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.