Zoryan Institute Celebrates International Women’s Day

“We need to engage in a civil rights framework. Civil rights framing shifts the lens from personal to public, and engages society as an injured party, not just individuals, so that we’re all invested in prevention. It promotes advocacy by state officials, eliminates hierarchical thinking, and supports gender equality as normative.”- Judy Norsigian, Founding Member and Chair of Our Bodies, Ourselves

 March 8, 2022: In a recent conference hosted by the Zoryan Institute in partnership with the UCLA Promise Armenian Institute, titled Gender and Intersectionality in Post-Soviet Armenia Conference, experts analyzed the many gender-related challenges in the present-day Republic of Armenia, and offered recommendations to address them. In the quote above, Judy Norsigian provided suggestions on how Armenia can move away from structured inequality in society, which has the potential to breed violence against the underclass and gender-based violence, to promote gender equality and equal justice.

Today we mark International Women’s Day (IWD), a day to celebrate women’s immense contributions to all aspects of society and to reflect on progress made in advancing the rights of women and girls. This day is also an opportunity to reflect of the societal shift in mindset towards these advancements, and to inspire action to achieve gender equality on a global scale.

In Armenia, March 8th is recognized as an official national holiday. On this day, public events celebrating women are held across the country. Women are often showered with flowers and gifts, and family members often take on the unpaid domestic responsibilities that predominantly fall on women. This day also marks the beginning of a month dedication to honoring women, which ends on April 7th, a day known nationally as the Day of Motherhood and Beauty. Critics of these celebrations often highlight how the grandiose gestures of this day may take away from a day of recognition that is rooted in demanding equal rights for women, and overshadow ongoing gender-related issues in the country.

A number of key issues were raised in the Zoryan Institute conference that highlight the need for greater collaboration across multiple sectors of society.  As Maro Matosian, Founder and Executive Director of the Women’s Support Center in Armenia stated in her presentation:

“To deal with societal issues at large, whether it’s the labour market, gender equality, or domestic violence, there has to be collaboration and coordination between justice, health, and education.”

 Irina Ghaplanyan, Political Scientist, and former Deputy Minister of Environment of the Republic of Armenia, had this to say about the gendered experiences of policy production:

“To break sexist political culture, shift non-acknowledgment of women’s decision-making power, and disrupt default “masculinity” of leadership positions, we must begin by “demanding a handshake” – we must begin by creating gendered spaces in greetings.”

The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is #BreaktheBias. The 12 speakers of the conference offered invaluable recommendations on actions we can take both individually and collectively to challenge bias, stereotypes, and discrimination and promote diversity and inclusivity, with the goal of ultimately achieving gender equality in the Republic of Armenia and elsewhere. As Karena Avedissian, PhD in Political Science and Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts stated in her presentation on challenging those who dismiss the voices of those with marginalized identities and speak for others:

“We can withdraw consent to others’ definitions of us. We need to speak out and push back to say that we do not consent to these versions of us.”

On this day, it is important for the Institute and its constituency to reflect on the recommendations received from this conference, especially from the speakers with lived experience in Armenia. It is our hope that the recommendations made by Armenian women in their presentations raise awareness and promote positive change in Armenian society. Achieving gender equality will contribute to the formation of more productive, healthy, and peaceful societies worldwide.

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