WATERTOWN, Mass. (A.W.)—On April 25, Armenia’s permanent representative to the United Nations, Ambassador Garen Nazarian, arrived in Boston for the 96th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. The Armenian Weekly’s Nanore Barsoumian had a chance to talk with the ambassador before he joined the commemorative events.
Ambassador Nazarian recently chaired the 55th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), which took place at UN Headquarters in New York from Feb. 22 to March 4, and on March 14. The 55th session was a follow-up to the Fourth World Conference on Women and to the 23rd special session of the General Assembly, entitled “Women 2000: gender equality, development, and peace for the twenty-first century.”
During the 55th session, the commission reached a number of agreed conclusions that focus on the promotion of gender equality in education and employment. It stressed the importance of mainstreaming a gender perspective in legislation and all government programs and policies, supporting women’s access to quality education and training, encouraging women’s role in the fields of science and technology, and eliminating all forms of discrimination and violence against women.
In the interview below, Barsoumian speaks to the ambassador about issues affecting women in Armenia, including poverty, domestic violence, and trafficking, their role in government and their access to education.
Nanore Barsoumian: Since you recently chaired the 54th and 55th sessions of the Commission on the Status of Women, I hope we can take this opportunity to discuss women’s issues in Armenia.
Ambassador Garen Nazarian: Let me thank you for the opportunity to talk about the UN Commission on the Status of Women. I had the privilege of chairing this important United Nations body, which is a functional commission of the UN Economic and Social Council. The chairmanship had been entrusted to Armenia for two years. I was privileged to lead the discussions in 2010 and also this year. As you know, I have already completed my mandate as chair of the commission this March.
A large number of member-states, UN entities, and members of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) brought many important perspectives and ideas to the commission. Many experts and panelists enriched the debates. Our discussions focused on a priority theme that is crucial to women’s ability to contribute fully to the development, economic growth, and wellbeing of all societies and nations: the participation of women and girls in education, training, science, and technology, including the promotion of women’s equal access to full employment and decent work.
We also looked towards the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, to be held in Rio de Janeiro in 2012. I was very pleased that the commission provided early input to the preparations for this conference. It was a perfect opportunity to learn about the practices, about the gaps and challenges that still remain in many different parts of the world, and also to see how we could transfer the lessons learned to Armenia.
N.B.: According to the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, adopted by the Fourth World Conference on Women, poverty has its effects on gender equality. Recently, Armenia’s National Statistics Service released the results of a survey, in which it stated that for the first time since 1998, Armenia saw an increase in poverty. What practical steps will the Armenian government take in this regard—including and especially in rural Armenia?
G.N.: CSW organized a joint meeting with the UN Statistical Commission, and it was an opportunity for dialogue between representatives of national statistics offices and national mechanisms for gender equality. Armenian delegates were among those participating in the debate.
I am happy to learn that gender statistics are now available and we can be part of the international cooperation supported by experts to further develop gender-sensitive statistics. This is very important because it is the core. You have to start from the statistics in order to talk about the patterns and trends and other issues. The government, and the Ministry of Social Welfare in particular, is very heavily engaged with the local NGOs in Armenia, working hand-in-hand to identify the statistics on poverty and the latter’s impact on gender inequalities. The development of the rural areas in general is one of the priorities that the government is following with the international donor community—the World Bank, IMF—since the poverty reduction strategy was launched many years ago. I think it is moving in the right path, and the gender equality matter is one of the important components there. We expect that there will be more initiatives by the government, NGOs, and public and private sectors—open discussions aimed at educating, especially those in the rural areas, about the main issues that involve gender equality and the empowerment of women.
I have seen that the Armenian NGOs are also very active in the diaspora, mainly the Armenian Relief Society (ARS). I had a chance to learn about their programs and their sensitivity. In the margins of the commission, I had a chance to speak with the ARS and today we examine the possibilities to partner with Armenia’s sister organizations and the government to launch successful programs there.
N.B.: How did Armenia benefit from chairing the commission?
G.N.: At the commission, we have had the many good experiences and lessons learned that have been shared, and also the frank assessment of the many gaps and challenges that still persist in all parts of the world towards the achievement of gender equality. We have been encouraged by all members of the commission and other stakeholders to remain engaged in this process, provide constructive advice and contributions so that gender perspectives are effectively mainstreamed in Armenia.
It was an opportunity to bring the international experience to Armenia, and to talk about issues related to women’s empowerment. We also hosted Armenian NGOs who specifically deal with this area. Both the governmental delegations and the representatives of the NGOs gained a lot from the discussions. This year we had a chance to organize a meeting, where the Armenian NGOs met with the ARS delegation at the Permanent Mission to the UN. We have a specialized media that covers women’s issues, magazines and newspapers. Last year we had a chance to host the deputy minister of social welfare in New York. She actively participated in all the deliberations that resulted in the adoption of the final document—the Agreed Conclusions. This is a document that is being negotiated and discussed between the member-states during the two-week session and it is completely owned by the delegations. It comes to the floor for adoption when everything is agreed. It is quite an impressive work. It talks about the legislation, statistics, education, and also channels, tools, and means of implementation. The document contains proposals in areas that need to be explored further, and these are perfect guidelines for countries to implement policies and programs related to gender equality and women’s empowerment.
N.B.: During the conference, you also talked about the importance of gender perspectives. Are there enough women in Armenia’s government—enough ministers and parliamentarians?
G.N.: I have to admit we have a long way to go and we have to pass that way in a speedy manner. In the Armenian Foreign Ministry, for example, women are a majority. I think we have around 60-65 percent employed—very capable and talented women—and they contribute very effectively in our everyday tasks and work. But of course, we need to expand this success story to other government agencies. In order to do that, we have to start from electoral processes. With more women being elected, more women will be involved in the decision-making processes. Hopefully, the number of women in legislative and executive bodies of Armenia will be increased. We are heading towards the 2012 parliamentary elections, and that is a perfect opportunity to address this matter.
N.B.: UN Women served as the secretariat of the Commission on the Status of Women. How will Armenia benefit from the work of UN Women? What can Armenia bring to the table? And what role can Armenian NGOs play at the UN?
G.N.: It was the first session of the commission where UN Women served as the secretariat. We still have to decide on the links between the UN Women and CSW. These are different mandates but they complement each other. The Commission on the Status of Women is a prime body to adopt the policies and concepts. UN Women is entitled to implement these policies adopted or provided by CSW on national and international levels. We look forward to working with UN Women very closely. We had a chance to meet its executive director—she is also the under-secretary-general—Ms. [Michelle] Bachelet, who is very capable and knowledgeable on women’s issues. We have discussed with her office the possibilities of launching special targeted programs in Armenia. I see the chance of also partnering with Armenian NGOs—both in Armenia and also in the diaspora—with the government, to address the issues effectively.
N.B.: In October 2010, a young woman, Zaruhi Petrosyan, was allegedly killed by her husband and mother-in-law. News of it reached the diaspora, and the circumstances of her death, the lack of attention and awareness of women’s rights issues in Armenia caused many Diasporan Armenians to be upset. How are the authorities in Armenia addressing the issue of domestic violence? And what can the diaspora do to support women’s rights and empowerment in Armenia?
G.N.: Well, the case that you mentioned, of course, I remember that. There were press publications about it. That was a private case happening in a family. Unfortunately, this took place in an Armenian family. Maybe this happened because we talk very little about the issue of domestic violence. I think we should not be ashamed and have open discussion within the society, though I do not believe that this is a widespread phenomenon in Armenia. I think it would be desirable to start from the schools, educating boys and girls about equality from their school years. From that perspective, we already launched a very successful program with the UN development program—entitled Curricula of Tolerance—in all 1,450 secondary schools.
N.B.: I think the other related issue is that there are only two women’s shelters in Armenia—one for battered women and one for victims of trafficking—and neither one is supported by the government. Can we expect that to change?
G.N.: Well, on the anti-trafficking issues, we work with UNDP [United Nations Development Program], the U.S. Embassy in Yerevan, and interested NGOs. The Foreign Ministry is doing a lot of work—initiatives and discussions with the Department of Migration to conduct special programs for public awareness—and I know we have better results and statistics compared with previous years.
N.B.: Women’s rights organizations in Armenia have expressed the need for trained professionals that can deal with victims of abuse. Are there, or will there be, any plans to meet those needs—whether through conferences, exchange programs, and training programs?
G.N.: This is a very specific area that you are mentioning. The Ministry of Social Welfare is very well placed to coordinate that area and the needs, engaging with the NGOs and experts.
N.B.: In general, sources say there are not enough professionals to deal with problems. That social workers, even the police, do not know how to deal with, for example, victims of sexual abuse.
G.N.: We are in the stage of introducing additional changes in the work of the police, and this is something that President [Serge] Sarkisian has recently emphasized. I need to educate myself more on this matter and would welcome any initiative and program that could be coordinated with the relevant governmental agencies.