Armenia: empowering women to lead their communities
“I got inspired during the workshops and decided to run in the elections to support my community to the best of my abilities. Now, the more I get involved in community governance, the more I learn, the more anxious I am of the level of responsibility I have,” says Javahir Yeghiazaryan.
But Javahir’s success in achieving public office is inconsistent with the experience of most women in Armenia.
- Only 11 per cent of parliamentarians are women;
- To date, with the support of UNDP and the European Union, 128 female candidates have stood for positions in local government of which 84 were elected by their communities;
- Overall 623 women run for elections in 2012 of which 406 were elected.
Only 11 per cent of parliamentarians are women, while at the local level, the reality is even bleaker. Women comprise barely nine per cent of representatives in local government.
Since it opened an office in Armenia, UNDP has been advocating for gender equality. More recently, however, UNDP and the European Union have teamed-up to support women’s leadership in local communities.
Support is offered, pre-election, to women interested in running for local public office and, post-election, to those elected and those working in local government administration.
But why focus solely on women’s leadership in communities?
“Local governance is a good entry point for women’s leadership,” says Natalya Harutyunyan, the “Women in Local Democracy” Project Coordinator. “They build experience in policy-making and leadership, and thus gradually empower themselves to perform leadership roles beyond their respective communities,” she adds.
To date, with the support of UNDP and the European Union, 128 female candidates have stood for positions in local government of which 84 were elected by their communities. Overall 623 women run for elections in 2012 of which 406 were elected. This is still a tiny proportion of the 5,384 elected representatives in local government, but it's a start and we’re focusing on quality.
“We women bring a greater focus on education, healthcare and social issues to the work of local government. But we are challenged by the gap between the expectations of the people who laid their trust on us and elected us, and the limited resources we have in local government,” says Lyuba Abrahamyan.
Allocating finite public resources to competing programmes is a challenge for community leaders across the world. Making these decisions in a participatory manner is central to building the legitimacy of local governance and social cohesion in communities.
“For me, as a member of local government, it is important to ensure that my neighbours are comfortable with the decisions. I often stop by and share in their challenges and ideas,” says Lyuba.
To tie all of this work together, the initiative is stimulating a nation-wide conversation on gender equality. Talk shows, documentaries and communities on social media are discussing sensitive issues and local successes.
By raising awareness of the pejorative stereotypes maintaining the status quo across the country, it is hoped that women’s leadership will become a sustainable component of local governance in Armenia.