In Armenia, as in much of the world, opportunities for women have grown throughout the last century.  Women were granted the right to vote as early as in the First Armenian Republic in 1921.  Starting in the Soviet period, Armenian girls and women have had access to education at all levels, and women have been represented in a broad range of professions.  And yet during the Soviet era and since the nation’s independence, progress for women has not been steady and gender discrimination remains a persistent area of concern.

Gender discrimination is often manifested by unfair and unequal treatment of women in all arenas of life, starting before birth with the practice of sex-selective abortions, and continuing throughout life with diminished opportunities in education, healthcare, employment, guardianship for one’s children, ownership of property, political participation, leadership positions, as well as legal and social justice.  These factors diminish girls’ and women’s cultural and social value, limiting their full participation, leadership and contribution in family and society, thus weakening the political, economic and cultural fabrics of both family and society.  Gender discrimination also leads to violence in the forms of rape, domestic violence, sex trafficking, and gender-based harassment, causing irreparable personal and societal damage and the loss of female life.

To learn about the extent of gender-based discrimination in contemporary Armenia, AUA has conducted: 1) examinations of demographic and health survey trends over the last two decades;  2) reviews of gender-related literature; 3) consultations with professionals who are aware of gender-specific attitudes in different arenas of life; as well as 4) open and personal conversations with women representing all walks of life across Armenia.  These fact-finding activities have revealed that gender-based inequality and discrimination do exist in Armenia, with obvious, projected, and short/long-term personal and societal consequences.

AUA leadership, faculty, and students, in collaboration with scholars and practitioners from other national and international organizations, are planning a conference titled “Empowerment of Girls and Women in Armenia.”  The goal of this conference is to examine and learn about: 1) the immediate and long-lasting impact of the above mentioned risk factors on the lives of girls, women, and the entire society; 2) local and international evidence-based actions/programs/practices/policies/implementation models which have proven records of enhancing female empowerment; and 3) examples of successful women’s and gender studies programs in other national and international academic institutions, the challenges they face, and their proven and projected impact on women, men, and the society at large.

Information gleaned from this conference will help inform the parameters of a multi-component women’s empowerment initiative that is being developed at AUA.