“Women belong in the Revolution?!” | A study on gender equality in Armenian politics

By Hannah Brandt
CRRC-Armenia Intern

The Armenian ‘Velvet Revolution’ saw Serzh Sargsyan, Armenia’s Prime Minister and head of the Republican Party of Armenia (RPA), who was clinging onto power beyond his tenure as the country’s president from 2008-2018, effectively ousted. Protestors called for Sargsyan’s resignation, more transparency in politics, as well as the end of corruption, nepotism and economic inequality created under the Republican Party’s entrenched rule. The protest movement united Armenian citizens, and also women took the streets of whom many were seen carrying signs stating: “Women belong in the kitchen revolution”. And indeed, women, as the new Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan acknowledged during an interview with the French radio station Radio France Inter (RFI), were, together with the youth, the main motors of the revolution. He praised the immense and unprecedented participation of women during the ‘Velvet Revolution’. Nonetheless, when asked about the retention of the status quo in what concerns gender equality in Armenian politics, he remarked that “things have evolved too quickly for this balance of power to be reflected in the composition of the government. Civil activism has not yet turned into political activism”. In a press statement Pashinyan voiced that the new government will work to advance women’s rights in Armenia and work to engage more women ingovernment.

There is a lot of work ahead of the new government on this issue. In fact, since 2010 there have never been more than three women ministers in the government structure and no women governors (marzpet). Most of the women ministers filled rather gender stereotypical positions, such as in the Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Diaspora. Furthermore, out of 6,164 local council members (avagani) in Armenia, only 534 are women (8.6%), according to 2011 figures from the Central Election Commission. The share of women in the National Assembly is close to 11% despite a quota prescribed in the Electoral Code of 2016 requiring 20% of candidates on every party’s election list (=before the election) to be female.

This political constellation is reflected in The GlobalGender Gap Report 2017 which ranks the Republic of Armenia within the last 25 percent of the world countries in what concerns political empowerment (111th), women in parliament (93rd), women in ministerial positions (106th) and years with female head of state (69th). The Global Gender Gap Report (GGGR) published annually by the World Economic Forum, ranks countries on a scale from zero to one, based on the female-to-male ratio, in terms of women’s economic participation, educational attainment, health and political empowerment in international comparison. Armenia, ranking 97th (out of 144 countries) in 2017, with a 0.677 score, is just one place ahead of Azerbaijan (0,676) and 3 places behind of Georgia (0,679). A somber reflection of gender equality in the South Caucasus with these states ranking close to countries such as Tajikistan (95th), Cambodia (99th), China (100th) and Malawi (101st) [Figure 1].

Figure 1: The Global Gender Gap Report 2017.Ranking of 144 world countries based on the female-to-male ratio in economics, education, health and politics. In this graph countries are categorized and compared in the space of their geo-spatial limits.

Bearing this in mind, obstacles contributing to Armenia’s gender inequality in the political sphere (111 out of 144) are gender stereotypes, gender roles, women’s lack of economic independence and the overall political culture. What outlook can we give on their rigidity after the ‘Velvet Revolution’ and following its aftermath?

In an interviewwith Aghasi Tadevosyan, the researcher at the National Academy’s Institute for History, Archeology and Ethnography points out that “in our country [Armenia] not only the clear differences between men and women have been preserved, but also the stereotype that the employment of women is humiliating. Furthermore, a man who works in many social situations can be ridiculed, disrespected or even insulted.”
This analysis of gender roles may appear poignant, but around 10 percent of Armenian men discourage their wives from working. What’s more, gender stereotypes are imminent in the Armenian culture and may be retrieved in public speeches given by Armenian politicians. In fact, speeches delivered between 2013 and 2015 on the national holidays dedicated to women - March 8, Women’s Day, and April 7, Motherhood and Beauty Day, stressed the importance of “beauty” (mentioned 75 times*), “happiness” (49), “warmth” (45), “care” (18), “kindness” (26) and “to glorify” (16). In contrast, political references such as “rights” (5), “struggle” (5) and “citizen” (1) were barely mentioned.

Women’s participation in politics is supposedly also held back by their lack of economic independence. In fact, the 2016 report of the International Labor Organization (ILO) shows that among post-Soviet countries Armenia has the highest unemployment rate of women. According to the data 17.5 percent of Armenian women among those over 25 years old are unemployed. Based on a model of the ILO, the World Bank estimates that female unemployment will be augmenting over the course of the next years. Tajikistan which ranks just before Armenia in this report, for comparison has only 10.5 percent of women who face unemployment. For further comparison in the South Caucasus, Georgia has 8.9 percent, while in Azerbaijan it is 6 percent. But when analyzing the 2017’s GGGR CountryScorecard [Figure 2] one can tell that Armenia ranks above average in the sectors of “educational attainment” (42 out of 144) and “economic participation and opportunity” (71 out of 144).

50 different speeches addressing the March 8 and April 7 holidays in Armenia were analyzed. In total 6,093 distinctive words were articulated. From these 6,093 words, the total amount of the noun “beauty” being uttered amounted to 75. Further details may be found at: http://www.feminism-boell.org/en/2016/04/01/women-politics-and-political-texts-armenia
Figure 2: The Global Gender Gap Report Country Scorecard of Armenia. 
In this graphic the Armenian scores in the sectors of Economy, Education, Health and Politics are compared with the 2017 average score of all evaluated countries. 
The economic situation can thus be considered as minor obstacle to women’s participation in politics, a part from the electoral deposit prescribed in the Armenian Electoral Code. Furthermore, female politicians need to undergo a long process of proving their right to a prominent spot in public life. This reflects the general political culture in Armenia. The World ValuesSurvey, wave 2010-2014, indicates that more than 3 out of 5 Armenians believe that men make better politicians than women*. 

There is a tendency though, showing that the better the education the stronger the opposition to this statement. When cross tabulating the statement by the different educational categories, one perceives that from the divisions of “no formal education”, “primary school”, “secondary (university preparatory)” to “university degree” the overall percentage negation of the statement raises from 0, through 18 and 27 percent to 30 percent. [Figure 3] Remarkable though is that this comes from women only. When including the variable “respondent’s sex” in a regression model, one observes that men’s approval rests at a stable 70 percent, whilst women’s approval diminishes from the same percentage, to 43% for women with a university degree. [Figure 4]

The complete statement read “On the whole, men make better political leaders than women do”. Possible answers were “ strongly agree”, “agree”, “disagree”, “strongly disagree”, “no answer” and “don’t know”. They were regrouped into three categories: “agree”, “disagree” and “don’t know”. A total of 1,100 individuals were interviewed.

Figure 3: World Values Survey Wave 6 (2010-2014) Cross Tabulation of the statement “On the whole, men make better political leaders than women do” by highest educational level attained

Figure 4: World Values Survey Wave 6 (2010-2014)
Cross Tabulation of the statement “On the whole, men make better political leaders than women do” by respondent’s gender.

Current tendencies

As data from the Caucasus Barometer shows that younger people are statistically more educated [Figure 5] than their older counterparts, one may infer further involvement from women to fight gender bias in politics. A predominant example for this has been the involvement of Anna Hakobyan, in the political rallies of her husband, Nikol Pashinyan. By giving political speeches by his side and partly taking over the organisation of the protests, she stands as role model for future female leaders in the political sphere. And also Lena Nazaryan, a member of the “Way Out” faction, could always be seen at the rallies as a civic activist.

Furthermore, political scientist Arthur Atanesyan noted about the Armenian ‘Velvet Revolution’ that a “sexual revolution” took place. “People who were accustomed to hiding their emotions for social and cultural reasons were kissing freely on the streets”. This gives hopes to a further dissolving of rigid gender roles in the future.

Albeit there being female deputy ministers and female heads of municipalities, solely two women, Mane Tandilyan - the vice chair of the Bright Armenia Party (Yelk alliance) - and Lilit Makunts -an Associate Professor at the Russian-Armenian University in Yerevan-, have been appointed to the higher positions of Minister of Labor and Social Affairs and Minister of Culture respectively, of the new cabinet.

Supposing that Pashinyan’s promise of engaging more women in the new government (he is keeping the same ration up as before the revolution) appears neglected, one must bear in mind, that it takes time to build a wider pool or women politicians to engage on the national political landscape.

The next parliamentary elections, which should be held within a year of the revolution, will show how and to what extent the female ‘Velvet Revolution’ has taken place and has transformed female civic activism into political activism.

Figure 5: Caucasus Barometer 2017 Armenia
Cross Tabulation of the question “Highest level of education you have achieved” by age group.