Women in Armenia: equality through challenges!

Women in Armenia: equality through challenges!
In continuing the series of blog posts on women, this post will look at the economic independence of Armenian women.
For many women, the only way they can develop a sense of independence is through economic independence. While some economic activity, especially those that fall within traditional gender roles like cleaning or teaching children, is accepted by many societies, there are still many large impediments to women seeking economic equality and economic independence.
In Armenia, almost half of both men and women agree that being employed is the best way for a woman to gain independence, but there are multiple societal beliefs that limit women’s employment opportunities. Sixty-five percent of Armenian men and almost half of women believe that when there are limited jobs, men should have more rights to work than women (see the chart below). In a country with high unemployment like Armenia, this view can seriously limit women’s employment opportunities. Fortunately, official statistics say that the share of unemployed women of the total unemployed population has decreased from its peak of 61% in 2007 to 53% in 2011 (National Statistical Service Republic of Armenia, Women and Men in Armenia, pp. 107-109).

As women develop skills that can lead to higher incomes, like learning English or office management, they have the extra worry about their relationship with husbands: according to the recent World Values Survey ( WVS, 2011), almost half of Armenian men believe that problems are likely to occur if the wife makes more money than the husband does. Almost a third of Armenian woman have the same view.

While women are approaching equality in (un)employment in Armenia, there is still a large discrepancy in average wages. In 2011, the mean pre-tax monthly income for men was 131,294 AMD (about 350 USD) and for women it was 84,992 AMD (227 USD) (National Statistical Service of the Republic of Armenia, Labour Market in the Republic of Armenia, 2007-2011, p 163).
Promoting employment as a mean for economic independence challenges another traditional social norm for women: raising children. Fifty-nine percent of men and almost half of women believe that children suffer if the mother is a hired employee. Such common societal views may impose a negative social cost on mothers who take a job, including negative views among the mother’s social group or an increase in marital disagreements. 

Jim Yong Kim, the World Bank’s President, mentioned having bank accounts as one of the indicators of women being more independent and integrated with the formal economy.  Based on this indicator, one could record essential progress in Armenia even during the last year. According to another survey – CRRC’s Caucasus Barometer for the previous two years, the share of women with bank accounts more than doubled from 2011 to 2012 and is now at 34% of the female population. The share of women reporting that they have any personal savings grew more modestly from 7.1% to 10.3%, which is in line with men’s reported savings.