How will women participate in Armenia’s new government?

Preparations are underway for Armenia’s long awaited snap parliamentary elections scheduled for June 20.

President Armen Sarkissian scheduled the election after the National Assembly voted to dissolve itself this week. According to Article 149 of the Armenian Constitution, if the office of the prime minister becomes vacant, the parliament has two opportunities to nominate a new candidate or else dissolve. On April 25, PM Nikol Pashinyan resigned according to an agreement with the opposition parliamentary factions to stage early elections in order to resolve the country’s ongoing political crisis. 

Pashinyan’s Civil Contract Party and the parliamentary opposition Bright Armenia and Prosperous Armenia parties will each run their own candidates in the election. Former president Robert Kocharyan will lead the Armenian Revolutionary Federation and the newly formed Resurgent Armenia Party in the “Armenia” Political Alliance. Former president Serge Sarkisian’s Republican Party and former director of the National Security Service Artur Vanetsyan’s Homeland Party will also run as an electoral bloc. The deadline for political parties or blocs to submit documentation to the Central Election Commission is May 26. The campaign period will begin on June 7 and end two days before the election. 

The election will be held under a system of proportional representation under which citizens will vote for political parties and their closed, rank-ordered lists of candidates. The National Assembly adopted Bill P-919 in early April eliminating the open list component, known as the “ratingayin” system, under which voters can choose between regional candidates. While President Sarkissian refused to sign the bill into law, Speaker of the National Assembly Ararat Mirzoyan signed the bill in time for the summer elections. However a larger package of electoral reforms addressing electoral thresholds, campaign financing and corruption was not adopted in time for implementation during the upcoming elections. 

For the first time, the quota for the proportion of female MPs on each party’s rank-ordered list must be at least one out of three candidates, increased from one in four candidates by a law that came into effect in January. While men and women vote in equal numbers across gender lines, women are severely underrepresented within the executive and legislative branches and local governments. 

International media outlets took note of the high levels of female participation in the 2018 Velvet Revolution, as women set up barricades, delivered speeches to crowds about women’s rights, and maintained peace within the movement. However, in spite of their visible involvement, women were not granted greater political power during the course of the regime change. 

In 2018, then newly elected PM Pashinyan heralded a new era of gender equality when he declared during his May 8 speech to the National Assembly, “We need to create equal opportunities for all women to continue being part of political decisions in the new Armenia.” Nevertheless only two women were appointed to his 17-member cabinet, then Minister of Labor and Social Affairs Mane Tandilyan and Minister of Culture Lilit Makunts. 

Lilit Makunts addressing the National Assembly (Photo RA National Assembly, May 10)

Today acting Minister of Health Anahit Avanesyan is the sole female member of the cabinet. There are 30 female deputies among the 132 seats in the National Assembly and zero women among the governors of the nation’s 10 provinces. 

A public opinion survey conducted by the International Republican Institute (IRI) in September of 2020 among residents of Armenia reveals marked differences in political engagement between men and women outside of holding formal government posts. The survey records an 18-point difference between the number of men and women who have participated in a protest, a 13-point difference between the number of men and women who have contacted a parliament member and a 10-point difference between the number of men and women who have attended a political meeting. 

Men and women only demonstrate equal levels of engagement when it comes to signing petitions and posting on social media about political issues, approximately 26 percent and 19 percent, respectively. Only eight percent of men and three percent of women indicate that they have ever run for political office. 

The survey also uncovers a widespread desire among women for increased engagement in political activities. It suggests a 20-point difference between the number of women who have contacted a parliament member in the past and the number of women who are interested in contacting a parliament member in the future. Similarly the survey records an 11-point difference in regards to participating in a protest, a 10-point difference in regards to attending a political meeting, a 13-point difference in regards to signing a petition and a 10-point difference in regards to posting on social media about political issues. 

Fourteen percent of men and seven percent of women indicated an interest in running for political office within the next several years. As opposed to private political activities, running for political office is the only realm in which the difference between interest and current involvement was greater among men than women. 

Indeed, according to the survey, more men than women believe that women are not sufficiently involved in national and local governments, the National Assembly and membership in political parties. For example, 63-percent of female participants believe that women are adequately represented in government ministries, while 33 percent do not. Meanwhile, 56 percent of men agree and 40 percent disagree that women are sufficiently involved in this sphere. 

These numbers suggest that while women aspire to expand their political participation within private capacities, such as joining protests or civil society organizations, they feel less inclined to run for political office. 

Men and women overwhelmingly agree that the primary reason women are not politically engaged in Armenia is that they are preoccupied with childcare and housekeeping. Men and women view the “dirty” nature of politics as the secondary reason why women do not run for political office, suggesting that women are unfit to engage in a corrupt or morally dubious professional sphere. 

The survey discloses that women additionally perceive a wide range of other obstacles to running for office, particularly a lack of family support, hate speech targeting women politicians in the media and the absence of a support network. While a majority of female participants attested to these disadvantages as important reasons why women are not represented in political roles, a majority of men diverged from this view, instead attributing the imbalance in representation to a dearth of political experience among women and patriarchal cultural norms that discourage women from running for office. 

Research suggests that women’s representation in Armenia’s government would not only protect democratic consolidation, but also promote policies that improve the socioeconomic conditions of women and children related to education, health, social programs and child care. In the aftermath of the devastating 2020 Artsakh War, the nation faces a daunting list of challenges, including the provision of housing and employment to displaced people, the provision of rehabilitative care to disabled and wounded soldiers and civilians and the provision of psychological treatment to a population traumatized by conflict. Women additionally experience gendered impacts of the conflict, including newfound financial responsibilities following the deaths or injuries of their family members and rising levels of domestic violence in a postwar society. The insufficiency of political engagement among women excludes a diversity of perspective that might guide the agenda of the new administration in overcoming the overlapping national crises. 

Lillian Avedian

Lillian Avedian

Lillian Avedian is the assistant editor of the Armenian Weekly. She reports on international women's rights, South Caucasus politics, and diasporic identity. Her writing has also been published in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Democracy in Exile, and Girls on Key Press. She holds master's degrees in journalism and Near Eastern studies from New York University.

1 Comment

  1. I read this article after seeing that only men were around the successful PM elected in elections in Armenia yesterday. I don’t know whether his party is progressive, or how many women were elected in the new election, but his party elected 32 MPs in the last election. Thanks for the detailed article.

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