In order to help empower women in Armenia, the American University of Armenia (AUA) is launching a fundraising for $2.5 million to be given annually in the form of 50 scholarships. These scholarships will be awarded to women pursuing an education in Computer Science or Engineering. With an internationally high demand for careers and education in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields, Armenia is not up to par with other countries. This leaves many wondering if the lack of women pursuing a future in the STEM fields is a crucial problem affecting the entire country.
Numbers and official statistics highlight Armenia’s poor performance in terms of gender equality and economic indicators. Armenia ranked 102nd among 144 countries for the World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap score in 2016. The country also ranked 125th in terms of “Political Empowerment” and 69th in terms of “Economic Participation” related to wage inequality and labor force participation. In Armenia, the overall salary received by women is currently 36% less than that received by men. Finally, the number of female Armenian students majoring in Humanities, Art, Pedagogy, and Culture is twice the number of their male counterparts, while in spheres such as Economics and Engineering, male students constitute a majority.
The root of the problem lies deeper than numbers and charts, since Armenian women pursuing an education or work in any of the STEM fields began to gradually increase only recently. Contrary to popular belief, women remain pressured and wary of choosing this path for their future beginning from a young age. Stereotypical mindsets, demotivating women of following their interests, are a key issue in the Armenian society. Despite the variety of job opportunities and high salaries in STEM fields, women often hold back when choosing this as their major or career path. With the lack of females in this sphere, the country loses many benefits in competition and overall innovations.
We notice how relevant the issue really is when we look at the stories of young women and girls in Armenia who enjoy sciences. Nina Kirakosyan, a Computer Science student at AUA says, “Unfortunately, we all see that the ratio of men and women in STEM is far from being equal. This is a trend not only in Armenia, but globally. So, naturally, an empowered woman with STEM education would be a threat to such values, it is outside of how ‘things are supposed to be’.” Nina currently studies Computer Science (CS), holding it to be her passion. She admits that before applying to University, it was intimidating to hear what people thought about her decision. “I still hear opinions like ‘Oh, CS? Really? But you are so good at languages, you should have gone into linguistics or something, that is much easier’ or ‘Do you know that most of your classmates are going to be boys, and competing with them is going to be really hard?’ and so on,” she adds.
Research has shown the benefits of women working in STEM fields for countries with declining birth rates. The empowerment of women pursuing this path will fit global labor demands while positively contributing to Armenia’s socio-economic situation. This will promote the closing of the gender gap in the country which, in turn, will lead to greater success and development. Encouraging women must begin from their upbringing at home and during preliminary education, as it is during those periods that a person’s outlook is primarily shaped.
Anahit Manukyan, another student at AUA who is currently acquiring a CSE (Computer Science and Engineering) education, speaks of the pressure in the modern world. “Everyone thought that as a girl, I should have chosen something more ‘feminine.’ I never give up my goals, which is key to becoming a successful programmer.”
These are the voices of only a small fragment of Armenian women who clearly have interest in STEM fields but are constantly battling inequality and defying social norms. The difference of ‘womanly’ and ‘manly’ career paths mutually affect the perspectives of new generations who are interested in progressive fields. If women passionate in STEM continue pursuing careers in humanities, and men uninterested in sciences continue following that path, many clashes will occur in the future.
Despite this, men are gradually encouraging equality for women in CSE. “I strongly believe that a woman can be a good housewife and an experienced specialist simultaneously. And if one of the STEM fields is their passion, they should go for it! Imagine how much of an advanced STEM system we would have if any employee, either a male or a female, did their job with love and passion,” says, Narek Shamamyan, a freshman CS student at AUA. Fortunately, gender equality is becoming a relatively positive concept among millennials with the constant international awareness campaigns. Despite this, the situation is not ideal in Armenia and requires further progress for notable results.
The increasing demand of career opportunities in STEM fields requires more professionals. From this perspective, women’s presence is important for the development of the country. Our society as a whole should alter the social stereotypes and focus on motivating young women to pursue their interests in order to promote the efficiency of Armenia’s economy.
Tatevik Kyurkchyan – from the third issue