Following is a speech delivered by Silva Katchiguian, Armenian International Women’s Association (AIWA) International Board Member at a luncheon celebrating International Women’s Day and Month held at the Consulate of the Republic of Armenia in Glendale, CA, where women in civil service and government were recognized.

BY SILVA KATCHIGUIAN

A very Good afternoon Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests, honorees, friends, colleagues, peers, Phenomenal Women, which you all are.

On this designated day devoted to women, we celebrate you, and the remarkable women in your lives, and we thank the Consulate of the Republic of Armenia and especially our gratitude to Consul Armella Shakaryan who organized this event along with the persistence of Hermine Janoyan and the sponsorship of the Armenian International Women’s Association. We applaud and celebrate the achievement of all women who are empowered to overcome obstacles because there is no force equal to a woman determined to rise.

It is wonderful to know that women across the globe share a day of unity and pride in remembering all those on whose shoulders they were raised. Through their determination, these women have given rise to a fierce force of brave, exemplary leadership such as can be found among you. While the observance of National Women’s Day dates back to 1909 after a powerful march of 10,000 women who took to the streets to protest labor conditions and inequality in the US, it wasn’t until 1975 when the movement had spread across countries that the United Nations declared international women’s Day to be March 8. It took nearly three quarters of a century to reach that point!!

Meanwhile, nearly a century ago, Armenia became one of the first states in the world to give women the right to vote and the right to be elected-before the United States and many European nations. At the time, in 1919, Three of the 80 elected parliamentarians in Armenia were women and the country holds claim to the first female diplomat in the modern world-Dr. Diana Apcar (Anahit Agabegian), who helped Japan recognize Armenia’s independence and served as Armenia’s ambassador and consul general in the far east empire.

This year, International Women’s Day comes on the heels of unprecedented global movement for women’s rights, equality and justice. Sexual harassment, violence and discrimination against women has captured headlines and public discourse, propelled by a rising determination for change.
The year has brought about a higher level of social consciousness and expanded the conversation surrounding the roles and representation of women in the cultural, political, economic and social landscape. The #MeToo movement protesting against sexual harassment and violence in the United States, has stretched across the globe even as far as the Arab States with #AnaKaman, and #YesEl in Armenia. These have been powerful reminders that, though women have made great strides as leaders in every segment of our society, there is still much work to be done.
International Women’s Day 2018 is an opportunity to transform this momentum into action, to empower women in all settings, rural and urban, and celebrate the activists who are working relentlessly to claim women’s rights and to realize their full potential.

March 8 is taken quite seriously in Armenia (it’s even a national holiday). Streets are adorned with colorful balloons and decorations; several public events are planned in the various cities and towns across the country; the nation’s leadership, including its president and prime minister, issue grandiose statements and bestow various honors and awards to mark the holiday which is followed by a month-long celebration, that extends to “Motherhood and Beauty Day” on April 7.

Women have made progress, albeit slow, in obtaining legal recognition of their rights. Late last year, Armenia adopted legislation aimed at combating domestic violence by introducing criminal and administrative liability against those found guilty of the newly defined crime, which includes physical, sexual, psychological, and economic violence. But frequently, even when the laws on the books are just, the reality in homes, in villages and in cities is not. We saw such an example only 3 weeks ago during the first session of the Yerevan City Council. Two female city councilors Marina Khachatryan were attacked by fellow councilmen for bringing to their attention the negligence of the mayor and the city government in failing to address the longstanding problem of leaking sewage from the nearby prison in the Nubarashen district in Yerevan. Respecting the dignity of all colleagues in private and public forums is basic ethics and these gender inequalities weigh heavily on progress to be made. We see appalling abuses, not just in Armenia, but across the globe, that are still being committed against women and these include domestic violence, dowry murders, coerced abortions, honor crimes, and the killing of infants simply because they are born female. Some say all this is cultural and there’s nothing anybody can do about it. But we, gathered here today, with the priveleges granted us, should say it’s not cultural, it’s criminal and we each have an obligation to stop it.

The Armenian Diaspora is playing a major role in ensuring that the often-ignored gender inequalities within Armenia are not only discussed, but dealt with proactively. International organizations such as the U.S.-based AIWA, ARS, AGBU among others work with several organizations, such as Yerevan’s Women’s Support Center and the Women’s Resource Center of Armenia. They are doing crucial work by not only protecting women and their rights in the country, but by actively empowering them in the process.

We have among us women who have dramatically influenced our public policies; we have women who lead viable institutions and organizations, and we have those who build persuasive careers in education and academia. From championing basic human rights to ensuring access and equal opportunity for all, women have led the way in establishing a stronger and more empowered community. Their tenacity underlines the fact that women from all cultural backgrounds in all levels of public service and government are essential in the continuing work of forming a more perfect union

There is such a colossal energy here as we are united, but the question will be how to stay united. How do we stay together, How do we stay connected and not break the power of this energy? How do we compel each other to perform for the rights of others, to promote others to push others and mentor others? We have a consulate full of high profile women here, women of great authority, women of achievements, women of power. And we all know that when women have the power, the chains of poverty can be broken, families grow stronger, environmental awareness grows deeper, and socially constructed values of respect are more likely to be passed on to the next generation
We must stand up, we must stand out. We much speak up in the face of injustice and oppression.
Seek ways to advance other women to become stronger catalysts for change. Advocate. Ask governments to make national commitments. Demand legislative changes that will close the gender equality gap. Break the silence. Involve your men to improve your rights. NOW is the time.

The Armenian International Women’s Association founded 26 years ago is a women’s group that has boldly taken on the responsibility of presenting a proactive agenda to improve the rights of women both in Armenia and globally. AIWA recognizes that women are the agents of change in society – advancing political, economic, and social progress, creating peace and stability. AIWA is particularly active in such UN affiliates as the Commission on the Status of Women, which sponsors annual conferences in New York in the spring; Ever since AIWA’s 2004 International Conference in Geneva, it has had a registered delegation. I am pleased to say that on Monday, March 19, AIWA will be presenting Amplifying Voices and Choices: Pathways to Ensuring Rural Gender Equity at the 62th Anniversary of the UN Commission on the Status of Women in New York.

Let us all celebrate International Women’s Day, not just today but throughout the month and every day, by recognizing women who have fought for independence and stood up for justice, equality and peace. Acknowledge women who have tilled the soil and brought food to the markets and our tables. Praise women who have educated the children of nations without thinking of themselves alone. Look up to women who have courageously lead and empowered others to create and build a sane, soulful culture beyond today.

Because we are all women determined to put the vision of a better world above our own personal journeys, and in doing so, we are securing a better life for others. Together, side by side, shoulder to shoulder, back to back, on the frontline of borders and within the boundaries of our homes, empowering women, empowering humanity.
Time is Now.

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