By Gayane Lazarian

Institute for War and Peace Reporting IWPR
Caucasus Reporting #648
June 29 2012

Politics remains male-dominated despite quota for women in parliament.

Despite the introduction of a quota to ensure women make up 20 per cent
of Armenia's parliament, the reform has failed to have much effect,
with only half that percentage winning seats in the May 6 election.

Fourteen women out of the 131 members of parliament represent an
increase on the 12 who had seats before the election, but analysts
say a substantial improvement on that figure is not on the horizon.

They blame a lack of official support for getting more women into
public life, in part because there is not enough grassroots pressure
to prompt it, and also the fact that few women enjoy the financial
independence to allow them to run for office.

The first Armenian parliament elected after independence in 1991 had
12 female members out of a total of 190, or just over six per cent,
compared with nearly 11 per cent in the present legislature.

According to Tamara Hovnatanyan, head of the ProMedia-Gender group,
"If we look at these dynamics, then we will need at least 25 years
to reach the 20 per cent quota."

Reformed electoral rules introduced last year require political parties
to ensure that female candidates account for at least one-fifth of the
list of names they submit under the proportional representation system.

According to the Organisation of Security for Cooperation in Europe,
OSCE, which monitored the May election, the initial lists did meet
the criteria, with women making up 22 per cent of the total across
the various lists.

Because candidates are awarded seats from the top of the list down,
women's names have to appear at regular intervals. In theory, that
should have guaranteed that the quota was met. In practice, though,
seven female candidates dropped out to make way for male colleagues,
skewing the final results.

The quota applied to the 90 seats allocated by proportional
representation, but not to the remaining 41 elected in first-past-the
post constituency polls. Only 12 of the 155 candidates standing in
the latter system were female, and the OSCE noted that since three
of these reported no campaign expenditure, that suggested they were
not genuine candidates. Just nine of the 41 constituencies had any
female candidates running at all.

Narine Movsisyan, head of Yerevan Agricultural University's research
centre, was among the few women who did stand for a constituency
seat, putting herself forward as an independent in the southern town
in Kapan.

Although she did not win, she said it was a sort of victory just to
register as a candidate, after she was denied access to television
and barred from campaigning by some local officials, and relatives
received threats.

"By putting myself forward, I dispelled the long-held myth that
one needs support from some quarters to become a candidate. Under a
total electoral blockade, with no campaign headquarters, no full-time
campaigning, and no media visibility, I still managed to win 1,340
votes," Movsisyan told IWPR. "I don't consider myself defeated."

Yelena Vardanyan, head of the Civic Chamber's commission for gender
and demographic affairs, said women could aspire to some top public
positions, as long as it was not politics.

"Political position serves as a support for one's business interests,
and men are not yet prepared to surrender these posts," she said.

"Public opinion is another obstacle - this society is not yet prepared
to place its faith in women."

That was not an opinion shared by female candidates who made it into
parliament, like Naira Zohrabyan of the Prosperous Armenia party, who
predicts that the female legislators would play a full and active role.

She noted that Armenia's parliamentary delegates to the Council of
Europe and to Euronest, an assembly that groups the European Union
and six of its eastern neighbours.

"This is no coincidence," she said. "It is specifically women who've
been entrusted with representing Armenia's interests in important
international arenas."

Zohrabyan, who is now serving her second term in parliament, believes
other women only have themselves to blame if they cannot break into

"We need to overcome this complex within ourselves before we demand
that men respect gender equality," she said.

However, Yervand Bozoyan, head of the Mitk political research centre,
argues that women do face many obstacles in a male-dominated society.

"In a country where the national mentality includes the idea that the
father is head of the family while the wife and children must do as he
says, it's impossible to achieve gender equality in political life,"
he said.

Gayane Lazarian is a correspondent for Armenianow.com.

From: Baghdasarian