the political sphere. According to international reports, Armenia is on 103rd place among 142 countries by the index of women’s political participation. [1]

In democratic processes, women's political participation is one of the important indicators which establishes that every person regardless of gender, has equal rights and opportunities to participate in the political and civic life. In addition, various statistical comparisons allow for the conclusion that women's active participation in public and political life contributes to sustainable development, peace and other important achievements. Michelle Bachelet, Executive Director of UN Women, who fought for women’s rights and opportunities throughout her career and as President of Chili, notes:  

“Evidence shows that countries with greater gender equality have higher gross national product (GNP) per capita, and women’s leadership in the corporate sector results in improved business performance.  Countries with better representation of women in the parliaments tend to have more unbiased and fair laws, as well as social programs aimed at women, children and families.” 

Women’s political participation is important in peace-building processes especially for countries in conflict.  However, women’s voices are silenced and ignored particularly in these countries. As a democratic country Armenia has joined a number of international conventions and has adopted national legislation, formally, thus defining that it excludes gender discrimination in all spheres of public and political life. At the same time, statistical information on social and political life indicates women’s limited or marginal participation.  Thus, out of 131 members of the Armenian National Assembly only 14 are women (10.7%) even though to promote women’s political participation, an amendment was made to the Armenian Electoral Code through introduction of a system of quotas which even before the elections of 2012 was established at 20 percent.

This norm implies that the number of representatives of each gender must not exceed the 80 percent of each integer group of five candidates (2-6, 2-11, 2-16 and subsequently till the end of the list) starting from the second number of the electoral list of a political party, of an alliance of political parties and of each of the parties included in an alliance for the elections to the National Assembly under the proportional electoral system (Electoral Code, Article 108).  As it was conferred in the analysis of women’s participation in parliamentary elections of 2012: “The consequence was that only four women or 1,7 percent of the total number of women enrolled in the electoral lists was presented in the first quintet parties’ lists, and only 15 women or 6,4 percent was presented in the first tens. Compared to the elections of 2007 the number of women presented in the electoral lists of political parties is reduced by four times in the first quintet and two times in the first tens.” [2]

Even though with this amendment women were formally included in the party lists, in real parliamentary work their number remained to be extremely few.  On the other hand, only eight out of 137 candidates running under the majoritarian voting system were women.  Only 2.6 percent of parliamentarians elected through majoritarian voting system are women, a figure that in the past fluctuated between 0 to 4.7 percent. [3]  As a result, among the Republican Party representatives only nine are women.  There are two women among 37 representatives of the Prosperous Armenia Party, one woman in five members of the Heritage Party, one woman in seven representatives of Armenian National Congress, and all representatives of the Armenian Revolutionary Party Dashnaktsutiun are male. One of the Vice-Speakers of the National Assembly, Hermine Naghdalyan, and the heads of the Prosperous Armenia Party and Orinats Yerkir (Country of Law) parliamentary factions are women.

The picture is not encouraging in the spheres of executive and local self-governance either.  Thus, only three out of 18 ministers are women, the Minister of Culture, Minister of Justice and Minister of Diaspora Affairs.  There are 12 female deputy ministers against 51 male deputy ministers. There are no female governors (marzpet) and mayors. Only 2.2 percent of women are heads of rural communities. Only 8.6 percent of community council members (avagani) are women in the whole territory of Armenia (534 of 6,164 community council representatives).

In addition, a significant number or a higher percentage of women in these parties is not a proof for active political involvement and high status within these parties and/or influencing the strengthening of internal democracy. Women are often marginalized in political parties and some parties employ hidden discrimination against women. [4]  Among women of political status, the family and women’s status within the family are considered to be more preferable than political offices and or intentions to hold offices.  For example, in the words of a representative of a ruling party, "My family has always helped and supported me, my husband has never opposed my political career."[5] Moreover, in public interviews female political figures prioritize their images as women which is only then complemented by the character of a political figure.

These approaches, along with the indicators are an evidence to the imperfections between the value system, social norms and existing order.

Local and international studies and discussions regularly reflect on the issue of why women in Armenia continue to be underrepresented in political and public spheres. On a general note it is admitted that that the prevalence of conservative and patriarchal stereotypes in public perceptions is one of the main obstacles to women's active political participation. [6]

The question then is who promotes the constant reproduction of stereotypes and social perceptions.  Or whether the state policy, apart from producing documentation, is capable or has set a goal to change the linguistic mentality on women or gender equality in general.

To address these questions, one needs to refer to the statutory and program documents of those who set the political agenda, as well as the very content of speech of these decision-makers.  The difference between what is written (official documents) and what is articulated (public speech) is where one can see the real policy trends toward women. 

Emblematic for this are especially the discussions that started out in August 2013[7]  around the interpretation of term ''gender'' in the Law on Equal Rights and Equal Opportunities of Men and Women.  The discussions about the law in a way filled the void in public discourse in Armenia on issues related to women.  With the formal occasion, these discussions forced all visible political and civic actors to voice their thoughts and attitudes about gender equality. It should be noted that these thoughts, especially in the case of politicians, were not reflective of the logic of documents adopted and discussed as part of their legislative duties, and on some occasions, even contradicted them.  One of the co-authors of the law, Hovhannes Margaryan, stated during a public interview that despite all laws adopted to date, it would be hard to equalize women's rights to the rights of men: "The rights of a Master (ter) and the Obedient (hnazand)[8] cannot be equal.  The Master should possess one set of rights, and the Obedient another.  We cannot change the traditions ingrained in ourselves.  I, being born in Gyumri, am one of those who strongly preserve these traditions.  There are many European values that are unacceptable for me, as well as for my family, my wife and my daughter.  Being one of the co-authors, I could not allow that an acceptable-for-me law was adopted. "[9]

These seemingly innocent mistakes in public speaking eventually do create public speech metanarratives, which are then imported by the political elite to shape public attitudes and perceptions.

The public perceptions of political figures on the hierarchical relation norms between women and men as articulated in the public discourse create “truths” about these very norms, thus rendering any legislative reform into a formality.

 These elite “truths” are especially freely traded in public life on days celebrating women.  There are two holidays dedicated to women in the state calendar adopted on June 24, 2001.  These are March 8, Women’s Day, which is a non-working day, and April 7, Motherhood and Beauty day.   The names of these holidays have been cut off the context that originally gave birth to the holiday.  Thus, March 8 which in its origin was a holiday to celebrate the socialist struggle for women's rights over time began to contradict its own content and turned into a platform that reproduces femininity within a patriarchal scope.  Left out of the post-Soviet calendar as a remnant of the socialist past, it was restored back to the national calendar in 2001 this time not as an International Women’s Day, but as Women’s Day which substantially informs the content of holiday discourse.

Under the awakening of post-soviet nationalism and religious sentiments, April 7 was introduced into the national calendar as a holiday of Maternity and Beauty to replace March 8.  Surely enough, this holiday also became informed with the content of viewing and treating the woman as an object of beauty.  The period between March 8 and April 7 started to be perceived as a Women’s Month with some political implications, such as women’s health, education and other regulations.

The official names of the holidays, Women's Day and Maternity and Beauty Day, informed the speeches of politicians and statesmen on the occasions.  All holiday messages are flooded with the discourse of femininity. Quantitative data further intensifies the image. Thus, in 50 speeches addressing the holidays the word “rights” was articulated only six times out of 6,093 words the speakers used of which the word appeared five times in the public rally speech by Maria Titizyan alone, a member of the Armenian Revolutionary Party and former Vice President of Socialist International. [10]    The word “struggle” was used five times, of which three appeared again in Titizyan’s mentioned speech. [11]  The word “citizen” was used once, again in Titizyan’s speech.

At the same time, some of the most frequently used words in the mentioned speeches were “beauty” (75 times), “happiness” (49 times), “warmth” (45 times), “care” (18 times), “kindness” (26 times) and “to glorify” (16 times).  All these words indicate the general content of the texts.  The congratulations are addressed to women, mothers, sisters, daughters and only in two speeches, to grandmothers. [12]

The actual definition of woman's desired roles is further expressed in formulas of women’s happiness that are widely circulated in the statements of the political figures.

 “I wish you family warmth and the happiness of being loved and appreciated by your children. (A. Nalbandyan, Governor of Lori, March 8, 2014)

or

“May you continue to serve for the wellbeing and strength of your noble families with your devotion.  Armen Ghularyan, Governor of Tavush, March 8, April 7, 2013

As a rule, feminine desires prevail in masculine wishes, as does the preferred vision that women should have with a sexist content.

“I wish you endless charm, warm smiles and good mood in this spring.  My sincere wish is that you are always surrounded with attention and care.  May love and affection and feminine happiness follow you everywhere”. (Seyran Ohanyan, April 7, 2014).

or

“I wish you the freshness of spring, and women’s happiness ... (Aram Harutyunyan, Minister of Nature Protection, April 2013).

The feminine discourse is manifested in the congratulatory wishes inspired by the public mood, desirable perception of women’s role on one hand, and through constant reproduction on the government level on the other.

The theme of family is especially crucial in the address of politicians to women.  Thus, in the studied congratulatory texts the word “family” and “familial” are articulated 65 times, very often used along with words such as “warmth,” “pillar,”  “guardian” and “love.” By viewing women in the family environment, the political discourse positions the woman and defines her role in the private family environment and as reproducers, which is in fact at odds with content of state documents that aims at empowering women and creating equal opportunities for them.  In these messages, the emphasis is especially on women’s role as family pillar, and guardian and guarantor of family happiness and harmony. 

 “You are the pillars and guardians of your family, the bearer and transmitter of the beauty.”  (H. Abrahamyan, NA President, March 8).''

At the same time, by picturing women in a tight family circle, the politicians seemingly try to rationalize, justify and speak high about it by stressing the benefits of that position.

''Thanks to you, the family continues to be the warmest and most pleasant corner of the planet, and the world grows more and more harmonious, kind and tolerant. (Hovik Abrahamyan, NA President, March 8) ''

Even the explicitly pro-democratic Zharangutiun (Heritage) Party leader supports the family-oriented mission of women: “You are the pillars of the Armenian family and deserve the highest appreciation. (Zharangutiun, April 7).

The government's texts tend to picture women’s universal and societal mission and usefulness, again, with family at the core:  “The harmony of human relationships, strength and happiness of family depend on women’s attitudes.” (A. Ashotyan, April 7, 2014).

The social roles of women as they are defined in public speech of politicians perfectly fit within the perceptions of essentialist biological role-sharing.  These public addresses formulate women’s and men’s “innate” missions, thus leaving the thesis of social construction and social norms of femininity and masculinity out of the public discourse: “As wives, sisters and daughters, you carry out your God-given mission which you have accepted with self-devotion and dignity” (Hovik Abrahamyan). Meanwhile, international scholarly research has established that gender-based division of responsibilities in societies is not natural, but rather, is shaped by the cultural and social environments that men and women live in a particular period of time.   Moreover, these roles are not rigid and have changed over time, and contine to do so. Meanwhile, the assumption of gender roles as God-given in public addresses of the elite nullifies the Constitution, as well as other fundamental human rights documents which define all human beings as equal irrespective of their sex.

Woman's family roles are articulated with an emphasis on responsibilities that carry an ethnic specificity.  Thus, in the congratulatory addresses, being an Armenian woman and an Armenian mother are constantly emphasized: ''The Armenian woman, the Armenian mother is the preserver and eternal transmitter of the Armenian gene” (Hranush Hakobyan, Minister of Diaspora Affairs, 2014).

The Armenian woman's identity is discussed in a broader historical contest, thus excluding the possibility of synchronous and asynchronous diverse realities, and establishing a monotype and one-dimensional structure:  ''For centuries, the image of Armenian woman has been the most important factor for the national preservation, family stability and solidarity. (G.Tsarukyan, April 7, 2013).

It is interesting to observe how women’s position in society and empowerment are pursued in the public speech of politicians who, as part of their work and professional activities, work toward legislation on women’s rights and equality.   The analysis of their speech illustrates that women’s public role is rarely brought up in public statements. In general, concerns over women’s rights and opportunities are never discussed in the context of the celebrations of women's days.  The issues that women face in the Republic of Armenia do not get voiced, and goals to overcome these issues do not appear on the public agenda. 

Under these circumstances, a simple question arises.  Namely, if there are no issues in the field of women’s rights and opportunities, why all the numerous state measures and initiatives toward this end?  Or if these issues exist, why do public figures eschew voicing them and contributing to their solution?

The rare references to women’s public role merely contribute to the discourse of femininity, and the plots of femininity and family: “All occasions of Armenia's success have been made possible due to strong family values and the most active involvement of women in all spheres of public life.”  Serzh Sargsyan, March 8, 2014

Or

“It's hard to imagine our success without your unique charm, beauty and wisdom. Your active participation in all spheres of public and political life strengthens the faith and confidence in the future (H. Abrahamyan, March 8, 2014).

 Or

“Your role in the strength of Armenian families, in preservation of Armenian people and the values it has created is priceless.  Your contribution to the social and political life of our country is immense.  Your potential in education, science, culture, health and other fields is indispensable. / H. Abrahamyan, March 8, 2015 /

Women’s supporting roles in the presence of masculine domination is emphasized even in observations on women’s pubic and political roles.  Women are discussed as an inspiration and empowerment to the masculine rulers through their feminine qualities, such as beauty, devotion, and prudence. These qualities cannot be a driving force in the improvement of women's rights, or actions or intentions toward this end.

As stated in Hovik Abrahamyan’s congratulatory message, “[i]t is hard to imagine our success without your unique charm, beauty and wisdom. Your active participation in all spheres of public and political life strengthens the faith and confidence in the future.” In this context it is difficult to imagine how women’s active social and political participation that the political elite  so “strives for” is in fact possible.  Even former Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan, who was quite an advocate of democratic values, presented women's agenda only in the context of femininity in his address: “You make it possible for us to be primed and overcome all the difficulties that exist in our country. Your beauty has always helped us to move forward, for which I thank you” (Tigran Sargsyan, March 8, 2014).

The renewal of patriarchal value system in the public speech of state authorities  creates a platform for the reproduction and reinforcement of that system, as well as for the firmness of their own power, both masculine and political.

 

SUMMARY AND RECOMMENDATIONS

In conclusion, a number of points can be singled out that describe the situation with women’s political participation in Armenia.

Gender equality and empowerment of women in the Republic of Armenia aimed at providing the tools are unable to change the conservative character of public discourse.

The content and indicators of low political participation of women are rooted deeply.   

Those in charge of political agenda are locked up within the content of patriarchal discourse, and consequently, they are not capable to reshape women’s political agenda.

Contradictions and ambiguities are observed in the conservative texts of the political figures and the party or official documents they present on reform in the social order/norms.

In the political discourse women are viewed in reproductive roles typical for a patriarchal society.  Their child-bearing and maternity functions are emphasized.

Women are presented in sexist and attributed feminine models in the texts of politicians.

The language/vocabulary of politicians produce new formulations for woman's reproductive auxiliary roles, and in the process, define the masculine power.

The transcribed texts of political addresses are very identical and one-dimensional.

Women’s agenda is still blank...

It is difficult to propose policy-directed concrete and visible tools on this topic.  It is unrealistic to expect drastic change in the value system and linguistic thinking of policy-makers.

Under these circumstances, the role of representatives of civil field is important. The formation of women’s agenda is equally a matter or priority both for the political field and the public at large.

The joining of efforts of all stakeholders, as well as the awareness of need for gender mainstreaming will necessarily raise the probability of influencing the process.

It is also important to propose a new Armenian-language text for political discourse against the existing patriarchal text.  The international donor organizations and local stakeholders should create multi-dimensional research possibilities toward this end.  Moreover, it is desirable that NGOs actively circulate these new texts on their web pages thus establishing a new environment for discussion in the native language in the native language and in the familiar linguistic thinking. 

The next step should be publication of alternative texts through all possible mechanism, including media, academia and the public.  The alternative texts should be aimed at the deconstruction of patriarchal discourse, and varying interpretation of concepts such as traditional national values and family norms.

Special attention should be paid to identifying and implementation of mechanisms of awareness-raising in issues of women’s rights and gender equality among the speechwriters. 

During the election campaign, possible collaboration platforms should be discussed with opposition forces with the goal of defining new possibilities for women’s agenda.

Monitoring and accountability mechanisms should be established for women’s discourse in the public speech of political figures using multiple platforms, such as media, monitoring, roundtables, etc.  

Bibliograpy:

[1] “The Global Gender Gap Report (The World Economic Forum),” // http://www.weforum.org/reports

[2] Women’s Participation in Armenian Parliamentary Elections 2012: An Analytical Review (Yerevan: Ashoghik, 2012), p. 16.

[3] The Political Elite in Post-Soviet Armenia: Characteristics and Routes of Formation (Yerevan: Edit Print 2014), p. 50.

[4] Women’s Participation in Armenian Parliamentary Elections of 2012…

[5] The Political Elite in Post-Soviet Armenia…, p. 87.

[6] For more details, see Irina Ghaplanyan and Anna Melikyan, “Strengthening Women’s Political Participation in the Republic of Armenia: Existing Efforts, Challenges and Opportunities.” http://ysu.am/files/Anna%20Melikyan%20and%20Irina%20Ghaplanyan.pdf

[7] For details, see http://hanun.am/?p=71 . The document presents the public debates on this issue, the perceptions and formulas of most outspoken organizations in respect to gender issues.    

[8] Vows taken during the wedding ceremony in the Armenian Apostolic Church.  Translator’s note.

[10] The word “Right” is also used in the March 8th speech of Arthur Baghdasaryan, leader of the Country of Law party.

[11] Maria Titizyan, “This Movement Contains Hope, Light, Prospects for Future and Justice.”  http://www.arfd.info/hy/?p=7143

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