“To all the little girls: Never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance in the world to pursue your dreams.” Hillary Clinton.
On April 21, the American University of Armenia hosted a conference called “Empowerment of Girls and Women in Armenia.”
The conference included a number of inspiring professionals, including ambassadors, professors, academic colleagues, guests from Europe and the Middle East, and AUA students, some of whom came all the way to Yerevan to talk about one important topic.
Shakeh Kaftarian, the President & CEO of International Empowerment Evaluation Consultants, gave a short introduction about the current condition of women’s rights in Armenia. She pointed out that despite the progress and improvement in recent years, there is still a long way to go with solving issues such as gender equality, gender-selective abortions, prejudice, and violence towards women. Another issue is the diminishing of women’s role socially, economically, politically, and culturally.
The discrimination towards women created this conference, which aims to lead a research on gender-related attitude in different aspects of life in Armenia.
To understand the current problems, Arpine Hovhannisyan, the Minister of Justice, talked about statistics and her own experience in being a woman in power. She emphasized the importance of correctly identifying the role of women, understanding women’s abilities, and noting that success comes with education, passion, vision, and desire, which have nothing to do with one’s gender. According to statistics, out of 286 employees in the Ministry of Justice, 208 are women, which shows the rising improvement in equality.
The conference continued with the next speaker, Mary Papazian, the president of San Jose State University (SJSU) since 2016, who talked about solutions to gender-related issues. As a female leader, she believes that a sustainable future should be build upon the understanding of the core of inequality and a proper research on gender and women’s studies. In the United States, there is a slow progress for women (mostly white), however, the 2015 statistics show that women still earn less money than men by doing the same amount of work. Similarly, Armenia is facing improvement in opportunities for women, such as education, however, the inequality in labor force stays the same.
The researcher and conference coordinator,Valentina Gevorgian, introduced the first panel discussion of the conference focusing on the recent programs supporting and educating women and girls towards succeed.
The first speaker, Lee Carter, is the supporter of Women’s Mentoring Program in Armenia. The program had 230 mentors and mentees in 2009 and now it has expanded to include more people from more regions. Based on personally shared experiences and advice between mentors and mentees, the program aims to empower the next generation to become successful professionals.
The head of Personal Data Protection and founder of ‘Freedom of information Center’ Shushan Doydoyan shared her experience as a mentor, saying that it requires a huge responsibility and understanding of the mentee’s mission, as well as mutual trust. She believes that women can be powerful multitaskers as long as it doesn’t pressure the family’s happiness.
Varduhi Baloyan, the representative of ‘Our Lady of Armenia Center,’ who is dedicated to provide education and health center to orphans in Gyumri, talked about the origin of the program (started since the earthquake of 1988), and their mission, which includes steps towards empowerment of underprivileged people, assistance in identifying the challenges of being an orphan and creating role models. She explained that being an orphan is not a verdict, and that they have the same rights as any person is the psychological assistance of the program, as well as providing tutoring and building confidence and independence.
Naira Manukyan presented her program – ‘Huso Aygi’ (Garden of Hope) – which aims to provide education and internships for young girls aging 17-22. The program has 104 participants attending training seminars, mentorship, and events. They learn foreign languages and IT, lead workshops on various topics, and develop confidence and independence. Among everything, they also have meetings with priests and lead discussions. After leaving the program, they usually get jobs or internships either in Armenia or abroad.
After the panel discussion, the members of Impact Hub – Larisa Hovhannisian and Taline Kevonian presented their projects – Teach For Armenia and Meline’s Garden. Taline talked about the common issues of business women who are often not considered trustworthy or responsible, and the non traditional behavior of women in workplace, such as leading negotiations and meetings instead of making coffee.
Karine Sarkisian, one of the first graduates of the American University of Armenia and the current president of Urakh Agarak (Happy Ranch) organization, also presented her program’s mission.
The following panel discussion was about trafficking, its identification as ‘modern slavery’, some stories and ideas of how to prevent it.
Gulnara Shahinian , first UN Special Rapporteur on Slavery at UN Human rights Council, opened the discussion by identifying trafficking as a crime and violation of human rights. She explained that trafficking cannot only be identified as slavery, since it has various means, such as organ trafficking or drug trafficking.
Vahram Kazhoyan from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs talked about possible solutions after presenting a successful story in finding an Armenian woman who was a victim of trafficking. Reporting to the police, conducting research, and contacting the relatives of the lost person can eventually find and bring back victims of trafficking back to Armenia. The issue remains that people do not want to admit or talk about the concept of trafficking.
Further treatments of victims through programs can help people get back on their feet by clearly understanding the victim’s needs and problems.
The serious discussion of trafficking was followed by a motivational speech by the CEO of the Golden Grape ArmAs, LLC – Victoria Aslanian, who gave examples of discrimination towards women in simple life situations based on her experiences. Such were the idea of a woman driving a long distance or studying abroad. She ended her speech by saying “Only you know what you can and cannot do.”
The final topic of discussion was dedicated to stereotypes and domestic violence in Armenia. Ani Jilozian – the representative of Women Support Center in Yerevan, introduced the topic with a number of key issues, followed by a small presentation by the journalist and human rights defender – Arman Gharibyan covering information in womennet.am. He presented the CEDAW committee that accept reports of domestic violence. The ‘Gender based Budgeting’ was introduced as a means to prevent intolerance, develop empowerment, and understand people’s needs.
The discussion ended with the presentation of stereotype statistics studied throughout years showing that it originated from lack of education, unequal disagreements between men and women traditional, closed mentality.