Women’s Day as a Call to Action

March 8 is International Women's Day

BY ARA KHACHATOURIAN

There is one undeniable reality: without a woman, none of us would be alive. So, it begs the question: Why, throughout history, have women had to fight for equal rights? And, why, in this day and age, are women being ill-treated and disrespected throughout the world?
 
Today, March 8, is International Women’s Day. In fact, it is the 100th anniversary of that designation. We pause to honor and celebrate those who have given birth to us and their myriad accomplishments and sacrifices in our individual and collective realities.
 
In addition to all the sincere good wishes to all women for a happy women’s day, there exist glaring inequities and issues that cannot be ignored. When the celebrations wane, we must be able to take lessons from the past to ensure that a woman’s place in society is not marked merely once a year, but it is taken into consideration in all facets of our lives.
 
The plight of women in Armenia took center stage this past fall with the gruesome murder of Zarouhi Petrossian, who was a victim of brutal domestic violence. This unfortunate and sad reality provided an opportunity for public discourse about the manner in which women are being treated in Armenia. Sadly, Zarouhi’s story is not unique to Armenia, but rather a consequence of indifference and disrespect for women and ultimately, human rights.
 
Even after Zarouhi emerged as the poster child for domestic violence in Armenia, the issue of protection of women and their rights received a somewhat muted response from political circles in Armenia. In fact, the last few months saw cuts in government assistance to pregnant women and the children for whom they care as mothers.
 
The fact that 20 years after Armenia’s independence women are not equitably represented in government, business and other circles is a sad reality. Despite repeated pledges for democratic reforms, the leaders, as well as the stakeholders in Armenia, have not moved beyond the rhetoric and are unwilling to make the necessary inroads on this critical matter.
 
We often boast that during the First Republic of Armenia, in 1918, women enjoyed equal rights, including the right to vote, which was not granted to women in the US until 1920. However, we are unable to elevate that legacy into practice. Case in point, my own party—the Armenian Revolutionary Federation—in its 120-year history, has not had a single woman representative on its Bureau. And, it’s not for a lack of qualified women. Women in the party have left an indelible mark on its progression and the heroines and activists who have emerged from the ARF ranks have left their mark on our national reality.
 
The Armenian Relief Society, which, last year, celebrated its 100th anniversary as the leading Armenian women’s organization, does important work in providing assistance and humanitarian relief, but has quite a bit of ground to cover in advancement of women’s issues in general.
 
And, what was the outcome of Catholicos Aram I designating 2010 as the “Year of the Woman.” Aside from several deserving community leaders receiving accolades, were there significant inroads in the advancement of women’s issues, in this case, as perceived by the Church?
 
For the most part, identifying the issues and addressing them—especially in the form of self-criticism—initiates and encourages discourse about these issues. But the time has come to move beyond the discussions and analyses and take definitive steps to ensure that women’s rights are protected and that women become equal shareholders. Political discourse within the Armenian reality, be that in Armenia or the Diaspora, must include the issue of women’s rights and participation. This is where women can make a difference and lead the movement.
 
For now, however, allow me to reiterate that women should be celebrated every day of the year. For that to become a reality, fundamental changes in our individual attitudes and reforms in our national collective thinking is essential and long overdue.

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5 Comments

  1. Houri said:

    Thank you Ara, for this informative article. I only hope the conversation does not stop here. I do believe as Armenians around the world we have a lot of responsibility to empower each other. Women’s empowerment is Human empowerment. After all the stronger a woman feels the stronger her family will be. Let’s not stop tomorrow after this celebration let’s please make it part of our dialogue. I for one am determined to keep going forward by reaching out to as many women, Armenian or otherwise to mobilize and achieve our needs.

  2. Salpi E. said:

    Dear Ara:
    God bless you for writing this article boldly. In reality as Christians, men and women are equal in God’s sight, that is why He created Eve from Adam’s side, and in Armenian language we use the word “Կողակից” that explains the role as helpmate. I did participate in one of the “Year of the Armenian Woman” event, where I sang Christian praise and worship songs and commented that our faith in Christ is the key for our salvation and freedom of dignity and strength, as it is mentioned in proverbs 31. I have created a blog for Armenians to encourage them in their Biblical faith, so that hardened hearts will be changed by the grace of God, and here is my blog~http://areyousaved.wordpress.com/

  3. Sanan said:

    Great article Ara. Although I do agree that it is baffling how not a single woman has served on the ARF Bureau, I think it’s important to mention that gender equality will not simply be achieved with individual women reaching positions of power (especially when they are placed here and there in higher bodies as mere tokens). The ARF has to work on a much larger scale to incorporate the mass of women within their agenda.

  4. Perouz said:

    Ara: We live in a time when many young men do not have good male role models. This is evidenced by the growing disintegration of families, the absence of fathers and grandfathers, the increased need for women’s shelters, compounded by the superficiality of life as portrayed in film and television. This is the age of the worship of celluloid fame and pseudo celebrity, where women are valued for bra size rather than brain size. There is also increasing evidence of men who hold their hand out for money from others, often fraudulently, rather than lacing up their boots and going out to earn it themselves. You, Ara Khachatourian, are a real man; one to be emulated, a role model. Fortunate indeed are the young men who know you, and doubly blessed are the women in your inclusive circle. May the four winds carry your voice and your message to every corner.

  5. Serge said:

    Hi Ara
    Thank you for your article. As I was reading the first few lines I thought, what about your own party? fortunately, a few words on and you posed the same question. The tragedy in the Armenian reality is that there in not an organisation with progressive ideology. The problem is not only the position of women in Armenia and diaspora.

    As a teenager I was close to ARF but as I got older I grew away from it as I realised it did not promote any of the issues that were important to me such as workers rights, women’s issues, minority rights and inclusiveness. My impression of ARF had nothing to do with the socialism that I knew, It appeared to me as a conservative, inward looking organosation, with no vision how to take the Armenian nation forward. Over the years I have seen many people who have left our communities becasue they have not been accepted for being different.

    In the last couple of years I am witnessing a tendency by some elements of the party to reclaim what it originally stood for, a progressive socialist ideology, and this is giving me a lot of hope.

    I am planning to relocate to Armenia next year and I feel the challenge for me in Armenia won’t be the economy or the corruption or attitudes. The only thing I will find difficult is the absence of a political organisation that I will believe in, and through which, I hope, I can bring my participation in making a difference.

    I was thinking about joining ARF but when I looked at the Bureau members there was not a single woman in that list. Furthermore, when I watch Yerkir Media TV, which I believe is linked to ARF, I sometimes despair. I cannot believe that it can be associated with a socialist party. I watch programs that clearly encourage violence against women and celebrates oppression of women as a national tradition and value.

    I hope that there are more individuals like you in the party and together you can have influence in making changes.

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