Women Fail To Gain Ground In Armenian Election
Politics remains male-dominated despite quota for women in parliament.
Despite the introduction of a quota to ensure women make up 20 per cent of Armenia’s parliament, the reform has failed to have much effect, with only half that percentage winning seats in the May 6 election.
Fourteen women out of the 131 members of parliament represent an increase on the 12 who had seats before the election, but analysts say a substantial improvement on that figure is not on the horizon.
They blame a lack of official support for getting more women into public life, in part because there is not enough grassroots pressure to prompt it, and also the fact that few women enjoy the financial independence to allow them to run for office.
The first Armenian parliament elected after independence in 1991 had 12 female members out of a total of 190, or just over six per cent, compared with nearly 11 per cent in the present legislature.
According to Tamara Hovnatanyan, head of the ProMedia-Gender group, “If we look at these dynamics, then we will need at least 25 years to reach the 20 per cent quota.”
Reformed electoral rules introduced last year require political parties to ensure that female candidates account for at least one-fifth of the list of names they submit under the proportional representation system.
According to the Organisation of Security for Cooperation in Europe, OSCE, which monitored the May election, the initial lists did meet the criteria, with women making up 22 per cent of the total across the various lists.
Because candidates are awarded seats from the top of the list down, women’s names have to appear at regular intervals. In theory, that should have guaranteed that the quota was met. In practice, though, seven female candidates dropped out to make way for male colleagues, skewing the final results.
The quota applied to the 90 seats allocated by proportional representation, but not to the remaining 41 elected in first-past-the post constituency polls. Only 12 of the 155 candidates standing in the latter system were female, and the OSCE noted that since three of these reported no campaign expenditure, that suggested they were not genuine candidates. Just nine of the 41 constituencies had any female candidates running at all.
Narine Movsisyan, head of Yerevan Agricultural University’s research centre, was among the few women who did stand for a constituency seat, putting herself forward as an independent in the southern town in Kapan.
Although she did not win, she said it was a sort of victory just to register as a candidate, after she was denied access to television and barred from campaigning by some local officials, and relatives received threats.
“By putting myself forward, I dispelled the long-held myth that one needs support from some quarters to become a candidate. Under a total electoral blockade, with no campaign headquarters, no full-time campaigning, and no media visibility, I still managed to win 1,340 votes,” Movsisyan told IWPR. “I don’t consider myself defeated.”
Yelena Vardanyan, head of the Civic Chamber’s commission for gender and demographic affairs, said women could aspire to some top public positions, as long as it was not politics.
“Political position serves as a support for one’s business interests, and men are not yet prepared to surrender these posts,” she said. “Public opinion is another obstacle – this society is not yet prepared to place its faith in women.”
That was not an opinion shared by female candidates who made it into parliament, like Naira Zohrabyan of the Prosperous Armenia party, who predicts that the female legislators would play a full and active role.
She noted that Armenia’s parliamentary delegates to the Council of Europe and to Euronest, an assembly that groups the European Union and six of its eastern neighbours.
“This is no coincidence,” she said. “It is specifically women who’ve been entrusted with representing Armenia’s interests in important international arenas.”
Zohrabyan, who is now serving her second term in parliament, believes other women only have themselves to blame if they cannot break into politics.
“We need to overcome this complex within ourselves before we demand that men respect gender equality,” she said.
However, Yervand Bozoyan, head of the Mitk political research centre, argues that women do face many obstacles in a male-dominated society.
“In a country where the national mentality includes the idea that the father is head of the family while the wife and children must do as he says, it’s impossible to achieve gender equality in political life,” he said.
Gayane Mkrtchyan is a correspondent for Armenianow.com.