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Double Difficulties: Disabled Women In Armenia Face Additional Trial

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  • Double Difficulties: Disabled Women In Armenia Face Additional Trial

    SOCIETY | 20.03.13 | 15:12


    ArmeniaNow reporter

    The whistle of the boiling kettle calls Seda to the kitchen. With one
    hand she puts the tea leaves, pours the hot water with the other and
    the glassy cups get painted in brown.

    "My parents died a few years ago. I wish I had a family of my own,
    children," says 65-year-old Seda (her name has been changed at her
    request). "I grew up with complexes, and my parents had their share of
    fault in it. Rather than encouraging me, they kept breaking me all my
    life - I am limping, I am ugly, not worthy of anything, an eight-year
    school education would do for me, who'd marry me?" recalls the woman
    with bitterness.

    Seda works as a cleaning lady at a Yerevan store, with a monthly salary
    of 40,000 drams ($100). She says that women with disabilities are more
    vulnerable than physically challenged men in society, continuously
    facing physical, social and psychological issues.

    "I feel like a second-rate person, never needed by anyone, never had
    happiness as a woman; even when hiring me they look at my limping
    leg and think I cannot be of any use," she says.

    Seda is one of the 87,420 disabled women in Armenia, who make 47
    percent of the people with disabilities here (the total number is

    Zaruhi Batoyan, advocating the rights of the disabled at the Bridge
    of Hope NGO, says in a society the image of a woman commonly does
    not match the image of a woman with disability.

    "From that dogmatic perspective a physically challenged girl or
    a woman is not attractive, not sexy, cannot get married, be a good
    wife and a mother, and this aggravates her family's attitude to her,"
    says Batoyan.

    Christine Aghayan, psychologist at Gyumri's Agat center for women with
    special needs, says the misconception that disability is a disease
    is firmly rooted in people's minds.

    "We held surveys in the streets of Gyumri on whether a girl with
    disability can get married or not. Some said yes, others said they
    didn't know, others said 'of course not, she'd only harm herself'. It
    is very difficult to break the dogmatic mentality, but it is an
    undeniable fact that everybody has the right to personal happiness,
    maternity and family. But in any case, a disabled woman experiences
    an inner conflict on how the society would take her possible decision
    to become a mother," she says.

    Batoyan believes that the issue has to be solved in those state and
    social projects, which do not reflect the needs of these women. None
    of the numerous documents on women's rights has any reference to
    women with disabilities and their issues.

    Armenia joined the international convention on the rights of the
    disabled in 2006, in which special attention is paid to women with
    disabilities. People in charge of this sphere claim that they are
    implementing a disability policy based on the social model, which
    implies protection of the rights of people with disabilities and
    creation of equal conditions for them.

    The law on social protection of the disabled was first adopted in 1993
    in Armenia. Since 2009 a new model draft law is being developed. Anna
    Hakobyan, senior specialist at the department of disability and
    elderly people's issues at the labor and social affairs ministry,
    says the new draft law regards disability as a combination of the
    person and the environment, and not as a disease, like it used to.

    The NGOs advocating the rights of people with disabilities point
    out the lack of facilities in the environment to make it accessible
    also for people with special needs, and in case with women it causes
    significant difficulties.

    "Even with sanitary facilities (toilets), if there are disabled men
    and women in the area with no disability access, it's harder for
    women than men to take care of their needs, just because of their
    physiological differences. Healthcare services, doctors' clinics are
    not accessible for women with special needs," explains Batoyan.

    According to her, inclusive policy is a process of development,
    ensuring accessibility of services and projects for people with most
    diverse needs, and as a result it's a win-win situation for all,
    because they manage to be members of one common society. The NGOs
    involved in this field will try to make suggestions that a provision
    be included specifically about women with disabilities in the new bill.

    Psychologist Christine Aghayan says the country keeps joining various
    conventions, adopts laws, but reality has a different face.

    "Women with disabilities continue running into obstacles, both physical
    and social. Their rights are not fully protected in Armenia.

    As for the issues of maternity and reproductive health, those are
    rarely voiced even at the state level," she says.

    Hakobyan says while working on the draft law she has met people from
    various ministries and explained what kind of changes are needed:
    "Unfortunately we have failed at some things, some provisions are
    missing despite our efforts, but nothing's lost yet, we have adopted
    this path and will be able to change many things. The role of each of
    us will be big; when the society learns to change their view of people
    with disabilities, we will be able to bring about deeper changes in
    the policies."