The Armenian International Women’s Association (AIWA) decries the recent physical assaults upon two women who are members of the Yerevan City Council. On February 13, city councilor Marina Khachatryan, along with her colleague Sona Aghekyan, were attacked by fellow councilmen during the first session of the Yerevan City Council. The attack came just as the two women were trying to bring samples of sewage (in glass jars) from the Nubarashen district in Yerevan to underscore the negligence of the mayor and the city government in failing to address the longstanding problem of leaking sewage from the nearby prison. This has become an enormous health hazard for everyone living in the vicinity.

This outrageous behavior comes just shortly after Armenia passed legislation criminalizing domestic violence. This incident, along with prior cases of attacks on women protesters in various public settings, further exposes how public forums and political spaces in the country have frequently become unsafe places for women in Armenia. They reveal a systemic attempt to exclude women from public discourse and political decision-making.

This assault on elected female councilors was especially egregious, as the violence was committed by colleagues on the city council. Such violence against female activists must stop, as it corrodes the fragile democratic institutions in the country and intimidates women from entering politics. Violence as an instrument of political discourse is illegal and unethical. It is also profoundly unproductive, as it can silence free speech, innovation and initiative, thereby degrading governance and polarizing society.

It has been demonstrated that the empowerment of women is a necessary precondition for democratic progress, economic growth and sustainable security arrangements in conflict regions. Patronizing, intimidating and harming women – whether in the home or in a public space – is a direct assault on Armenia’s prospects for a successful future. To sustain the moral fabric of the country, it is essential that everyone – especially elected officials – respect the dignity of all women.

This recent display of violence further erodes public trust in Armenia’s institutions and threatens the development of a still-young democracy struggling in an increasingly authoritarian region. The brave women council members who were bringing much-needed attention to a major public health and environmental crisis in a large Yerevan community should be praised and honored. Those who attacked them should be held accountable for their actions. Regardless of how offended they were by the jars of sewage, they had no right to resort to physical violence. We understand that a criminal investigation has been launched, and this process should be watched closely by the public.

Most important, we all need to work together to change the cultural norms that promote and reward this kind of assault. Everyone – especially men and boys – need to explore how we can all become part of the solution to stop gender-based violence, whether it occurs in war, at home, on the streets, or at work. Fortunately, there are men around the world now changing the public discourse to include ideas about positive masculinity that would promote a safer and stronger world for everyone. A healthy society requires that we all respect human dignity, and this incident in Yerevan offers one more opportunity to raise our voices in calling for systemic change to create a culture that would never foster or condone this kind of violent behavior.

The Armenian International Women’s Association was founded 26 years ago to connect, inspire and mentor Armenian women to embrace their power and value as advocates for social change and as leaders in society. As Armenian men and women throughout the world become more actively engaged citizens, AIWA will continue to support social, economic and educational policies and systems that bring equal representation to Armenian women and improve the quality of life for women and girls.

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