International Women’s Day: Armenia Celebrates… but for All the Wrong Reasons

International Women’s Day (March 8) is marked by women’s groups around the world. This date is also commemorated at the United Nations and is designated in many countries as a national holiday. When women on all continents–often divided by national boundaries and by ethnic–linguistic–cultural–economic and political differences–come together to celebrate their Day–they can look back to a tradition that represents at least nine decades of struggle for equality–justice–peace–and development.

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–In Armenia–men gave presents and paid tribute to their mothers–wives and girlfriends on Tuesday–as the country marked the holiday–one of its most popular ones–dating back to Soviet times.

President Robert Kocharian–other top government officials–as well as the head of the Armenian Apostolic Church Catholicos Karekin II–offered warm congratulations to women on the occasion.

"Women of Armenia are making a remarkable contribution to the development and strengthening of our country," Kocharian said in a statement. "The framework of their state and public activities is expanding these days. You–dear women–remain the pillars of our family hearths and maintain your female attraction."

"Rest assured that your boundless kindness–dedication–and solicitude do not go unnoticed and that you undoubtedly deserve much greater appreciation," Prime Minister Andranik Markarian said for his part–alluding to socioeconomic hardship–which most women have had to endure since Armenia’s independence.

Though the holiday is primarily associated with workplace equality between men and women in Europe and other parts of the world–in Armenia it is an occasion to extol the traditional female virtues of motherhood–beauty–and tolerance that are seen as more important in conservative male-dominated societies. All government ministers in Armenia are men and only a handful of female members of parliament.

Random polling on the streets of Yerevan showed that many Armenian men’still regard housekeeping as the primary mission of the opposite sex. "Our traditional Armenian upbringing teaches that the woman must first of all look after the home and raise kids," said one young man. "I can’t say I like career-oriented women."

"Feminism sounds good–but we must remember where we live," agreed an older man.

Another man argued that March 8–which is a non-working day in Armenia–should not have been celebrated in the first place. "It’s stupid. Every day is a holiday for my wife," he said with a smile.

Some Westerners living in Yerevan find such attitudes shocking. Lara Dudaglian–a Canadian citizen of Armenian origin–said local women are also to blame for that. "Women here tell me–’This is the situation we are in–there is nothing we can do to change it’," she said. "They must not be so submissive."

"I find it easier to socialize here with women than with men," said her husband Raffi. "Most of my friends in Armenia are women. The mentality of most local men is more inhibited and terribly oriental."

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