Unearthing the Gender discourse in Armenia: from Hysteria to Constructive Dialogue

Teaser Image Caption
პუბლიკაციის ყდა, ქალთა რესურს ცენტრი სომხეთში

“The greatest evil in our country today is ignorance.
We need to be taught to study rather than to believe.”

Septima Poinsette Clark

Introduction: Armenia Before and After 2013

Throughout its 25 years as an independent state, Armenia has become a signatory to a number of international documents, built up a national gender legislation and collaborated with international community for implementing development programmes aimed at gender mainstreaming and gender equality in different aspects of life. Furthermore, the gender discourse has been led by the civil society organizations/NGOs (headed mainly by women, among those women with soviet era leadership experience) who became adept at balancing between discourses of modernity and tradition and accommodating their positions towards “gender” to survive in non-profit sector. In spite of the efforts invested both by the state, civil society and international community, the reality shows that there is no common understanding of the “gender” and related terms and, what is more, there is overuse and at the same time misunderstanding of those, what leads to deflected discourse on gender equality and (re-)produces misinterpretations and further stereotypes.

Until May 2013, the term “gender” had been a subject of more fragmental debates taken place mostly within civil society circles. In May 2013, when the law on gender equality was taken to the National Assembly for final ratification, it brought up to public hysteria around the topic. This marked the foundation of a public discourse on gender, which unearthed the existence of different systems of thought, ideas, attitudes, meanings and narratives on gender. It showed that the buzzword “gender” can be manipulated and used by different social flows, including church representatives, traditionalists, nationalist youth groups, etc. and misrepresented by the mass media, especially via social media.

The law draft was put on discussion since 2011 by one of the ruling parties Orinats Yerkir (Rule of Law). The first draft was put in many discussions, however, it was continuously turned down and put on the shelf to wait until next discussion. Still in 2012, according to the review of online media, one can mention that overall disposition of the public, as well as the journalists, state officials and civil society representatives, was more inclined towards acceptance of the law. Reviewing the articles published in 2012 in online media, reposted in social networks (Facebook), one can say the overall environment of the discussions and comments under the posts were quite peaceful and more tolerant towards different aspects of gender issues. The government issued a special note “Parliamentary Hearings Dedicated to Gender Equality” both in Armenian and English on the website of the National Assembly (Parliament) of Armenia, which was aimed at providing further updates on the status of the law on gender equality. Then’s speaker of the Parliament shared his hope that these hearings were aimed at “the reinforcement of protection of human rights and democracy in Armenia” and that “the discussions would promote the improvement of the bill”. During those hearings, a lot has been said in favor of gender equality and presented political and legal advantages, as well as historical substantiations for the adoption of the law. The necessity to adopt this law was also discussed from the perspectives of the national security[1]. In his opening speech, the speaker of the parliament Mr. Samvel Nikoyan particularly underlined the historical foundations of the issue. Interestingly, the speaker noted that “the women’s and men’s equal rights are not alien to our national description, it is the component of our culture” and gave a long list of historical evidence that gender equality has always been an integral part of the national laws since 4th Century until the establishment of the first Armenian Republic in 1918[2], when women and men had equal rights to vote and to be elected. A number of civil society groups were invited and given a chance to speak out during the hearings. Back in 2012 gender equality was considered as something important, which should be elaborated into law. Within those discussions, one can often read how different people, starting from state officials up to average public argues that gender equality needs to be restored since historically Armenian woman was granted a lot of rights.

Following those hearings in early 2013, two members of the parliament, who were representatives of the ruling Republican Party, presented their version of the same law and put the new draft law on discussion. When the law was taken to final ratification, the law draft provoked an unprecedented hysteria in the public. The hysteria started in late spring covering whole Armenian internet. Public discussions were held both in social networks. A lot of comments were left under the articles on gender equality law on the pages of different online newspapers. The majority of the commentators claimed that the law on so called gender equality was made to promote “homosexuality” and it was “against Armenian nation”, “ruining Armenian traditions and values”[3]. Among the anti-gender propagators were the Armenian Apostolic Church representatives who gave interviews and published articles[4] on the gender equality law inciting further discussions in social networks by transmitting the following message to the whole society: “No to the gender law! No to national decay! For the sake of Armenian family! For the sake of Armenian children! For the sake of our children!”

“This is an ambition of some people, which have the aim to bring the nations to decay. Because this decision does not go along with morality and it goes against the will of the God, as well as against the will of the Nature, as in the Nature every single creature is created in a way that s/he has their own inner system of values. By giving a green light to the gender law we dig a path to the national destruction. We are here on behalf of all the Armenian nation”.  Father Komitas Hovnanyan, October 2013[5]

One of the features of the 2013 anti-gender discourse in media was that it utilized tools of civil protests, such as going out to the streets with banners against the gender law, particularly with participation of youth, or the “floor” was given to young women who declared the law as anti-Armenian and anti-Armenian woman. Another interesting feature of the discussions in the social media was the prevalence of the discussions and quantity of the comments from the anti-gender camp. Meanwhile, the opposite camp (which might have been existed) was quite silent and in case of posts in discussion forums, in the forms of comments under different articles, in different Facebook pages, were immediately attacked and silenced by the anti-gender people, especially by the Pan-Armenian Family Committee, Stop-Gender Initiative and Mek Azg (One Nation) Group.


Knowledge of gender: what is known as gender?

The analysis of the qualitative data shows that the knowledge on “gender” comes mainly from general discussions among public and from media. Significant source of information on “gender” concept were the discussions around the law on gender equality held in 2013. However, in some focus groups, some gender terminology could occasionally pop up in the discussions, especially among youth both in Yerevan and Tavush, which testified that their knowledge comes from seminars held by civil society organizations.

To the introductory question “what do you understand by gender?” people would answer mostly “that is sexual difference between men and women” or express the first associating definitions “two words only: woman and man”. In each focus group discussion there was always someone who would add “that is about equality between woman and man”. “Gender” would be sometimes defined in the context of civil society “as a prerequisite for democracy and human rights”. These kinds of statements were made only among civil society representatives, as well as young student group in Yerevan. One of the Ijevan NGOs representatives explained well that “gender” is a “social condition” among two sexes:

            “We need to understand that gender is a social condition and it is a social issue. Let me explain. There is a lot of noise about the gender, but very few know in fact what it means. There is no information about the gender, there is none who can give information who can explain what that concept means. We hardly could introduce the concept “inclusive education”, we spent a lot of efforts on explanation and now everybody knows and understands well. Similarly, it should be explained what gender means. For instance, if we have never tried honey, we would not know if it is sweet or bitter”.

            The term “Armenian family” was often linked to “gender” in the discussions and it incited always vivid discussions, as there were people who would not like seeing any possibility connecting “gender” and “family” and argued against. These discussions brought more open-ended dialogues among participants. This kind of statements would provoke counter-arguments, especially among women who tried to argue for the opposite:

            “If gender is about equal rights between women and men, then it is about a real Armenian family where everybody plays his/her role with their head down and is respected by the other”, young adult man, Ijevan FGD

            “No, hold on, when we say traditional family, we don’t mean particular unique families. We understand an average Armenian traditional family where the woman does everything, cooking and cleaning at home, and man is earning money, where the roles are clearly distributed and where woman is weaker than man. As well as, this is where woman is always under control by man. If your dad helped your mother and vice versa, it was an exemplary family, but not a traditional one”, elderly woman, Ijevan FGD

            In the eyes of the discussants of this Ijevan focus group with elderly there was a difference between “exemplary” and “traditional” families. However, they had difficulty to explain what exactly the difference was. “Traditional family” was one of the terms to explore the knowledge of the “gender” and their understanding of gender equality.

Almost in all FGDs participants responded that there is a difference between the “traditional family” of today and the one which existed before. Many participants argued that in fact there is a distortion of the concept “traditional family” and there is a need to explain the public not only the “gender” concepts, but also to educate people about the “real” Armenian family.

“You know we are using the phrase “traditional family” often, but we do not look into the depth of this concept. We don’t know how many positive things there are in this “traditional family”. You asked me where I got to know about gender concept from?  First of all, I got to know about gender in my own paternal family. Because when my dad and mum were going to feed the chickens, they were going together. My parents were bringing grass together from the mountains. My mom was standing on the car and squeezing the grass with her feet and my father was placing it into the truck. They were sharing real hard work equally together. And that was the true equality. This is where I learnt about gender equality”, elderly man, FGD, Ijevan

            Finally, an interesting statement was made by one of the students in Yerevan, which suggested a different, new and unconventional meaning and understanding for “traditional family”: “There is no other traditional family that I know, but the family of my parents. That family model has been the custom or the tradition family. Me, my wife and my children”.

            This statement is based on the personal experience of the young man, which has clear and tangible definition, unlike the popular notion of “traditional family”, which is more imagined (and constantly re-imagined), has little clear premises for the public. This kind of statements provoked further discussions on the definitions: what does tradition mean? What does family mean? Which is the Armenian traditional family? What is counted as traditional? The main drivers of this kind of discussions were mostly young students in Yerevan and Ijevan, who talked more about the socialist past, rather than pre-socialist times. Socialist part was a better reference for them. It was more tangible and clear as they had examples based on their family experiences.

            Almost in all the focus group discussions at the local/community level be it with students, non-students, young adults or elderly, as well as with the representatives of civil society, there was always a counter-question to me “what do you know about gender concept?”. Or, as in Yerevan elderly focus group, one of the women abruptly interrupted the author’s introductory speech by saying: “Tell me, why they brought this word to here? I just want to know this. Is this our Armenian word??”  People used to ask “could you please finally define this concept for us?” By the end of one of the FGDs, a NGO young representative burst out in the middle of the meeting:

            “We are talking of something that we don’t know concretely what. So, my question is to you, A., what does it mean “gender” finally? What does it mean social construct? And then we will talk. We need concrete definition!”, NGO representative, Ijevan

After giving a detailed and comprehensive answer to the question “what does it mean “gender” finally?“, the young man representing an Ijevan NGO seemed far not satisfied. During another FGD in Ijevan, there was such a counter-question right in the beginning, which provoked a little resistance after the answer was given to the participants. By the end of the FGD, the participants said that “again, like in other seminars, we are living without understanding what gender means in fact”.

            In the Yerevan FDG with elderly, after the author’s definition of “gender” concept, the discussant responded: “You know, daughter, we do not need these definitions, we do not need this gender! This is all about anarchy brought from the West to this country to destroy morality”.

By anarchy, the elderly woman meant the emancipation and liberation of today’s youth, in particular young girls, which was described in quite aggressive terms:

“What do you mean by gender? Does this mean that young girls do whatever they want to nowadays? Whatever they dress and go out? Gender is the G-string pants they are wearing under their pants that the whole society can notice? Sorry, but how can I accept that “gender?”, elderly woman, FGD, Yerevan

            The statement about having no knowledge or being confused by the definitions was accompanying all the discussions both in Yerevan and Ijevan. At the same time, in focus groups a number of times the equality and the term gender were split “maybe the phenomenon is useful, but the word “gender” is confusing”.

The statement of the representative of an Ijevan NGO summarizes all other similar quotes:

“We have conducted many seminars on gender. When we start talking about “gender” concept, different people perceive it differently: someone would be very indifferent, another one would understand sexual relationship between women and men. But, many people’s perception is based on resistance. Unfortunately, the word “gender” spoiled the possibility to understand and appreciate the meaning of it”, NGO representative, FGD, Ijevan

One of the young civic activists in Yerevan who was among the young people actively advocating for equality and diversity in May 2012[6], argued that many people have resistance towards gender, but they are not curious enough to explore what it really means.

            According to a young Diaspora artist who is making films on gender issues shared her opinion on why people do not look for real definitions in this age of information and rely on emotional statements.

“Hayastantsis (Armenians from Armenia) are usually not open for new knowledge, they do not want to learn... The education in Armenia has been based on memorization for many decades. Nobody cared for critical thinking. If they are told any definition on gender or feminism, they will take if for granted”, Film Maker, KII, Yerevan

The focus group discussants both in Yerevan and Ijevan would react differently on “why do people have no knowledge, and why do not they want to find out more?” One of the rarest positive statements to my question was by one of the NGOs in Ijevan:

“There are also people who start studying the concept of gender and it is very important that they understand that this a social condition. And when they understand this, people would also appreciate and rightly understand the gender equality”, NGO representative in Ijevan

Another civil society representative shared her experience in the past for not having knowledge and being not curious enough about gender, even when she was engaged in a human right NGO.

“Honestly speaking, before those seminars I did not study, read or was not curious about gender. I collaborated with the Women with University Education Association (WWUEA), have attended a number of conferences and meetings. And now I have a number of literature on the topic. The problem is that people don’t want to hear about it because of the word “gender”. Gender means sex, which hits one’s mind…. that “sex”… you know...  In that law [law on gender equality] there is a provision, which says that one will decide his/her gender when s/he reaches adulthood. Do you understand, this is not possible in Armenia, it incites disappointment on gender immediately”, NGO leader, FGD, Yerevan


Where does “gender” leading us to?

Confusion, anger, disappointment and fear: those were the emotions that people underlined in focus groups towards the concept of gender. In the focus groups with elderly and young adults, especially with the young parents, the conversation sometimes took an unexpected direction and suddenly the confusion with the “gender” and other related notions, has been replaced by anger towards social situation, growing poverty and radicalizing inequality in the society. For example, after making a long speech on how they had been fired in the tobacco factory due to their age and that they could no longer find job because nowadays the employers seek for “good-looking young girls up to 25 years old”, one of the Yerevan elderly women threw out the following statement: “…after all this happening to us, we do not need “gender – mender”, my daughter. Take your “gender” away! It is not going to change anything”.

Among those emotions, fear was the most powerful, as it was linked with “something unclear and unknown”, which cannot be a part of the “Armenian values”. In fact, in almost all the focus group discussions, there was a hidden topic behind the words of the discussants, which was the homosexuality and all what is related to the change of sex. On one hand, the discussants did not wish to open discussion on “this topic”. On the other hand, at the same time there were always attempts to gently tackle the connection between homosexuality and gender, though, more in the form of questions:

“I think gender equality is larger now, as we used to understand [meaning there is something we (the society) do not know - author]. It is not just the number of women who should be represented in the parliament. It has apparently a wider meaning and that is why people are afraid of this term! Because, they think that according to the gender concept, you cannot force the child in gender selection. The child chooses his/her gender when s/he becomes adult. People are afraid of this and as you say, these conservative nationalist movements are rising because of that fear. Or for example, now there are a lot of surgeries to change the sex. This is also gender, no?”, young adult/parent, FGD, Yerevan

            “These conversations about “gender” are brought up from Europe along with other conversations… I mean homosexuality; young people think they can change their sex, because it is fashionable now”, elderly, FGD, Ijevan

Among the NGOs both in Yerevan and in Ijevan, there was always a statement that this kind of discussions should be held not with ordinary people and all types of NGOs, but rather especially with those, who are doing women’s/gender issues, although in the focus discussion with NGOs there were invited mainly human right, disability- and youth-focused NGOs:

“If it is about women’s issues, then maybe it would be good for you to meet with the women’s NGOs and not with us?”, NGO representative, Ijevan

Still in the beginning of the fieldwork, when trying to organise focus group discussions, one of the striking statements received from the civil society organizations was:

“Why do you need so many NGOs coming to the focus group discussion? I think everybody has the same opinion about gender... Or, better say, all of them have no opinion”, NGO representative, Ijevan

Interestingly, especially in the focus group discussions with NGOs both in Yerevan and Ijevan there would be a feeling of double standards: on one hand, some discussants would underline how important is to have the knowledge on gender, how important to transfer it to the next generation and how important is to put this knowledge into a legal framework to transfer gender equality into practice, which is regulated by the law. However, at the same time, as soon as they forget about being an NGO representative sitting in the focus group discussion and start talking about gender not as a meaning belonging to open democratic societies, but rather as an experience of everyday practice, as something habitual, they would shift the discussion from “pro” gender mode to “contra”.

This kind of situated knowledge was found especially in focus group discussions (NGOs, elderly people, young parents, students, non-student groups). People would eloquently and quite convincingly accommodate their changing positions. This was more evident in FGDs with student groups, who would engage in active discussions and a lot of time contradicting themselves by arguing first for gender equality and then arguing for more traditional roles of women and men.

In the very beginning of FGD in Yerevan, one of the students (young man) opened the floor with a statement that “thanks to the fact that Armenia is a Christian country, Armenian women enjoy equal opportunities and emancipation, they are equal with men”. However, at the same time, to the question “how would you define the roles of men and roles of women in the Armenian society?”, he stated:

“When I am married, my wife will not go to work. Because, women are born to provide well to the children. Men are born to provide well to their women. Men are to provide enough conditions to their wives to be occupied with children, to provide them with good conditions to have safe pregnancy”.

A general observation was made during the focus groups with elderly of Yerevan and Ijevan indicating women of Yerevan being more radical and conservative towards the concept of “gender”, rather than elderly from Tavush region. Also, if in Tavush FGDs the “gender” concept was defined more a phenomenon between men and women, in Yerevan the focus was made mainly on women and their roles and responsibilities. Another interesting tendency across all FGDs (student, non-student, elderly groups and with civil society representatives) in Yerevan and Tavush, the Yerevan discussants were more inclined to define contemporary woman’s role in the society and find collisions between “how should be the woman” and “how is the woman today”, whereas Tavush FGDs have shown that public understanding of “gender” concept connects with the domestic violence against women, unequal wages among women and men, double burden on women whose husbands have migrated out in search of better employment opportunities (especially in the small towns of the Marz (region), where the situation is more sever due to poverty and lack of opportunities in small urban setting). This knowledge has been acquired through different marz-related development programs led by local and international civil society organizations.

In most of the cases, to the question “where did you hear about gender first?” the respondents would first of all mention the mass media (TV and newspapers) and social media (Facebook). Some of the respondents (among them predominantly NGOs), stated that for the first time they acquired about gender in seminar and educational events. Asking about knowledge transfer done in mass media or civil society events to the public, the respondents of the key informant interviews argued that in fact the knowledge transfer should be challenged and put under question: what kind of knowledge is transferred? Who is transferring the knowledge? Which knowledge is perceived as the “right” knowledge? What are the factors that the gender knowledge is not transferred properly? The interviewees claimed that if there is a number of factors, which impede knowledge transfer and that is the reason why people have no knowledge or have averse perception towards “gender” conversation. According to an artist working in the field, one of such reasons is the lack of wish among many NGOs, as well as state structures, to transfer knowledge, which would empower women and men for more gender equality.

“Nobody is interested in giving proper education and knowledge, because knowledge is empowering. In the case of gender equality knowledge, who would be interested in empowering the 50% of the population by giving them this knowledge and making them active in the society? The subjugated group is easier to control…”, Film Maker, KII, Yerevan

Among the other reasons mentioned by the respondents were the lack of knowledge and capacity among those who are responsible for educating people in this field, as well as lack of solidarity, agreement and similar messaging among NGOs dealing with gender and women’s issues. According to an international organization representative, responsible for gender program coordination:

"The NGOs are afraid of labels to be sticked to. If in a project there is a LGBT organization, such as PINK (Public Information and Need of Knowledge NGO), the others will not join, because they don’t want to be a part of it. NGOs in Armenia are very cautious”, International Organization employee, KII

This argument has been also complemented by a number of other respondents. Many of the interviewees dealing with NGO sector and gender topic, ascertained that there is a phenomenon in Armenia: NGOs stick only to the issues of their primary affiliation and are not interested in other questions.

“You give a call to a strong human rights NGO and invite them to a seminar on women’s issues. They do not come arguing “women’s issues are not our niche”… If you are an activist you should be interested in all range of the social issues, and should understand that women’s issues are a big part of the human rights”, International Organization employee, KII

During the FGDs, it was also important to see how the knowledge on the “gender” concepts has been reflected from the discussants’ personal life perspective. In most cases, the gender was defined as an abstract concept having no personal context. When the participants across all FGDs were asked what “gender” means for them personally and how they could locate their own experiences as men and women in the context of gender equality, they would either avoid responding or presenting their own experience.

In the focus group with the non-student youth in Ijevan, the discussants were asked a question weather they had heard of any gender issue in their neighbourhoods, if they could share any [personal] story related to gender equality from their family with the group, etc. The group, which consisted of predominantly women and few men, kept a long silence. The lady who arranged the focus group discussions in Ijevan, decided to interrupt the silence and interfered by encouraging the youth not to think from personal perspective, not to speak about personal stories or stories of their families, but rather think in more abstract way. Thus, gender is always impersonal, it is hardly connected with the real experiences of those who is talking about gender. In addition to all multiple denominations that “gender” concept has got in Armenia, gender remains an abstract definition based on rigid stereotypes.

The only moments, when the discussants could relate to personal stories instead of talking in vague and abstract ways, were the references the elderly or young adults were making to the socialist past, where they or their parents “used to live equally and happily together”. The personal stories remain in the past, while having no reflection in present day.


Conclusion: Why is there No Gender discouse in Armenia?

While the author was trying to understand if there is a gender discourse in Armenia and what is understood and known by gender during the focus group discussions and key informant interviews, another question came into the light in the end: why is there no gender discourse in this country? Different interviewees and discussants presented a number of diverse perspectives on why there is no gender discourse. Some of the most frequent arguments are presented as follows:

  • Lack of political wish to empower: respondents claimed that knowledge has an exceptional empowering force, which leads to establishment of discourse, at the same time, each discourse brings new knowledge, which continues empowering the society. However, there was also the rhetoric question “but, why would the State empower the 50% of the population? Empowered segments of the society can challenge and jeopardize the corrupt State. That is not in their interest”.
  • Politics in between: some of the respondents (in particular young students) argued that the lack of “healthy” discussions on gender is reasoned by the clashes between European/“Western” and Russian politics in Armenia. As per one of the young man from Yerevan FGD “the hot discussions on the gender equality law, which took place in 2013, had surprisingly coincided with the Armenia’s reconsideration to join the EU Association Agreement and to sign instead the Eurasian Customs Union with Russia”. In fact, the tense debates against the gender equality law taking place in 2013 were contributed a lot by pro-Russian propaganda groups (such as, All-Armenian Family Committee). As a result, during those days when Armenia turned down the Association Agreement with EU, a huge propaganda machine was working against “gender as a European value”, proving how dangerous the gender is for the Armenian family of today and next generations.
  • The bad words gender and feminism: the words gender and feminism have already been rooted as terms with negative connotation in the Armenian colloquial vocabulary due to a number of reasons. Therefore, back in 2013 after a series of hot debates on the gender equality law, a decision was made to take the word “gender” out of the law draft. When the term was taken out, the public seemed to be more or less satisfied and accepted the law. That is the reason, there is a tendency in the public discourse to go against and resist everything, which concerns “gender” and “feminism”.
  • Lack of capacity among NGOs and other actors: the interviews with the local and international NGO representatives showed, there is a capacity building issue among NGOs, which would help transferring appropriate meanings and knowledge.
  • From project to project approach: this concerned criticism towards civil society organizations for implementing projects with lack of sustainability of programmatic interventions. As per the key informatory interview with a Yerevan based NGO, “NGOs are accustomed to deal with the local communities from project to project. There is no intervention in-between the projects, as well as the projects are not sustainable enough beyond their lifespan”.
  • Action based projects and no knowledge-based: another criticism towards local and international NGOs driving for “short-term action”, but “not for long-term knowledge”.
  • Lack of cultural translation of the terms into the Armenian context: the “gender” concepts were adopted without proper contextualization, according to KIIs with international organization representatives, and therefore, there is a big gap of understanding and information vacuum.
  • Sustaining elite discourse: a statement prompted by NGOs in key informant interviews in Yerevan suggesting that a circle of NGOs have created an “elite” space for discussions, which is not possible to be mainstreamed and made accessible to the other NGOs.
  • Radicalism in alternative: at the same time, some interviewees (interviews with art people and representatives of international organizations) underlined that there is also a growing progressive women’s civil society. They are those who are not afraid of talking on sexual violence, sexuality, girls’ emancipation, LGBT rights in Armenia, etc. They represent an alternative power in contrast to the mainstream “elite” women’s NGOs, both are different in terms of their positioning and messaging. However, the progressive wing of women still remain radical for the Armenian context, as per the interviewees. “The alternative is so radical for today’s society, it is sometimes not possible to be perceived”.
  • Fake traditionalism and fake masculinity: according to a number of key informant interviewees (artists and independent researchers), one of the greatest factors contributing to sustaining the conservative discourse in Armenia (which is basically a rejection of any dialogue) is the “fake traditionalism” and “fake masculinity”, which serves as an instrument to many men as a self-security and creates further resistance.
  • Total absence of personalization of gender issues: lack of internalization, representation and manifestation of personal stories, in which one can challenge her/his life, body, standpoint, identity.
  • Lack of critical thinking and lack of self-challenge: the culture of memorization and belief in taken-for-granted knowledge. There is a lack of self-questioning and self-understanding: who am I and why should I be there standing here as a woman or as a man? How do I become a woman? What makes me a woman? How sincere and personal/individual am I when I am talking about gender equality? And how beyond the clichés am I when I am talking about it?
  • Lack of grassroots involvement in NGO sector: lack of grassroots among the civil society, especially among women’s NGOs; lack of leaders coming out of grassroots.
  • Lack of intellectuals and art people involved in discourse: scarcity of intellectual interaction and exchange of knowledge, acceptance of new knowledge and critical challenge of their own knowledge; hunger for intellectual interaction and exchange of knowledge, acceptance of new knowledge and critical challenge of their own knowledge.
  • The lack of interaction and cooperation and solidarity among NGOs: one of the remarkable reasons for the discourse failure in Armenia is the lack of solidarity and “common language” that different NGOs could speak together and create.

The public perception and knowledge are based on contradictory understandings of gender concepts. The knowledge among public comes mainly from media and public discussions, which produce and reproduce taken-for-granted knowledge. The knowledge of gender consists of different meanings, which never form a discourse as there is no shared knowledge, no shared space and no shared will.

The two gender discursive perspectives (“conservative” vs “egalitarian”), which currently exist in Armenia are not based on argumentative discussions, but rather each of them excludes the other leaving no space for a discussion. Moreover, each of them consists of many civil society groups, which have different positioning in the society and different messages transmitted to the society. Leaning on all above mentioned lack of knowledge and mixed perceptions of gender concepts one may conclude that in fact there are abstract and impersonal narratives, which do not come together and make up one joint discourse. There are a lot of factors, which impede the gender category to construct acceptable systems of meanings, which would lay down the foundation of a healthy gender discourse. Unless those factors are eliminated by different actors in the field, the public hysteria and its different manipulations will not be replaced by constructive dialogue and will not contribute to the public knowledge on what is gender all about.



[1] National Assembly of Armenia, Parliamentary Hearings Dedicated to Gender Equality, 2012,   http://www.parliament.am/news.php?cat_id=2&NewsID=4959&year=2012&month=01&day=19&lang=eng

[2] The speaker of the Parliament made a detailed presentation on Codes of Shahapivan (443 AD); Rules of Davit Alavkavordi (11th century); Criminal Code of Mkhitar Gosh (12th century); Constitution of King Vatchagan (5th century). The Criminal Code of Mkhitar Gosh prohibited violence against women and imposes criminal penalties on any one committing violence against women. The Code of Shahapivan gave a woman the right to the family property in the event that her husband left her without reasons. It also stated that the woman is entitled to bring a new husband to the same house. The Rules of Davit Alavkavordi required that for a marriage to be valid, the bride and groom should have given their mutual voluntary consent. It said that a marriage is not valid if based on violence. National Constitution of Constantinople (1863) about the women’s property rights, recognition and respect of honour and dignity, law of the woman’s marriage, marriage age, being divorced, marrying for the second time and other rights. And today, according to the speaker, the perception of women’s and men’s equal rights is directly given in Shahamir Shahamiryan’s “Vorogayt Parats” (“Snare of Glory”) which was written in 1773, and according to which, women and men are legally equal irrespective of their gender, citizenship and have no right to rule on each other.

[3] Some of the articles published, as well as discussions in different pages against the gender law: “The   parliamentarians should decide what gender they have”, published in Aravot newspaper, September, 2013  http://www.aravot.am/2013/09/28/390689/, “Public initiatives continue their struggle against the gender equality law”, published in ArmenPress, in August 2013, http://armenpress.am/arm/news/731106/ “Dar” Acumb (The Century Club), public forums, discussions on gender equality law, www.akumb.am/showthread.php/64741-Կանանց-և-տղամարդկանց-հավասար-իրավունք…, July, 2013   

[4] “The Holy Mother See of Etchmiadzin is indirectly against the law on gender equality”, published in Tert.Am, August 2013, http://www.tert.am/am/news/2013/08/19/gender-law/843218, Father Komitas is protesting against the gender law in front of the Government building”, published in Aravot.am, October 2013, http://www.aravot.am/2013/10/16/396662/

[5] Father Komitas participated in the protest against the gender law, News.Am, October 2013, http://top-news.am/7/1/news/24168.html

[6] In June 2012 to mark the UN World Day of Cultural Diversity, a group of civil society organizations organized a march for the sake of equality and diversity, which was met with resistance and even violence by nationalist groups who went out to the street towards the diversity activists to stop the march. These nationalist groups announced that the march for diversity was in fact a gay parade and was in favor of spreading homosexuality in Armenia, https://youtu.be/ZSreViOtgF4