Dozens of angry young women rallied in Yerevan on Thursday to protest against government plans to cut maternity benefits paid by the state in Armenia.
The protesters, some of them pregnant, demanded that the Armenian government annul its recent decision to seek corresponding amendments to a law that entitles pregnant working women to financial support during 140 days preceding and following the birth of a child.
The law currently stipulates that the monthly allowances must fully match the salaries of women employed by public or private entities. The government bill submitted to the parliament this month would cut their amount by at least 20 percent. Pregnant women with work experience of up to 1 and 3 years would be paid sums equivalent to only 40 percent and 60 percent of their wages respectively.
The government attributes the measure to the scarcity of public funds spent from its budget. Officials say the government would use the money saved through the proposed cuts to also pay benefits to unemployed mothers starting from 2016.
The women who gathered outside Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamian’s offices during a weekly session of his cabinet dismissed these explanations. They said that smaller maternity allowances would lower Armenia’s birth rate and thereby aggravate its serious demographic problems.
Inessa Muradian, who carried her 4-month-old son during the protest, said that if the government bill is passed by the parliament many women will think twice before having second or third children. “The government is forcing us to leave our babies and get back to work,” she told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Labor and Social Affairs Minister Artem Asatrian defended the bill when he spoke to journalists inside the government building. A spokeswoman for his ministry said Asatrian is ready to meet representatives of the protesting women and discuss their demands. Some of them rejected the offer.
“Our demand is clear: withdraw the bill,” said Tatevik Davtian. “The ministry [of labor and social affairs] will either agree or not agree to that. We have nothing to negotiate on.”
The Armenian parliament will hold hearings on the issue on Monday.