By Karine Kalantarian
Armenian women are grossly underrepresented in government because they themselves oppose and block greater female involvement in politics, it was claimed on Monday.
Armenia has no female government ministers and only six out of 131 members of its parliament are women.
Hardly any of those deputies got elected to the National Assembly thanks to a legal provision stipulating that at least five percent of candidates put forward by a party or alliance must be women. Female candidates have usually been low on the electorate slates of competing political groups, meaning that their chances of winning parliament seats are virtually nil. The most common explanation for this phenomenon is that Armenia is still a conservative male-dominated society where women are largely confined to minor positions outside their homes.
But according to two of the country’s best-known female politicians, this is not necessarily the case. Speaking at a roundtable discussion in Yerevan, they said Armenian women have primarily themselves to blame for their extremely weak presence in the executive and legislative branches of government.
“Strangely enough, during elections in Armenia a woman is far more reluctant to elect another woman than a man is,” said Ruzan Khachatrian, a senior member of the People’s Party of Armenia (HZhK), a leading opposition group. “Why is this so? I don’t know.”
Khachatrian was the main opposition candidate in last October’s local election in Yerevan’s central administrative district which was won by a businessman close to President Robert Kocharian. She believes that that the vast majority of some 5,000 local residents who voted for her were men.
Lyudmila Harutiunian, a prominent Armenian sociologist who leads a small party called Arzhanapatvutyun (Dignity), agreed that winning an election or securing a high-level government post is extremely difficult for local women, but laid the blame squarely on the men. She said Armenia’s government affairs have long been monopolized by wealthy businessmen and other powerful men reliant on brute force and there is little the women can do about that.
“Dear Lyudmila, women just don’t vote for us. Let’s face it,” countered Alvard Petrosian, a parliament deputy representing the governing Armenian Revolutionary Federation party.
Petrosian claimed that Armenian women mistrust each other because in their day-to-day life they mainly deal with female-dominated public institutions rife with corruption. “When a woman is asked for a bribe by a schoolteacher or a doctor -- and it’s mainly women that work in those areas these days -- she ceases to believe in women,” she said.