“I have never imagined my life outside of Armenia. It has never crossed my mind to leave. I look at our country as a family. When something is wrong within my family, I don’t get up and leave. I want to fix it. The same can be said about your country - if it’s not doing well, if there are mistakes, that does not mean you leave. You stay and fix the mistakes.” This is how Lusine Haroyan, a sociologist, an expert in the tourism industry and a candidate running for a seat in parliament explains her foray into national politics.
On December 9, 2018 Armenia will be holding snap parliamentary elections. Haroyan is the only woman leading a list from the 11 political forces taking part. She will be leading the National Progress Party, which held its founding congress on October 3, 2018. The party, made up mostly of civic activists, did not only entrust their number one slot to a woman, but four from the top ten in their national proportional list are women as well.
“Forty percent of our list are comprised of women. We are the only political force who has two women in the top five. This means that our party considers the role women play in politics very important and creates equal opportunities for them to be involved alongside the men,” says the 49-year-old Haroyan.
Quota - The Last Hope for Women’s Involvement in Politics
According to Armenia’s legislation, the National Assembly is elected for a five-year term and has to have a minimum of 101 members. A member of the National Assembly has to be at least 25 years of age, must be an Armenian citizen and living permanently in Armenia for the last four years and can speak Armenian.
Following the Velvet Revolution, it was understood that snap elections would take place. This became legally feasible when Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan resigned from his post in October of this year and the National Assembly did not vote for a new prime minister twice as a result of political agreements by parliamentary forces.
Nine political parties and two political alliances will take part in the first nationwide snap elections.
Republican Party of Armenia
Citizen’s Decision Social Democratic Party
Armenian Revolutionary Federation
My Step Alliance
Bright Armenia Party
Christian Democratic Rebirth Party
National Progress Party
Country of Law Party
The National Progress Party has the most women on their list from all the political forces participating in the snap elections, with 43 out of the 83-person list being women (52 percent). Second place goes to the Citizen’s Decision Social Democratic Party, with 35 out of their 81-person list being women (43 percent). Next is the Country of Law Party with 50 out of their 131-person list being women (38 percent). Sasna Tsrer has 64 women in their 174-person list (37 percent), the Republican Party of Armenia has 45 out of 125 (30 percent), Bright Armenia has 44 out of 156 (28 percent), My Step has 48 out of 182 (26 percent), ARF has 39 out of 152 (26 percent) and Menq has 34 out of 134 (25 percent).
The RPA, Bright Armenia and Christian Democratic Rebirth parties are the only ones that have a woman as the second candidate on their party list. The My Step Alliance which is led by PM Nikol Pashinyan, and is the frontrunner in the elections, has the first woman on their list at number three.
Not only does the National Progress Party have two women in their top five, but also four women in their top ten. The My Step and Menq Alliances, Bright Armenia and Country of Law Party have only three women in their top ten. The remaining forces have merely satisfied what the law demands, that is they have a minimum of two women for every ten names.
The first woman candidate in the lists of those political forces who are currently or who have previously served in parliament are women who are currently or have previously been members of parliament. For example, Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly Arpine Hovhannisyan (RPA), current member of parliament Armenuhi Kiureghyan (ARF), current Yelq parliamentary faction leader Lena Nazaryan (My Step), former Minister of Labor and Social Affairs Mane Tandilyan (Bright Armenia), former member of parliament Heghine Bisharyan (Country of Law) and current member of parliament Naira Zohrabyan (Prosperous Armenia).
Women’s presence alongside men, however, is not the result of good will. In order to ensure women’s participation and presence in decision making bodies it had to be written into law.
According to Paragraph 14 of Article 133 of the “Transitional Provisions” section of the RA’s Electoral Code, political parties and each party within an alliance or coalition of parties should not include more than 75 percent of any gender; starting from the first name and each set of four candidates on a party’s (or alliance’s) national proportional list needs to include at least one male and one female.
This means that every fourth person or 25 percent of a party’s electoral list has to be a woman.
Despite the fact that more than 50 percent of Armenia’s population are women, the only party that has entrusted its number one slot to a woman is a newly founded one that is still not well known.
Tamara Hovnatanyan, President of Pro-Media Gender NGO and Editor-in-Chief of Womennet.am and Woman & Politics app says that women have had dismal representation in the top five names on national proportional lists. “This means that political parties have remained within the law and have a woman for every fourth place on the list - merely complying with the law. If there was no law, it’s possible that we would have a different picture, because the top five represents women’s importance within the party,” she says adding that there are many reasons for this. So much so that a quota had to be implemented. She continues, “Without a quota women’s progress is thwarted. If a woman is not important within her party and is not part of their higher ranks, then this is a serious issue. This means that there is a membership issue.”
The Citizen’s Decision Social Democratic Party, which was founded on November 3, 2018, has their first woman candidate, Ruzanna Torozyan, in the number three slot on their electoral list. Torozyan says that women have a lot of potential and can do many things in politics. She explains, “I would really like there to be no quotas and for women to participate actively, because ignoring their potential truly is luxury we can not afford in our country. I believe that women should be part of the creation of a New Armenia.”
Director of the Center for Gender and Leadership Studies at Yerevan State University, Gohar Shahnazaryan sees positive change regarding women’s involvement in parliament this year, even though some parties are including them artificially. “However, there are intentions to include and involve more women, which of course is very welcoming,” Shahnazaryan explains. “Also there are new political parties that have recently been formed and I think it is difficult for them to involve women. I even saw them calling on women to join their team. This shows that if the law didn’t demand it, they wouldn’t take it seriously.”
According to Shahnazaryan, even though many women have been able to get into parliament because of the quota, they have been able to prove themselves. Shahnazaryan adds, “In the previous parliament we saw women become members because of the quota. All they did was repeat the opinions and ideas of the men of their party. When the number of women increases in parliament they will be able to express their own opinions and not repeat what the men say. When they are few in numbers they have the problem of proving the point that they are not less than the men.”
In any case, according to Shahnazaryan there seems to be change now, new political parties are being created, there’s a new generation that is more prepared and conscious.
“There were even women who self-nominated themselves. They did not wait for an invitation. In this sense there is change,” Shahnazaryan says. “Compared to years before they are also not as compliant. We’re seeing new types of women - women we had long been hoping to see. They have progressive views, they are more informed. We need to ensure quality as well and now that change in quality is quite evident.”
Women Need Support
Ruzanna Torozyan is from the city of Goris, Syunik and the founding general director of the Women’s Development Resource Center. In 2003, she was the first and only female city councillor of Goris. She has been elected to the City Council twice since then. She has not only actively participated in local political processes but has tried to involve other women in decision making processes as well.
Torozyan says that in 2012, they partnered up with three organizations and supported 33 women from Syunik and Vayots Dzor who were interested in participating in local self-governing body elections for one year. Twenty-eight of them were elected to their community councils. “This means that women need support and encouragement. We are now trying to break the stereotype that women cannot take part in politics,” Torozyan says. “In Goris they were all men and I was the only woman. The men also saw that a woman’s presence is very important. There are issues and matters that men either avoided or just couldn’t see. However, it is vital that these two-sided issued be raised and ensure equal representation.”
According to Shahnazaryan there are many reasons why women avoid politics. Women don’t have enough skills and more often than not, they weren’t given opportunities to learn what they should have to acquire those skills. In addition to this, women continue to bear the weight of the family on their shoulders. Society has been sceptical of active women, political parties are hardened and closed-off - these have also kept women back.
When forming his new government Nikol Pashinyan was asked why so few women were included. He explained that they had reached out to women to be included, however they declined.
Shahnazaryan believes that this explanation is not a justification. “This shows us once again that we have to think about gender education. This would allow us to have a similar vision in at least the near future, however we don’t have any mechanisms nor are we trying something to include more women. All we say is that they did not want to and that’s it, not bearing in mind that certain steps have to be taken, strategies need to be proposed,” explains Shahnazaryan.
Woman as Foot Soldiers
Despite the positive flow of women entering politics, nevertheless, women are not entrusted with leading positions. Today, Armenia has only two women ministers. There is only one woman mayor.
During the September 23 Yerevan Municipal elections, there was a large number of women taking part. However, none of them ended up in leadership roles. All deputy mayors, advisors to the mayor and heads of administrative districts are men.
These women who are trying break into this man’s world are ready to fight, despite the disappointments and difficulties.
“I’ve always taken part in all protests where I saw sincerity and concern for our country’s future. And now when an opportunity has arisen to clean the political field, we have to take part in these processes and invest our professional skills into the strengthening of our country. Of course, we will do everything we can to get into parliament, because we justifiably believe that we are a realistic force and can bring completely new approaches and solutions. However, we’re not going to parliament for self-serving purposes, it’s not for the position. We will be present in the political field after the elections as well,” Lusine Haroyan says, the only woman leading an electoral list from the political forces taking part in the Armenia’s first post-revolutionary parliamentary elections.